Trite but true, people do resemble their dogs: redheads go for Irish setters, beefy dudes in Mets jerseys walk bulldogs, and shaggy golden boys fling frisbees to golden retrievers.
Holds true in our home too. Our family dog (okay, MY dog, he loves me best) is a petite shelter poodle of indeterminate pedigree. Strolling Ocean Parkway at leash’s length, his sculpted tufts of fur feed my delusions of Park Avenue glam and springtime in Paris.
But what if the same parallels could be drawn between people and cooking? What if you could identify yourself not just with Fido, but phyllo? What recipe would you be? And don’t everyone say lasagna. This is not about your favorite food (but you should at least pick a food you like, so we won’t question your self-esteem.) It’s about taking a hard look in the stainless stock pot lid. What are your ingredients? Would others agree with your choice? Try it. Run your pick by friends and family. Mine’s a cinch: I’m chick soup. Homemade chicken soup: transparent, nurturing, restorative—and flexible. If there’s no celery in the crisper, substitute parsley or peas. Chick soup, always bubbling on the back burner, ready to ladle up to any drippy-nosed passerby, beaten down by this brutal winter.
Mind you, chick soup is not the recipe I fantasize for myself. Dans ce cas, je suis mousse au chocolat, with soufflé au citron a close second. Not original. I can’t be the only femme who pictures herself a fluffy French confection de temps en temps. Really though, man or woman, is there any doubt we’d all like to be dessert? The best part of a meal? Bananas Foster? Apple tart? Passion fruit baked Alaska? The dish you save for last and savor with a silver spoon? No, you say? You’d rather be the main event? The stick-to-the-ribs protein course?
Go ahead and take a page from my cookbook. Thumb through those stained index cards. Scroll through your Pins. Who are you, really? Crock Pot Bratwurst? Tempeh tacos with roasted poblano salsa? Sloppy Joe? Any takers for stuffed cabbage? Or are you a Peter Pan, stuck in a comfort food from childhood? Mac ‘n’ cheese? Pigs ‘n’ blankets? Now daydream: who do you want to be, now and then? Dessert or main dish? A red velvet cupcake? Angel food trifle? How about a s’more, all chocolatey melty and unevenly toasted? Or maybe you’re a Maine lobster in pools of melted butter or garlic-crusted rack of lamb. A spinach protein smoothie. Prime Rib. Food for thought….
I’m getting hungry. How about you? Please quell these pangs by posting your comments now. Share the dish you are and the one you’d like to be, now and then. When you do so, I will reply with my best takes on your two choices. (If I don’t have them in my recipe files, I will consult the alpha cook in the family. Nana doesn’t disappoint.)
I’ll close the fridge door on this post with a shopping list of my observations on cuisine as it relates to human character: (Feel free to comment with your additions or objections.
1. Garnish on food and in life is essential.
2. Chefs who won’t share recipes have missed the whole point of cooking.
3. Chefs who continue to hold recipes secret, even when threatened with a cleaver, should not be trusted with your children.
4. Real cooks clean up as they go along; amateurs make a mess.
5. Taking charge of Sunday brunch is a start. It doesn’t make you a cook (but this behavior should be encouraged.)
6. People who don’t try new foods don’t try new things in general.
7. People willing to sample new cuisines are willing to push their comfort food zones.
8. Under any roof, there is only one alpha-cook.
9. Betas should ascend once weekly to prepare a main meal, so cooking never becomes a grind for the alpha.
10. Improvisation in the kitchen teaches survival skills outside of the home.
11. Shortcuts in the kitchen are all right, but homemade broths do have dimension.
12. It takes time and effort to add this dimension; the same holds true for character development.
13. The way to everyone’s heart is through the esophagus.
14. Technique matters. Voila Jacques Pepin.
15. A tin of cookies on the counter and soup on the stove keep the world spinning on its axis. (Fig Newtons and Progresso chickarina with meatballs make mighty fine alternatives to scratch.)
16. Aprons are for sissies (unless you’re wearing them for effect.)
17. Competitive eating and food fights are the sport of non-cooks who have never known hunger.
18. Feeding the old and infirm yields immediate rewards on Earth for both giver and receiver.
19. Given two equally promising candidates, the HR director should hire the applicant who can make croutons from stale crusts.
20. Nutella improves winter fruits, but nothing beats a naked peach in July.
21. Cook and live abundantly, and serve generous portions.
22. Friends and Family are immortalized in the recipes they leave with us.
My deceased friend Mary was a “break up bar,” a Rice Krispie Treat gone wonderfully BAD. Back when I was young and stupid (instead of middle-aged and stupid) she came over to comfort me after the worst, botched romance in my short, disastrous love-life. We melted butterscotch chips and slowly stirred in peanut butter and puffed rice. Snap, krackle, pop, ahh… that soothing sound… Between the tears, we ate the whole pan, all sixteen squares. My stomach sank but my heart lightened. Rest in peace Mary. Your memory lives on in the ache in that last molar on the left.