Newspapers And Exploring Your Passions

I have ranted and raved about my love of writing for the newspaper, and that hasn’t changed one iota. I would like, however, to spend some time on a benefit I haven’t really talked much about. How the newspaper has helped me explore my love of cooking.

I think it must have been approximately a year ago when my editor informed me one of our recipe columnists was going to wrap up his column. We needed someone to fill his every-other-week recipe column slot. Apparently some of my coworkers thought of me, since I rant and rave about recipe experiments and occasionally bring in treats to share. As a result, she offered me the chance to start writing a recipe column, and I took it.

This offered me an opportunity to share my cooking ideas, experiments and experiences. See, I like food experiments almost as much as I like writing, but with food I prefer unique challenges and exotic flavors. My earliest experiences in preparing food would probably be helping my dad whip eggs with a fork so we could scramble them. Since that time I’ve certainly expanded and learned some things that lifelong cooks don’t always know.

I’ve learned how to not only make broth, but how to clarify it with a “raft”.

I’ve used a meat grinder to extrude pasta, a trick my grandparents probably knew, but which is today mostly unknown.

I’ve demonstrated, on video, a cooking method favored by former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

I’ve learned the secrets to breakfast potatoes, and shared the reasons why dehydrated hash browns trump frozen or even fresh varieties.

I’ve learned the difference between store bought plain yogurt and homemade (sooo much better).

I’ve even delved into harnessing living bacteria for fermentation and creation of vinegars and other foods.

Every other week I am supposed to come up with more recipes to post. Many of the recipes are ones I’ve used before. Like my mother before me, most of them don’t have an actual “recipe” so much as I throw these things together and Presto! you have food. In those cases I have to approximate measurements.

Occasionally I share some recipes that I would like to make in the future (sorry, I wish I could say all of them are my recipes and I’ve made every single one of them).

On my more creative recipes (especially the ones that take days or weeks of time) I often try the recipe myself, but post them before they are finished (such as with this week’s homemade soy sauce).

Recently one of our other column writers wrote on a statement someone made, claiming that “Man is the only animal that cooks.” I instantly felt gratified by this, because I very much value cooking. To me it is an expression of things that defy language and explanation.

It’s often the culmination of history and culture. Consider the history of French delicacies that were likely tried for the first time due to famine. Or consider the famine foods developed in the depths of concentration camps during the holocaust. Or consider the recipes passed down from family to family. Consider the soul foods created by slaves. Consider even more the unwritten histories that we will never know that would explain our decision to cook foods, ferment them, leaven them or in any other way to process them (sometimes even turning toxic food edible). How did we know to try these things? Some of these things will never be explained, and the closest to knowing their origin that we will ever reach will be our experience of those foods. I think that’s why I relish in challenging foods and gather some of the most exotic tastes I can.

When I went to Hawaii, I came home with foods I wanted to try making at home. Nine months in China meant I had nine times as many recipes to conquer. Who travels and brings back recipes as souvenirs? (This guy!)

My writing for the PineandLakes Echo Journal recipe column means that I have incentive to try things. The column ensures that when I collect recipes from magazines and papers and those little index cards you find at some grocers, I will actually experiment with many of them. It also means I can share. That’s what cooking is to me.

I work at a restaurant as a second job. To be honest, I enjoy it a lot less than cooking in a regular kitchen. When I cook, I prefer to sit down and sample my creations with others. I want to share the history behind the meal and how it’s made and I want to know what it is my diners are experiencing by tasting those same foods. It’s a sort of empathy unachievable in most other situations. Cooking is a labor of love, when done right, and sharing my recipes through the newspaper is just a welcome extension to that passion.

P.S. My decision to write this entry came from the fact that I haven’t written in a while combined with my desire to make a list of cooking implements I would really like to get for traditional Asian food preparation. That being said, just for fun I think I will make another of my lists kind of like what I did for my crafting supplies.

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