Monday, March 31, 2008


So I wanted to say something about cookbooks. I don’t use them. Not anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I find nothing wrong with them. From time to time, I can even be found perusing the cooking section of the book store. But that’s not what I wanted to write about. A cookbook made me realize I was a “foodie” long before “foodie” was a term (my spell check still underlines it- You try).

It was circa 1993 and I was a nurse working night shift in an Emergency Room in Clearwater, Florida. I didn’t know the night crew very well because I was new to that shift. At Christmas time, we did a name draw for gifts. Because I didn’t know folks very well, I assumed there was little known about me as well. So, the morning came for the exchange. We’d finished our shift and headed out to our favorite breakfast place for eggs and Bloody Mary’s (night shift folks are bizarre). I’m embarrassed to say that I have no recollection of what I purchased or who I purchased it for. I do recall Sharon reaching across the table and handing me MY gift. Sharon was an interesting gal. She was always grumpy I thought. I don’t recall seeing her smile much. She was one of the night charge nurses which meant that she was my supervisor when we worked together. She tended to have an authoritarian approach to being in charge. So, I figured as she handed me my gift it would be as generic as it could be: a picture frame, a knick knack, a nice pen. I could see beyond the wrapping that it was a paperback book. Hey, that’s a nice thought. I hoped it was a spy novel because Clancy was really a hot author at the time.

I was so surprised to see “The Frugal Gourmet” by Jeff Smith. How did she know? I don’t recall putting THAT out there. This was the early 90’s. Cooking wasn’t cool. I don’t remember telling anyone that the first TV shows I set my VCR to record after learning how was The Frugal Gourmet on PBS. After all, I had just gotten out of the Army. I was a combat veteran. I was cool. If I tried to contain my excitement, I think I did a poor job.

When I got home that day, I read that book cover to cover. Not only were there recipes but there were stories about the food. This was the first exposure I had ever had to seeing anything like this. To this day there are 3 recipes I can think of from that book that I can make with my eyes closed: Lamb and eggplant, Chicken thighs with scallions and Chicken Picatta (to this day the BEST Chicken Picatta recipe I have ever tasted).

Now for those of you who don’t know, there is a bit of a disclaimer. Mr. Smith, a former Methodist Minister who passed away in 2004, became mired in controversy some years after my gift exchange. He was accused of sexual improprieties with men that he supervised while he was a pastor. A small bit of research tonight revealed that there were never any criminal charges prosecuted but there were several out of court settlements. After that, Mr. Smith disappeared from the public eye until his death.

I can’t excuse poor behavior if that’s what he did but that snapshot in time revealed to me that I had somehow revealed to others that I was a cook. Just an amateur with no skills or equipment, but a cook. From that moment on, I was quite open about my love to cook, entertain and learn about food.

I wanted to talk a bit about the Fannie Farmer Cookbook as well but I have droned on too long already. It was not quite as significant but it had a place that is worth mentioning. I’ll do that next time. I promise to keep it shorter.

Worth noting: Tonight’s meal was a disaster. I say that because I don’t want to give the impression that every venture is a masterpiece. Fortunately, I was the only participant. I tried a Thai inspired stir fry that involved Coconut Milk and Cilantro. I felt like it was a gooey flop. Ahhhhh… but from the ashes, this Phoenix will rise. I’m sure I learned something. Perhaps I should have referred to a cookbook.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Louis! I've found that the secret to Thai food is fish sauce. There is no substitute. Without it the sauce never seems to taste right.