Posts Tagged ‘Cooking’

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Culinary Musings

July 27, 2011

When I was young, beginning at around age 10 or so, every year my cousin from California would come to Colorado to spend the summer. He and I are about the same age. His family had a home up on Lookout Mountain outside Denver, CO and I would either spend a few weeks up there or he would come to my house in the suburbs. His father was a chef and his parents worked in catering for many years. My parents both worked at IBM; my father as an engineer and my mother, first as an executive secretary and then as a manager. Our mothers are sisters and food was often the focus of summer family gatherings.

I began cooking at a young age. My parents both worked and I was the oldest of three girls. One of my chores was to assist my mother by getting dinner started before she and my father arrived home from work. Initially, I would do simple tasks, like preparing the salad and getting the ingredients ready for whatever meal had been planned for the evening. Over time, I voluntarily took on more and more responsibility for evening meals and soon began cooking dinner on a regular basis. Almost from the beginning I experimented with recipes, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. One evening I prepared a casserole for the family. Upon taking that first bite, it became obvious to everyone that I overdid it with spices, in particular cayenne and chili powder. The dish was overwhelmingly hot. My mother tried to salvage my creation to no avail. This failure, however, did not deter me from exploring my culinary curiosity.

One of my regular entrees was meatloaf and this soon became a family favorite. When I first started making this dish, my parents would ask me what ingredients I included in the meatloaf. Sometimes the ingredients I used surprised them. Because my meatloaf was so good, they eventually stopped asking what was in it and just ate it.

When I was in junior high school, I was required to take home economics. At some point during the course all the students were required to make something at home and bring it to class for a baking contest. I read through all the cookbooks we had and eventually choose a coffee cake recipe – “Kaffe Kuchen” – that sounded good. Much to my surprise, and at the time embarrassment, I won the baking contest.

During the summer months, my cousin from California and I did all sorts of fun and adventurous things. But some of my favorite memories are of playing restaurant. After pouring through all the cookbooks we could find and developing our menu, we spent the day preparing a meal for our parents, siblings and extended family. We hand made menus and place cards and set the table like a fancy restaurant. When she was alive, our grandmother would supervise and teach us about cooking. I remember calling her long distance one summer morning to ask her to what temperature we needed to set the oven to get the “very hot oven” the recipe we were working on called for. Our dishes were not always a success, like the time we tried to make donuts and thought that baking soda would be a fine substitute for baking power, but I loved every minute of our time in the kitchen. One day, after making an incredible carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, we made a pact; when we grew up we would open our own restaurant. Alas, that isn’t quite how our lives turned out…yet anyway.

I have always had a passion for food, cooking, and all things culinary. Throughout my life, I have held many jobs in the food service industry at a wide variety of restaurants. I have been a short order cook, food server, hostess, cocktail waitress and bartender. My friends tell me I have a knack for cooking and for turning ordinary recipes into extraordinary dishes. I enjoy cooking for friends and family. It is something that gives me great pleasure. I love planning the menu, shopping for ingredients and preparing a variety of dishes.

Entertaining and having friends over for dinner excites me and always stimulates my creativity. Just last year I catered my parents 50th Wedding Anniversary party, planned the menu and cooked all the food for approximately 100 guests (with the exception of the cake.) It was a huge success and I received rave reviews both about the celebration and about the food. I totally enjoyed planning the party but had the most fun planning the menu and preparing the food.

When it comes to family holiday gatherings, you will find me in the kitchen. My favorite holiday meal is Christmas dinner. I spend months searching for recipes and creating the menu for an unforgettable meal. Generally, we have several courses — appetizer, soup and/or salad, two entrees to choose from, several side dishes and always a delectable desert or two. For me, dinner is a highlight of this holiday. One memorable meal began with lobster bisque, followed by crab cakes with jalapeño aioli; a green salad with champagne vinaigrette; beef tenderloin with red wine and morel mushroom sauce; garlic mashed potatoes; and, grilled asparagus. Dessert was a white chocolate espresso mouse torte or gingerbread roll with cinnamon crème fraiche cream cheese filling.

While I have had a successful career in the field of law – graduating with honors from law school, winning a number of large cases and in December 2010 having my first book published – it never afforded me the kind of passion and creativity that I want in my life. I often wonder if I have cheated myself by not pursuing my passion, or at least devoting more time to it.

But, as I like to say, life is a journey, not a destination. And who knows where the road I am on will lead me.