[A few years ago, I planned to write a cookbook. I put that project on hold, but I thought I’d share the introduction with y’all because the motivation for writing this blog is basically the same.]
Like most of us, my first culinary memories are inextricably linked with my Mom. This may seem an odd place to start in a vegetarian cookbook, but I’ll never forget her veal. It was lightly breaded with flour and egg, and pan fried. I couldn’t get enough, and I would wolf down my first piece to make sure that I was first in line for seconds. She would fry the veal in Pompeiian brand olive oil, which was a pretty radical experiment for Louisville in the early 80’s, and I’ll never forget the acrid but fascinating smell of the oil burning in her pan.
When Mom’s cancer took a turn for the worse, during my junior year in high school, she went on a macrobiotic diet that called for her to eat mostly vegetarian. Suddenly our house was colonized by a host of unimagined flavors – brown rice, umeboshi plums, adzuki beans. As she grew sicker, I tried to help by taking over a lot of the cooking, and my experiments met with mixed reviews. The rice with scallops and cubes of cheese was surprisingly good. The chewy, undercooked wheat berries with peas and plums … not so much.
My girlfriend at the time (and still one of my dear friends) was a vegetarian. I have to admit that my motivations for cutting out meat entirely included impressing Nicole as well as supporting my Mom and saving the planet! Nicole was a good, adventurous cook and she showed me the basics of making pasta with homemade tomato sauce, enchiladas, etc, and wrote down a few recipes for me on small sheets of graph paper that I still keep tucked into my copy of Moosewood.
One of my first encounters with flavors taken to another level was at a small (and long departed) French restaurant named La Boulangerie, on Third Street in Louisville. The restaurant had a café next door where they served wonderful bread. But what really made an impression on me was the salad. Made with perfect, tender leaves and a dressing of walnut oil, wine vinegar, and fresh garlic, it was a far cry from the iceberg and Hidden Valley Ranch that I knew. I’d eat there as often as I could afford, and I knew then that food could be much more than sustenance.
[… to be continued]