Bobleo recently remarked that my cooking skills have really risen to a new level since we returned home from China. I couldn’t help but agree. The flavors that I am now whipping out are far more impressive, and each meal that I’ve attempted so far has been not only successful, but memorably delicious. So what has been missing from my culinary projects so far? Was it patience? Knowledge? Technique? Perhaps it was Asian influences? Though I’m sure these things play a role in my growth as a cook, there has definitely been a far more influential puzzle piece missing for some time. Before I reveal the identity of this mysterious component, let me first apologize to all of the sweet fuzzy creatures out there. The thing that has been missing is MEAT.
You see, I spent the majority of my youth as a vegetarian. My meat loving father jumped on the vegetarian train when I was about seven years old, much to the chagrin of my Mother, the proud owner of an entire freezer full of frozen steaks. The experiment in vegetarianism was a long, difficult journey. During the eight years my parents and sisters and I dedicated to vegetarianism we suffered through many a horrible dish. My father would cook up insane concoctions nearly every time he returned from a business trip to the West Coast. Inspired by the mysteriously delicious an inexpilicably meat free dishes he had encountered there, he would create strange and often disasterous meals. My mother, more or less at a loss without her carniverous knowledge to work with, often served up steaming piles of mushy veggies and beans over pasta. Though we must have been served hundreds of different combinations of this meal over the years, my sisters and I simply referred to the concept as “Vegetable Mush”.
These years had lead me to believe that my parents weren’t very good cooks. A very strange thing, since they both come from food families, are adventurous eaters, and are probably the most genuine “foodies” you could meet. They know how to eat, that is for sure. It was always a mystery to me that they didn’t seem to be phenomenal cooks. To be fair they each had a few dishes that could really knock your socks off. For instance, give my Mom a piece of salmon and she can blow your mind. Show up at my parent’s house on a Sunday morning and my father will stuff you with perfect Belgian waffles, and enough crispy bacon to feed an army. They can cook, don’t get me wrong, but looking back at my childhood, the food wasn’t always so hot.
The missing heart of my parents cooking turns out to be that same element that I have just begun to dabble in: MEAT. Bobleo and I have spent the last few weeks at my folks’ place in Florida, and over the time we’ve spent here we have been utterly stuffed with one delicious meal after another. My parents have long since abandoned vegetarianism, and now that I have jumped off the boat they have been free to cook what they like best. Oh lord, how long has this been going on? What have I been missing? Rump Roast, capped in fat and onions, roasted in a bed of garlic, Short Ribs braised in red wine and herbs, prosciutto, bacon, bacon, bacon!!! I’m in love, and I don’t think you can turn that sort of thing off.
So, I begin my meat-ducation here in Florida as I watch my Mom expertly prepare various cuts of various animals in her kitchen every evening. Dinner is an event at my parents’ house. I thought that it was just a weekend thing, but oh no. My Mom spends anywhere from 1 – 4 hours every day cooking, depending on the complexity of the meal. They both hit the wholesale club on the weekend, scheming what to eat for the next week or two, and purchasing meat. Every day my Mom hits the local market to pick up fresh veggies and herbs to go along with the evening’s meal. It’s not the chaotic race to dinnertime that I remember as a kid. Now, my parents cook for the love of it, a beautiful thing, and something I hope to pick up on over our time here. I really have very little knowledge of meat. It is a strange new world for me, but for the love of cooking, I plan to go boldly where I have never gone before.