I am not a food critic or a wine enthusiast or an expert of the gourmet. Frankly, as a graduate student surviving on a stipend of just shy of 7K, while also supporting a 6 year old and a boyfriend searching for work in a fairly unforgiving economy, I can't afford to be. What I am is a lover of food and the product of a working class background, descended from an electrician and homemaker turned hospital file room clerk, who were in turn descended from a Tarta bus driver and a GM autoworker, respectively.
I was raised on, along other things, macaroni and mayo, tuna and noodle casserole, Johnny Cake, and the cream beer, a concoction consisting of equal parts root beer and milk that my father lovingly refers to as the poor man's root beer float. I didn't realize it at the time, but I'm sure that these much-loved delicacies were served more for their dollar amount per serving rather than their general tastiness.
That aside, I was blessed with an unadventurous mother whose love of chicken and potatoes formed a fair amount of my dinner options growing up. Carrots, corn, and peas were occasionally served as side dishes. Broccoli, made once at the request of my father, never made it on the menu again. Ignorant of any other palate possibility, I went through life the chicken and potato way. I had chicken legs, chicken nuggets, loose-meat chicken sandwiches, BBQ chicken, cinnamon fried chicken, chicken covered in cheddar cheese and strips of bacon.That is, until befriending my significant other, Art, who, after witnessing me order chicken fingers and french fries one too many times, instructed me, "You can order anything but the chicken!" An adventure of gastronomic proportions began. I began to sample other options, discovering that lamb was succulent, calamari, delicious. Most undergraduates explore their sexuality in school. I explored my inner food connoisseur.
By the start of my MA in literature, I was an avid experimenter of the edible. There were many vegetables I'd still avoided, but I was willing to try. Which is why when I read Skinny Bitch, I was more than willing to give up on the meat. I had begun to feel tired and run down under the stress of my graduate education, so when I read about how unhealthy CAFOs make the majority of affordable meat options, I decided to experiment with my food on a different level, this time by eating a healthy and nutrient-rich diet free of corn-fed and antibiotic-infested meat, ie. all meat in my price-range. I, for all intents and purposes became a vegetarian. For a brief, shiny week, I even tried my hand at being vegan, but that was also a bank-breaking prospect. Within the first month, I increased my energy levels by leaps and bounds. I even stopped getting those pesky sore throat illnesses I had always been so prone to getting.
To my mother's horror, I began stinking up her kitchen with the aroma of cooking broccoli and bok choy. I hand-made soups that required a fair amount of her kitchen's cooking utensils and appliances. I ruined perfectly good cookie recipes with whole wheat flour and raw sugar. "You've always been my meat-eater," she said, confused. "I don't understand how someone could just stop eating everything they used to." But that's what I did. In fact, I hardly ever eat potatoes now, because there are so much more flavourful options in a yam or squash.
I'm in a good place now, working towards an MFA in fiction and culinary prowess in the kitchen. (You see, the other thing I never learned as a child was cooking.) Despite my limited budget, and sometimes because of it, I continue searching out and making interesting new foods. The good recipes make their way into the red 3x5 index card box sitting out on my kitchen counter. The bad get tossed, but good or bad each attempt is an adventure I enjoy making, right in the confines of my rather compact apartment kitchen. What I intend to do here is record them down, the winning recipes and the duds, for inquiring minds, along with the experience each recipe provides: the memories, the sensory details, the general tale of the preparatory process. For anyone who wants to share it with me, it should be an interesting ride.