Thursday, June 24, 2010

Food Inspirations.....some thoughts and musings

A new FaceCrack entry, an extension of the CNN omnibus called Eatocracy put forth a very interesting question on their site that got my old brain working up a lather in that some questions when asked cannot be boiled down quickly nor should they be treated as such even in this world of instant everything. The question of course being what inspires one to pursue the world of food beyond the usual daily needs that must be fulfilled. What drives some of us to embrace that world professionally other than being crazy and somewhat obsessive? What is that one early memory we have that made us think beyond the ordinary? Which events brought us back to a certain way of thinking in that food is more than physical sustenance?

It would be years before I could actually say I had "the calling" but it was there, simmering beneath the surface of my being and as I was to pleasantly discover, another wonderful extension of the creative spirit that I had already been living with. I would love to say it was festering but one chef buddy has an aversion to me using that particular word when talking food issues of any kind. He almost got green in the gills in my kitchen one day when I said dude man that reduction is festering away beautifully. Yep, I still have the gross-out touch!

I think when I made that first connection of the wonders of food, not that there had not been brilliant moments prior, I was about eight years old. Of course I had tasted some great things and I was learning the wonders at that age of real farm cooking, something that was vanishing in the seventies from the heartland. It was seen as being backwards at that time, taking home made bread to school or engaging in canning and freezing - actually living off of your land as opposed to trucking everything to the grain co-op. Thank goodness for some of the new philosophies taking root is like my formative years coming back and I am a happy person for that.

As I pondered that question of Eatocracy's all I could think about was our garden. Actually TWO for veg and herbs and the other one the humongous squash and melon patch. Mum had a flower garden near the house as well that was her baby, her bit of Vancouver that struggled to thrive under the unrelenting prairie sun and other elements. As much as she struggled with trying to duplicate something of her childhood she found herself instead nurturing and studying the indigenous prairie flowers and grasses. Our yard was to our neighbours an eyesore, something that needed taming but to mum it was a wonderland and a rare example of natural prairie habitat complete with a creek bed that meandered its way through the home paddock. For us children those tall grasses were our enchanted forest to play in, sometimes hide in when things got weird and a place for the local fauna to nest in. A refuge if there ever was.

It could be a brutal and unforgiving environment but it had its joys. Mum's gardens were alive and at times comically dangerous territories. Maybe this is why I laugh when I read of Harry Potter's adventures in the Hogwarts Greenhouses. We had plants that could cause some serious grief if not respected and handled with care. As well the melon and squash patch was a refuge for badgers and porcupines....I have not-so-fond memories of receiving about twenty quills in my lower legs when I was fourteen and had made the mistake of disturbing a "porkiepine" when mum had told me to fetch some zucchinis. That was an interesting drive to the emergency ward!
To this day I do not fart around melon patches....I tread carefully.

The gardens - my nemesis at times because it was more so me having to look after them due to mum's asthma but when I was eight and mum dispatched me with an ice cream bucket to the pea patch? That is the one memory that resonates soundly with regard to that question of inspiration for there is to me nothing more wonderful than picking peas in order to promptly shell them and savour them. It would be years later, living in Central America, that I realized just how precious fresh peas could be for in the little country of Belize they were hard to come by and if they were the frozen ones you could be sure that they had thawed several times and refroze before they got to your was a risk to be sure but a risk worth taking.

I had already mastered pasta and curry dishes years prior using peas, usually fresh or flash frozen, to be incorporated into delicate sauces or tossed in with rice at the last minutes of steaming. Petis pois, very green, sweet and just as much enjoyed with butter, salt and pepper are at their finest best enjoyed as one is picking them.

I guess mum that day was in a rush for in the middle of my gustatory orgy I could hear her yelling from a hundred yards away to hurry up. The spell was broken and I got back to the onerous task of harvesting. My reward when I finally delivered the bucket of peas was to catch her smiling at me for yes, she knew already what I had been doing.

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