Growing up, my diet was marked mostly by routine. There was a pretty steady rotation of chicken, hot dogs, hamburgers, and pork chops, enlivened by Appian Way pizza on Saturday night (later, my Mom started experimenting with frozen bread dough for the crust — a big step forward) and, on Sunday, a roast or a steak. We had a narrower set of potato preparations (mashed, baked, boiled, and, best of all, french fries) accompanied by an even slimmer variety of vegetables (frozen peas, corn and string beans, lather, rinse, repeat). There were many culinary pleasures. Fresh corn in the summer, steak grilled rare, those hand-cut fries, fresh out of the Crisco, spaghetti nights. Still, my family was pretty limited in its epicurian scope.
Sometime in the early Seventies, my older brother started eating at the home of an Italian-American friend (probably Mafioso, but that’s a story for another time) and brought home the somewhat suspect idea of salad. My parents aimed to please and iceberg lettuce and cherry tomatoes and cucumber came to our table. I was slow to warm to this raw food but could get it down if we threw in some pepperoni and chunks of cheese.
My first cooking accomplishments were in the home of the single mother for whom I babysat when I was twelve (eight to ten hours a day, all summer long, for a dime an hour). For her two children (five and seven at the time) I turned out many cans of ravioli, more cans of franco-american spaghetti, plus hot dogs and frozen pizza. The first things I remember cooking with passion were little English Muffin pizzas (old habits die hard; I made my fifteen month old son this very thing tonight) and Bisquik crumb-topped coffee cake.
Sometime in college, with the convergence of my own kitchen and a lot of hours spent in food service, I began to cook with real attention and aspiration. There are many stories to tell about my long trek from vegetarian inclinations to long-simmering Sunday afternoon stew pots that fed me all week to my current wide-ranging, Mediterranean-leaning eclecticism. Those stories will probably come out over time. For right now, just to start, I’ll say that the last place I ate out was Red Hot Lovers, where I had a Serious Dog (bbq sauce and coleslaw) and was not sorry when the kitchen mistakenly gave me cheese fries, and this weekend at home we ate, on Saturday, grilled grass-fed rib-eye, red wine and rosemary risotto, and sauteed snow peas and, tonight, John’s homemade pizza with pesto put up this summer, a quick simmered tomato sauce, a bit of marinated eggplant and kalamata olives. And it was good.