For as long as I can nearly remember I have either been enthralled by or engaged in some activity that involves the kitchen. This is not to say I'm obsessed with food, or even cooking exactly; I'm in love with cooking for people I love.
Even when I knew I was abandoning my hard work in a Graduate program to enter the unknown world of restaurants, I knew I was making an irrevocably poor choice. I had refused to heed my own mantra "I cook, but only for my friends. I don't want to cook for the public". This is not a think piece whatsoever on the restaurant industry, and how I will not go back to it (wow was it good fun, and possibly a perfect application of my favorite study- animal behavior), but rather a remembrance of what I have been missing lately, those blissfully happy days not far past- and have stumbled upon again,thankfully: friends- and- food.
I can go into deep and abiding love stories about remembering things in childhood that only have to do with the kitchen- my grandmother making pastina, canning tomatoes, placing out soppresata and pickled eggplant, serving broccoli rabbe pie...My father making shrimp chips and oyster beef in a wok over the grill on the back patio poolside (or spreading chive cream cheese on saltines)...my mother perfecting the meatballs, only to be told by us children that we want them ALL with raisins, her teaching us the cavatelli and ravioli (with Dad's help) and passing on her love of baking...
I will tell you how when I was a teenager my parents said to me "the person who cooks, doesn't do the dishes". That's what did me in. That, and the fact that even though my parents didn't outright say "go wild", they handed over the apron strings and then embarked on my culinary whims- letting me try new recipes on them from 50's cookbooks to "new world" cuisine. I learned the soothing effect of the kitchen noises. It was like painting. Not that cooking is an art, it's a craft, but the feeling was like the one I got when I painted. I didn't just follow the exact directions, I played around, tried different amounts of things, and then got bolder. Made stuff up with ingredients we had on hand. Went to the garden in the summer and let it be the palate.
By the time I got to college I had mastered basic cooking 101. To my disbelief, I seemed to be the only one of my kind. The most vivid memory of mine is making "my" risotto for everyone and them literally forcing them to eat this thing they have never heard of. One of the best Thanksgivings I've ever had was in San Francisco, where I was able to delegate and help orchestrate a wondrous feast with our measly allowances all combined (there was a phone call to my Mother after dinner, thanking her for teaching me the tricks of Turkey, and the phone was passed around a room of 15 or so strangers who all spoke with her). The biggest motivation for moving off campus was NOT the three boys I moved in with, but the lure of having dinner parties and cooking again.
I have posted some things in the past few months on Crackbook about cooking and recipes, and my Ashland buddies have chimed in time and time again talking about how much they miss the cooking and the dinner parties...the experimenting, the dining al fresco...the forcing my culinary opinion on all my friends who were willing to go on the journey with me. I miss, miss, miss it very much. There are dishes I associate with PEOPLE, and dishes they might request of me when I visit them. Risotto for the illustrious Hemingway. Meatballs for the Freedom. Jambalaya for the Bee. I think of Soup for Ellie, because I have an image ingrained of her giggling over a steaming bowl of soup in my kitchen. I miss brunch with Drew. I can go on (can any of you make a list for me? Remember, it was Bu who made the quiche, so I can't take credit for that).
The only thing that saved me after Hemingway moved out in Vegas was the pastries. Pastry and baking were close friends, but there was suddenly no one to cook for anymore. I attribute my great loathing of Las Vegas to this singular fact. I thank my lucky stars that it was Klippy who saved me in Seattle, and brought forth with him his hungry and thirsty crowd of friends that I could start cooking for. It was sheer pleasure to look out of our huge (biggest kitchen I ever rented) kitchen into the dining room set for 20 (mis-matched and all) and wait patiently for people to stagger in holding bottles of wine, the meanwhile stirring, chopping, planning and designing dinners around tastes and vintages. I am no expert culinary whiz, nor can I claim accolades for my wine pairings, but I was ecstatic and in my perfect place.
Living with the Rock had to been one of the most decadent times in my culinary growth- we fed off each other like symbiotic parasites. Let's have a glass of wine- or maybe make that a bottle of Burgundy. Let's invite a few people over and serve dinner- or make it 10 courses. I'm blessed to have the hungrys and the willings. My always partner Jo Jo- she's the biggest risk taker of them all. If Jameson and the Tide hadn't been willing to ply us with the "good wine", I'm afraid the culinary feats would have fallen short of the mark. As our pocket money grew, so did our love of eating out amoung the talented Chef's in Seattle; but it's the dinners in Magnolia we cooked together that I remember most- and what I always request when I go back to visit.
Recently, I'm becoming blessed again. Enter- new friends. Friends who also love dining. Now is about in my story when you say "Jilli, but all your blog has been about for ages is a bunch of stuff about eating the right foods, timing your meals, and exercising real hard, isn't this story backpedaling?" I say a resounding "No way Jose". Yes we might indulge a bit here and there (for Christ sakes, we have will power to not eat 12 donuts in one sitting, and it's not like we're dead). More importantly, what we are doing is communing over table. And why it has taken me 38 years to realize that this act is what makes my life hum is crazy to me. I have currently been included in dining with possibly one of the best groups of girls around. Know what we cook- good food, "approved food". Like tonight. Salmon. Salad. A touch of rice. Simple, delicious. Local Salmon, Fresh garlic. Local veggies, organic lettuce. A lot of laughter, a LOT of laughter, and a lot of support. It makes me want to cook. Really get down in there and cook up a storm for these women. Introduce them to the Risotto. Introduce them to the Meatballs (I now make them with turkey, and believe it, it's not sacrilege- but for the first time we might have to do the trinity). Cook new things for them. Take requests. Learn from each other and watch each other grow. Just like the rest of us have done, and still do when we get together. All of the friends I have lovingly cooked for and with, I am pleased to say I still have in my life- at least a little bit. I'm quite possibly the luckiest gal around to have experienced all of my friends in this incredibly intimate way. Sometimes I wish we could go back and do it again- and then I realize we can. We will. For now, I forge ahead, and create old new again.
Jilli is cookin' in the kitchen. Well, that will have to wait until it's NOT 105 degrees. But it will happen. Soon.
I'll be the one with the apron on.