Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Green Bean Epiphany

God bless her, but my mother is a utilitarian cook. Completely uninspired by flavor or texture. Because of that, and a lot of other factors beyond my control (like the fact we were one of the first single parent households in my town and my sister and I some of the first latch-key kids of our generation) I was 21 when I had my first lightly steamed fresh green bean. Single parent households are fairly common now, but back then my sister and I were looked on by our schoolmates like we had just landed from Mars. So, it was a challenge in more ways than one for my mother to provide healthy and quick meals. After all, she was the sole bread-winner. TV dinners were just starting to come out and they were still pretty darn expensive and frankly, some of the worst tasting food ever made. We relied a lot on canned vegetables and inexpensive cuts of meat that ended up being overcooked and under seasoned.

My least favorite meal was her pot roast. Although, I must say, there's got to be some sort of scientific award of excellence for managing to make meat both stringy and rubbery at the same time. At that, she was a genius. How she managed to have the chunks of potato, carrot and celery keep their original shape but completely disintegrate at the waving of a fork over them has to be an alchemical mystery. One night, I just couldn't manage eating the pot roast at all. Had a really bad day at school and just couldn't face a bad meal to boot. So I pushed my food around, ate some bread and when I cleared the table, I hid my bowl in a cabinet so I could toss it out later and not hurt her feelings. I do love her for the effort, but by 11, I was making my own eggs and toast or instant rice with boiled vegetables or Campbell's vegetable beef soup poured over top. By 13, I had dinner on the table for us when she got home at 6:00. Fried hamburger patties, baked potatoes, iceberg lettuce salads with green goddess dressing.

So, there I was - 21 years old and living with two female roommates in Rockford, Illinois. How I got there is a story for two bottles of tequila in a smokey bar, which I don't imagine happening any time soon. One of my roommates came home from work and for dinner prepared a huge bowl of lightly steamed fresh green beans. She folded herself into her papasan chair in front of the TV and began to eat them with her fingers like popcorn. She offered me one. I bit into the slightly firm, warm green bean and it popped with it's crisp freshness. My little brain nearly exploded with wonder - a green bean that wasn't gray, over-salted mush that melted like mud on my tongue and often left sinewy strings in my teeth?! The flavor was like nothing I'd ever had before. I could taste the healthiness of it and my body sighed with joy. Food was actually good! Vegetables can haz flavor! It changed my life.

A few months later, I find my way back to my home town and began watching the cooking shows on PBS every Sunday (because this was way before cable TV and Food Network). Yan Can Cook! Julia Child. The Frugal Gourmet. Jacques Pepin. Lydia's Italy. I couldn't get enough. It was my new religion. The Goddess provides and we get to eat it! I soaked it all in and began picking up recipes and trying out new things. After many years of just playing around with food for my own enjoyment, I finally feel like I can cook something and share it with friends and family without embarrassment. Luckily, my husband thinks everything I make it awesome and I'm grateful he puts up with my experiments.

I still feel like I'm at the beginning of that journey. And, this will be my chef's log. I think it's time to revisit my Frugal Gourmet cook books!