Food Memoir

7 July 2016

During my early twenties, I developed a passion for cooking. The deeper I delved into the art of cooking quality food, the more I realized the amalgamating properties it held. Little did I know, this hobby was something my new wife Jenn and I did not share. The first indication that there might be a problem in the kitchen occurred with a simple request one evening after work: “Honey, I would like some bacon,” I said. To my astonishment, my bride declared, “I don’t know how to cook bacon, I don’t even like bacon!

” I knew this woman for seven years—my high school sweetheart—and I never knew she didn’t like bacon. “Who doesn’t like bacon anyway? It’s un-American! ” I said. No wife of mine would ever dislike bacon. And even if you didn’t like it, how could you not know how to cook it? Exasperated, I explained how you begin with a cold pan, as not to scorch it. I continued, showing her how not to overlap the bacon, but not to leave too much space either. The conversation continued and I took jabs where I could.

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She contended that she did not like bacon because of its texture; I argued it was because she did not know how to cook it right. I couldn’t really blame her though, she came by it honestly. My mother-in-law cannot cook—at all. She has a rotation of three to four meals that come from a can or a package. Hamburger Helper was commonplace growing up in that house. A simple meal such as spaghetti is a botched experiment in “homemade cooking. ” Her recipe consists of un-doctored, canned sauce poured onto over-cooked, mushy noodles, that she stirs the entire time they are boiling.

Sometimes, she’ll even add a couple of frozen meatballs from a bag. To our delight, most of our meals with the mother-in-law take place in a restaurant, where it’s safe. We are able to enjoy the occasion of food and family, while actually being able to stomach the food. It is the aforementioned reasons that my wife could not cook when we first got married; she simply was not taught or even exposed to the practice of cooking. She was also rather close-minded when it came to new things. After-all, Hamburger Helper only came in so many varieties.

It was up to me to change all this—to teach her to cook, and open her mind to new flavors. I grew up with real home-cooked meals. My dad, now an engineer, was once the chef at a local restaurant in our hometown of Marion, Illinois. He imparted in me an appreciation for real food, and dispelled the myth in my mind, that “mom” was responsible for putting dinner on the table. Years later, dad is a still a major influence in my relationship with food, which in turn strengthens my relationship with him.

For the past ten years, going to dad’s house for Sunday dinner has been tradition—first me, then my wife, and now our three children. Dad and I haven’t always seen eye-to-eye on certain things, but there is an emulsifying, unifying power that quality food possesses, that helped heal our relationship. Even before the modern days of Sunday dinner began, my dad was my inspiration to learn to cook, and I aspire to be the same for my children. One factor that enhanced my appreciation for cooking was the time I spent in my early twenties watching the Food Network.

There, I watched Emeril Lagasse cook up his latest masterpiece with a “BAM! ” I attempted to emulate many of his dishes, some even with success. It was in this time period that I actually began to develop some culinary skill. My mother was my faithful and willing test subject. Her only complaint was the disaster I left in my wake. I could cook, but would somehow manage to destroy the entire kitchen in the process. One of my favorite dishes I picked up in this time period was a simple bologna recipe I picked up from Emeril, which became an oft-requested Super Bowl staple.

Emeril’s Favorite Brown Sugar-Crusted Baked Bologna1: An all-beef bologna, smothered in Dijon mustard and brown sugar, and slow-cooked for five hours. The resulting deliciousness is served on fresh, white bread with yellow mustard. I never would have thought bologna could become gourmet, and it was with this dish I learned it is often the simpler recipes that have the most impact. This taught me that delicious cuisine doesn’t necessarily take hours of preparation alongside fancy ingredients. Sometimes, all a simple recipe needs is a creative twist to turn it into something incredible.

It took some time, but Jenn came around. The more I encouraged her to try new things, the wider her horizons became. She began to cook, and found she was actually a natural in the kitchen. And how did I finally get her to eat bacon? While she was pregnant with our first son, she would eat anything. I would come home from work to find family-size boxes of macaroni and cheese decimated. I knew this was my chance. I started sneaking bacon into dishes, and onto sandwiches—anywhere I remotely thought I could fit it in. Lo and behold, she found she actually liked it!

Now that we both have a healthy appreciation of cooking, we keep a strong focus on it in our day to day lives. Despite our busy schedules, it is a priority of ours to eat together as a family whenever possible. Because of our passion for a unique blend of health and great taste in our diets, our children are always trying, and usually liking, new foods. We can already see in them an appreciation for good food, and an affinity for family meal time. What’s the number one request for just about any meal? Bacon, of course.

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