Spring is for foodies. I hate the term "foodies," but I don't know what else to call us. The culinary curious? Food explorers? Eh, there's really no term that doesn't sound dirty or cringey.
Maybe Produce Appreciators?
Regardless, I'm excited. My lemon tree is flowering, strawberries are in season and the lettuce is crisp. I know that no matter the combo, every salad I eat within the next few months will be delicious.
Ok, I might be a little hungry.
I wasn't always someone who cared about what was in season, examined produce for ripeness, or cared if something was grown locally. My culinary journey (if you want to call it that) began with a butter-heavy beige diet of vaporized pork chops, barely seasoned chicken, and a side of instant potatoes or veggies from a can. And that's when I "cooked," which was rare. Fast food took up the bottom of my food pyramid.
I'm pretty sure McDonald's and Redbull got me through a year or two.
I felt terrible, but, like anything else in life, what is constant becomes the norm, so I wasn't aware of how bad I felt, or what I was missing out on. I just lived in a spice-deprived state of bloat.
Thankfully I began to travel, not a lot, but it was enough to open my eyes to the culinary world I had been missing out on. Between a pizza and pasta in New York, a lobster roll in Boston, and mahi mahi in Hawaii, my taste buds awoke from their comatose state. Which I was grateful for until I had to head back to my landlocked home that prided itself on bean-less chilli and gas station food.
No seriously. The local convenience store was, and still is, beloved there.
I was trapped, with no way to relive those purple sweet potatoes from the luau, or the clam chowder straight from the ocean. My only choice was to try and recreate the experience myself, and my skills were nowhere near up to the task. I didn't own a sharp knife. I had about four spices in the cabinet, two of which were salt and pepper (I know, I know… the shame). I was essentially a student driver planning to hop on the race track as if it were a neighborhood street.
So I did what I always do when facing a Grand Canyon-sized gap of knowledge⏤I bought a book.
The book How to Cook Everything: The Basics by Mark Bittman was the training wheels I desperately needed. I read it like a novel, following the instructions piece by piece and starting with basic instructions on how to cut an onion or steam a vegetable. Over time, it became my bible. My spice cabinet grew, and my kitchen began to explode with new tools. It inspired a curiosity in me and a new appreciation for food. I became one of those people who would smell the bottom of a cantaloupe before buying it.
Do I look stupid doing it? Yes. Does it work? You bet it does.
I reached a turning point when I finally made a pasta dish that resembled the one I had in New York. Let's be real, my pasta was in no way a replication, but it was familiar enough to launch me into a religious pilgrimage. I wanted to bring everyone I knew into this new food holy land.
Every house-warming, birthday, or holiday since then, I have forced Bittman's book upon friends and family. I always included it with the staples to get started: a cutting board, a liquid measuring cup, a vegetable peeler, and a nice knife.
Just a side note if you wish to join the cause: Glass cutting boards are for lunatics, and don't get the starter kit for someone who is happy with their cooking⏤ unless, of course, you're in some kind of passive-aggressive battle with them.
Sometimes my religious offering is met with confusion. I guess it could be seen as an obligatory gift⏤ like a forced hobby or an instrument that has to be learned, but I don't see it that way. We all eat. It's not really a choice, so why not make it a better experience? In my mind, I'm just preaching the gospel of humanity. Even if most of my culinary gifts end up at the thrift store, I will still feel good about it, knowing at least one has likely stuck and inspired someone to become more in touch with their food. I suppose that must be how Jehovah's Witnesses feel when someone actually answers the door.