Winter Melon Soup
Huh? Wasn’t that, like, a month or so ago? It might seem a bit late to say that, but one of the more interesting things about living in a multi-cultural city is learning that holidays that have the same name can be at a different time in the year for everyone, depending upon the calendar one follows. While for those who have cars, it can lead to endless confusion as to which side of the street to park on so as not to get towed, it also means, getting to discover new traditions and …best of all…new food items! (I’m not so sure, however, that, as someone pointed out, it means that you also continually get to push back when you start your resolutions.)
Fried Whole Crabs
The celebrations for Chinese New Year last for 15 days: from the first new moon of the year, to the following full moon. According to my wall calendar, that means that The Year of the Dog started on 29 January and the New Year’s period will end tomorrow, 13 February. There are several great websites that you can find that talk about the different traditions and the symbols of the holiday, but I don’t want to waste any more time before sharing with you the food that some friends and I ate on Friday night in Chinatown in New York City. I brought along my new digital camera so this is a test to see if I can actually use it.
Shrimp in Mayonnaise Sauce w/ Broccoli and Fried Walnuts
I have a friend who is fantastic at hosting big dinners at great restaurants in town. This was her annual Chinese New Year’s get-together. The group is a great mix of everyone Chinese and non- to celebrate, enjoy each other’s company, catch up on each other’s lives, and share some wonderful dishes. I have to say that this year, unlike last, my horoscope was much better so I’m in a great mood for the Year of the Dog. Here’s looking forward to seeing everyone in the Year of the Pig!
Noodles for Long Life
As I said, for me, the goal is two-fold: a. to be able to explore something about which I am passionate on a deeper level and b. maybe, if I am lucky, to figure out a way to earn a living doing something that I really love. I would just like to be doing something in which I have always had an interest and something which I find more inspiring at this point in my life. It would be fantastic if I could also figure out how to support myself financially at the same time!
So, this is the source of the drive to explore making this career change. In designing programs and events, which I’ve done in my professional life, one of the key components has been the audience. Why put something together when it isn’t anything for which anyone wants to show up? My friends have always been very encouraging when it comes to my feeding them physically. What will happen when I decide to put together menus and challenge them to try to make the recipes themselves? (Sort of a virtual cooking school, if you will.)
I always feel like my urban, singleton life is very far removed from that of most of my friends. When I go to visit them at their suburban homes, full of kids and toys, full-sized cars in the driveway, my small kitchen and monthly subway pass seem a whole world away. Or is it? Maybe we actually, at the heart of it, have the same overall concerns: how to make good, nutritious meals on a budget; how not to get bored with our own cooking day after day; how to keep on top of the latest food information and health concerns. Do they use cooking magazines? Do they watch any of the culinary-based shows? How many cookbooks do they use? For example, is there any correlation between size of kitchen and number of meals cooked in it?
So, this is part of the process to develop this business idea. Of course, hopefully, it will be entertaining and useful at the same time, but at heart it is really about creating something useful, something that will draw an audience. I’d like to get folks excited about the food that they eat again, get them interested to try new tastes and to develop new skills. I think we can all use a bit of a jolt to our culinary repertoires.
I can’t even remember the first time I cooked or baked. It has just always seemed like a part of life, almost as natural as breathing. From baking cookies with my mom and younger siblings in the afternoon after school to making pancakes on weekend mornings to throwing dinner parties post-college in my first real apartment, I have just always turned to the warmth of the kitchen for inspiration and fulfillment.
One of my first eating memories is of the pink birthday cake my mother made for me when I was four years old. I’m not sure why she went along with it. Pink was my absolute favorite color as a child. The frosted cake sort of resembled one of those fluffy marshmallow things sold in pairs at gas station convenience stores. I thought it was bee-yoo-ti-ful and very special. I loved it!
There’s a certain fearlessness that I’ve always had, no matter how much of a mess I make, and, believe me, there have been a few. I can’t explain how great of a feeling, the amazing sense of accomplishment, it is to be able to make something I’ve eaten at a restaurant or to master some new skill at the stove. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I’ve always been exactly successful in the kitchen, but I have been willing to try.
My mother, to this day, will bring up how I burned chocolate when I was trying to melt it for some Girl Scout cooking project. The smell was pretty awful, as anyone who has ever done this can tell you. I don’t recommend doing it ever. The reason it had burned was that I had neglected to use a double-boiler and it burned right into the bottom of the sunshine yellow saucepan I was using. Mind you, this was 20-odd years ago, but I still get to hear about it occasionally as though it is another badge – “Kitchen Fiascos” – that I should have earned towards my First Class Scout patch.
Another culinary disaster of mine, which my family is also all too pleased to recall, was the time I over-seasoned a stir-fried rice dish I made when baby-sitting my siblings. To this day, my youngest sister reminds me of “The Ginger Incident” as she likes to call it. She blames me for her dislike of this flavor. “Don’t let her make ginger chicken for you!” is her rallying cry. I swear, if I’m not careful, I can see her lobbying to put that on my tombstone. Just to let her know, if she’s reading this: If you do do that, I will haunt you forever with the scent of ginger trailing behind me.
Perhaps it is best to begin at the beginning before going too far along. Now that I’ve written a bit about food and its impact on my life, maybe it is time to explain why the career shift is so important and why this is such a big deal to do. Why move from Banking to Blogging? Well, for the past several-odd years, I have been working in financial services in New York City. Originally, I began my working life in the field of international relations. A few years after I completed my Master’s Degree, I moved into the world of banking. It will probably not be a surprise to discover that I have worked on the marketing side of the business. I liked the writing, running events, and developing of ideas into strategies.
Having been in New York City when the terrorist attacks occurred in 2001, it is hard for them not to have had an impact on my life. The ability of food to bring together friends and family in a nourishing setting is only a small sliver of the power that cooks and chefs possess. In the aftermath of so much loss and destruction, food also provided the ability to heal and to feed people’s souls. I, myself, hosted several friends who were stranded in the city that night, heating up the handmade lasagna bolognese that I’d made for a party later that week for dinner. In talking to someone who counseled victims of that trauma, she said that this need to create, whether by cooking or other means, acts as a direct counterpoint and provides a sort of balancing factor to the devastation that took place.
So perhaps the move isn’t such a dramatic one, given the major changes that have taken place in my world over the past few years. (Shortly after the attacks, I lost my job as well and was unemployed for quite a while after that.) Cooking has been at the core of who I am for most of my life. I’ve lived in a couple of states and four countries and have traveled to many others. In each locale, I’ve found that the food-culture link is an essential element to my understanding and appreciation of the places I’ve been. I’ve also taken with me a stable of recipes to share with the friends I have met and made there, knowing that food is a basic human need and a fundamental level on which we are all connected. Besides, I have found few individuals who are strong enough to resist the power of a batch of homemade brownies!
“You should really think about opening a restaurant.”
“I’ll give you free rent in exchange for cooking for me for the month.”
“Marry me!” (said by a female friend who is now married to her college sweetheart and is the mother of an adorable toddler)
These are only some of the phrases I have heard over the course of my professional life from people trying to encourage me to turn my passion for and hobby of cooking and food into a career. None of these people actually work in the culinary field, they have just enjoyed eating dishes I’ve made and attending the dinner parties I’ve thrown together. They think that the leap from cooking to culinaria is a natural one. Being passionate about something, as I am about the world of food and eating, isn’t enough of a reason, however, to try to turn it into a paycheck. Or is it?
I have a certain hesitancy about this path. It’s just that…well…what would I DO? I’m not interested in being a chef (restaurant or personal); I can’t afford to go back to cooking school at this point in my life; I’m not really sure I’m all that interested in starting a little boutique food shop; and I don’t have the contacts or skills or background to delve into the world of food writing head-first. So, my options are, I feel, pretty limited.
The next best thing, I decided, just might be Blogging. Blogging has become the new means of self-expression and self-publishing, so maybe it is a good place for me to start. In order to give me enough courage to take the risk to bring the two things together – my Passion for cooking and my need for a Paycheck – maybe the thing to do is to share my trials and travails along this journey.
Websites devoted to all sorts of topics and viewpoints have sprung up (excuse the expression) like mushrooms in a damp cellar. There are lots of blogs about food and recipes and eating. I hope to become one of those that is more like a white truffle: highly-prized. I know that the passage from concept to execution will be a lot like cooking itself – sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet, but always to be savored for itself!