Can we play true confession? I’ll go first if it makes you feel more comfortable. My many years of Catholic school have trained me well for this moment. You might want to sit down too. The next sentence might come as a bit of a schocker.
I hated meat as a kid.
I don’t really know how or when it started. All I remember is what happened the day my parents found my stash in what was supposed to be the compartment on the underside of the table to store the “leaf”—you know those things that make the tables longer for company.
Well, my seat at the dinner table was at the opening of that little tunnel. It was a quite good place to hide the bits of chewed meat I didn’t want to swallow when my parents weren’t looking. Not a master plan, I know, but I was only about five years old, so cut me some slack.
I don’t recall the minutes after they made their discovery, and perhaps it’s better that way. Maybe I’ll get hypnotized one day and beckon the memory from the recesses of my brain.
Or maybe I’ll just skip to the part when I started actually enjoying food. I much prefer happy endings. For now I will choose to believe I knew what was forth coming decades later in An Omnivore’s Dilemma, and had decided to wait until I could eat meat I felt good about.
Can you guess which one is me?
So, wondering why I decided to confess my dirty little food secret? Well, it all started when Shauna asked me to recall the first dish I ever cooked. It was likely a tie between pizza and stir-fry since those were my two early obsessions. Yet, I can’t pinpoint the exact memory.
There was no eureka moment.
Until just two days ago, that is.
I was hungry, no starving. I was so busy, I kept putting off the inevitable act of eating because I thought I had no time. Then finally, noon rolled around and I felt sure I was experiencing the moment at which one might actually go blind with hunger.
Did someone say chicken? Yes—it was me, recalling that I had leftover roasted chicken in the fridge. I had also just canned some fresh pickles. And did I mention the mayo I made too? Those recipes will have to wait because that’s not the point of this post today.
In a split second I felt as though I’d traveled through my life at warp speed. How was it possible that the same girl who hid meat under the table was suddenly excited about making chicken salad?
I found myself running like an excited kid when I realized the arugula in the backyard would be a yummy peppery partner. In less than five minutes I had a gourmet-quality sandwich. Almost every ingredient was homemade or homegrown, except for the roll, and it was on hand in my very own pantry.
And that’s when I realized I didn’t just wake up one day and know how to cook or love to eat. It is a relationship that has blossomed over time. Throughout the years I have poured over cookbooks and taught myself techniques and read about ingredients. After years of eating, my memory is like a rolodex of taste memories and I can now digest flavor combinations in my mind long before the first bite hits my tastebuds.
I wasn’t born with a silver whisk in my mouth—I just taught myself how to use one very well.
Just as children must learn to walk before they run, cooking is much the same. If you never step into the kitchen out of fear, you’ll never be able to really discover the flavors in front of you. So maybe breadmaking isn’t your thing. Find a great family-run bakery nearby and focus your energies on the meals you do enjoy preparing or use the time to discover new dishes you’d like to master. That’s the beauty of cooking from scratch. You get to sit in the driver’s seat and chart your own course, one bite at a time.
roasted chicken salad
One of the local bakeries sells a sack of six fresh-baked sourdough rolls for only $2. Yes, that’s only 33 cents for a homemade roll—and I like to think they add a little dose of love into each one too. But, remember food and cooking is supposed to fun, so if you like plain sliced bread, go for it. I’m betting this would taste pretty tasty on rye too.
p.s. click on the pickle link to get the recipe I entered into Food52 for their best cucumber contest.
1 cup (5.5 ounces) chopped leftover roast chicken
generous 1/4 cup (2 ounces) chopped pickles
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) mayonnaise
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Handful of rocket arugula or other tender field greens
Two sourdough sandwich rolls, split in half
In a medium bowl, add the chicken, pickles and mayonnaise. Stir with a rubber spatula or spoon until well mixed. Season with salt and pepper. Toast bread, if you like, and evenly spoon chicken salad onto the bottom half of the roll. Top each evenly with arugula, cover with remaining half of roll and be happy you’ve got a healthy, homemade lunch in just 5 minutes.
For safety’s sake, don’t forget to include ice packs if you’re taking these on a picnic.