People often asked me where I learned to cook and where my love for cooking came from. While to regular readers the obvious answer would be my Grandmother that is not the full truth.
My Grandmother taught me wonderful things about cooking...how to measure ingredients properly, how to finesse a recipe, how to feed people with love. She also taught me how to entertain beautifully...linen napkins, silver, china, crystal, and a smile. What she did not teach me was how to do the heavy lifting of the everyday monotony of cooking. I learned that during a semester at the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).
I have to take a moment to give credit to a friend and classmate from my high school days who writes for epicurious.com. She had a blog posted today about how cooking really started for her at NOLS and it reminded me that I too should give credit where credit was due. Here is her post if you want to see it.
Moving right along...
I did a semester in the Southwest when I was 17 years old with NOLS. This meant living outside for 88 days and enjoying everything about the great outdoors...rock climbing, riding the rapids, camping, mosquitoes, dirt in our food, and packing everything out that you brought in.
But it was also incredible, and I can remember the night that it turned from one extreme to another...you guessed it, it revolved around food.
I was about 3 days in and was sitting thinking to myself that I had made a mistake of epic proportions when one of the leaders came up to me and told me that it was my night to cook for my group and he was going to show me how to make fried mac and cheese...hmm, sounded worth checking out.
Still to this day, I cannot replicate the meal that Pete and I made that night, for all I know, I never will be able to. I am pretty sure that it tasted so good due to the mix of hunger, exhaustion, and a longing for some nasty store bought goodies. All I can say is that the crowd went wild! We made that meal at least 20 more times during the 88 day trip and although I never thought is was quite as good as the first time, it was always a hit with my fellow students.
I remember the first time I made it for my parents...my mother said that she had never smelled so much garlic in one place and it made me smile.
I cooked many nights and mornings during my NOLS trip, there were other people that enjoyed packing the fly (tent) away, doing the dishes, setting up the campsite...cooking was my niche. I thought about what I would make each day during the treks with the limited ingredients that I had...
How would I make something taste different from the day before? We ran out of butter yesterday, what will I use as a substitute? Will people like it?
I would fall asleep with similar questions, and from that grew meals to feed the masses. Cinnamon rolls, spice cake with sugar sauce, spiced malto-meal. The possibilities were endless.
Why do I bring this up? Well, I cook like I will for the cookbook 1-2 nights a week and we usually eat out 1 night a week...that leaves 4-5 nights a week that I am cooking for the masses with the totally uninteresting ingredients that I happen to have on hand. I never had home economics, I had a mother who did not enjoy cooking, and I had a Grandmother that had taught me how to do the fancy stuff...without NOLS, my family would probably be eating a lot of pizza.