As a young kid growing up in rural Illinois I wasn’t privilege to a lot of authentic restaurant or take out food of any ethnic or exotic origin, and the exceptions (of which there were painfully few) would require at least an hour’s drive time.
When I was young my mom and grandmother would always cook. A lot of the stuff was your basic middle American fare: quick, simple meals, always prepared in quantities vast enough to ensure that, even if the stuff didn’t exactly spark the imagination, you never went to bed anything but stuffed.
While the quick and easy standards were always good, I found that the real excitement for me came whenever Grandma would make time in her heavy regiment of crosswords, handheld Tetris, and dime store paperbacks, to cook something slightly more elaborate like stuffed cabbage or peppers, or split pea soup. I was drawn to her techniques, finding her process more fascinating than was probably normal for a 10-year-old living in the Pre-Food-Network era.
There was also a friend of my folks that would come by the house when I was a kid and teach my brother and I (mostly me because I was the only one who really cared about the process rather than just the result/consumption) how to make pizza dough, sauce, Italian and polish sausage from scratch; a veritable wonderland of tasty delights. He and my dad would hunt and fish constantly, and my favorite times were when they’d come home and let me hang around as they fileted panfish or walleye, or when they’d clean duck and pheasant during bird season. Then, in some manner or another, I would get to watch the preparation of the food taken all the way from the lake or the field to the plate. I think this, more than anything else, led to me taking my first job out of high school as a butcher apprentice for a local grocer. I was hooked.
At 12 years old I’d destroy my parents’ kitchen, attempting to bake bread or make pizza from scratch, and dabbling in all other manner of strange culinary endeavors about which I had no clue whatsoever. All that stuff that people only ever bought prepackaged from the supermarket, I had to know how it got to be there. What’s actually in that jar of pasta sauce? Why’s this stuff ground chuck and that stuff ground beef? What in the hell is a pumpernickel? I’m still not sure why I needed to know those things but I did. After Culinary school and a few years of very solid experience I still don’t know how to do half the things I want to, and if the day ever comes when I feel I know it all I suppose it'll be time to find a new gig.
I’m aware that not everyone is like me (which is probably a fortunate thing, according to some) and that’s perfectly fine. After all, if everyone was I’d have a tough time making a living. But to those who think they have neither the time nor interest to prepare something from start to finish, I encourage you to reach back in your memory banks and think of a time when you ate something or watched somebody prepare something that you found truly extraordinary; truly inspiring. Get in the kitchen and try to make it. Doesn’t work? Try again. Bring a friend or a family member along for the venture, even if it’s only once a month or a few times a year. I think, a lot of times, when you finally nail a dish on the head and are able to feed yourself and a few others, you open yourself up to a strong sense of human connection, not only to those around you, but maybe even all the people who either make or once made that dish simply because it is/was an integral part of their lives. It’s what they know, like Grandma’s stuffed cabbage or Mom’s scratch stuffing (actually Grandma’s recipe, if memory serves). It’s not a revelation. It certainly won’t raise the dead or bring about world peace. It’s dinner. Cooking is a craft and cooks are craftsmen. They don't paint the mural on the chapel ceiling, they consider the blueprints and they build the chapel. The satisfaction doesn’t always have to come from being creative. More often than not it comes from the process of taking a few simple ingredients and putting them together to the best of your ability to make...you guessed it: Dinner.
Anyhow, I seem to have gone off the rails a bit jabbering on about food. Regarding the addiction referred to in the title, it’s bubble baths and me time.