Thanks to Louisa from “Movable Feast.” for passing me this.
What is your first memory of baking/cooking on your own?
I would have been nine or ten years old in Church Basement Sunday School. The teacher taught us to make mini-pizzas in a toaster oven. English muffin, pasta sauce, grated mozzarella, and a sprinkle of dry oregano, or Italian seasoning. I’m not sure how the Bible fit in. I do remember being amazed and proud that I could make something so easily, so edible. For months afterwards, I would make little pizzas for all meals. Serious overdose. Even thinking about it now makes my stomach a little queasy.
Another “food memory” also comes from church. We had a great priest who once sermonized on all the arcane tradition — placement of candles, vestments, hymn cycle. What I remember most of what she told us was the idea that in the communion, wafer and wine were consecrated, imbued with something that made them more than just food. If a child spit it on the floor, the priest would try to get him to swallow it. If he wouldn’t, then the priest herself would have to get it down. I was fascinated by that. Still am.
Who had the most influence on your cooking?
Diana Kennedy has an amazing story: follows reporter-husband to Mexico, starts learning and writing about Mexican regional cooking - the food of the maids and farming wives of the pueblos. Nobody else was interested in it at the time — but her books became a portrait of a traditional Mexico that no longer exists. They have even been translated into Spanish. Beyond cookbooks, what she wrote was serious anthropological journalism.
TV Chef Jamie Oliver — he’s just so lax and lispy and casual. Who wouldn’t get excited about cooking?
My mom taught me never to cook without a drink in your hand and several other people in the kitchen. Also that just a bit of bacon drippings makes any dish spectacular.
Do you have an old photo as “evidence” of an early exposure to the culinary world and would you like to share it?
No one seems to have one on hand, and nor do I. I’ll find one, but in the meantime, here’s a general kid pic age 9:
Mageiricophobia - do you suffer from any cooking phobia, a dish that makes your palms sweat?
I haven’t gotten around to learning to bake bread yet. The living chemistry of the process scares me.
What would be your most valued or used kitchen gadgets and/or what was the biggest letdown?
Pasta Maker — I only used it once before leaving Boston, but how cool that you turn a handle and this thing spits out real noodles. Best Mexican tools I’ve found are the molcajete (as described here), and a double sided, hinged stovetop comal we have — basically a cast-iron sandwich griller, but that does amazing things making quesadillas and warming tortillas.
Let downs: the microwave, in general; even for warming up leftovers.
Name some funny or weird food combinations/dishes you really like - and probably no one else!
-Bananas and chunky peanut butter.
-Salt with watermelon
-Peanuts in Coke
-Chilli and Fritos
What are the three eatables or dishes you simply don’t want to live without?
Cheese: I know of what I speak. A dairy-deprived year in China left me with new-found appreciation for good cheese. Bread: good bread. Tea: I’m addicted to coffee, but I love tea.
Your favorite ice-cream?
There’s an ice-cream shop in Mexico City called Roxy. With chrome trimmed counters and turquoise walls, it looks like it hasn’t changed from the 1950s. Best flavors: Rompope (alcoholic eggnog from the nuns), and Cajeta (goat milk caramel). Also black walnut ice cream from Arkansas is incredible.
You will probably never eat?
Half-chewed communion wafer. Generally though, I will eat anything. I have decided it’s probably best to steer clear of civet for the time being.
I have this theory about connoisseurship and overcoming aversions, so even things I really don’t like, I’ll keep on for a while until I get it. Examples: Uni, which still tastes worse than anything else I’ve ever tried. Also stinky tofu, which I now love.
Your own signature dishes?
I always make fresh spring rolls to bring to parties because they are easy and popular. I love making boiled jiaozi — dumpling-rolling parties are a blast. Now, I make Sikil Pak a lot for gatherings, a nice, smoky Mexican humus-like dip, of pumpkin seeds, cilantro, and roasted tomatoes.
Any signs that this passion is going slightly over the edge and may need intervention?
In planning for the China project I went to a clinic where I was given a recommended series of inoculations: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Rabies, Polio Booster, Japanese Encephalitis, a course of anti-malarials, and prescriptions for heavy duty anti-diarrheals.
Any embarrassing eating habits?
I get nervous when a table is set with more than one knife, spoon, or fork. The only time I’ve really been humiliated at a meal, however, was dining with a Kazak family. There was lamb on a grill, lots of eating with hands, and they all would spit on the floor. The spice in the food was making my nose run, so I turned half around in my seat and blew my nose discretely into a paper napkin. I was given the biggest dressing down I’ve ever received on manners and how uncouth an American I was.
Three people to pass it on to?
If it’s gotten to me, this meme has likely made the rounds. Nonetheless, I’ll look for anyone yet to respond.
AND I FOUND ONE!!! Eggbeater, Shuna Fish Lydon, of Eggbeater. The blog is one of those that I’m surprised I like. I don’t really go in for baking — but there’s something quiet and contemplative about the writing, and it’s fascinating to read about a pursuit that is so all-encompassing from someone who reflects on it so thoughtfully.