MEME: The (Cooked) Butterfly Effect

(Note: Nobody’s responded so far and the chap on Saltshaker called me out. Foo~! Therefore, it is open. I’m always interested in hearing what folks have to say about how cooking has affected or changed their lives. Dive in and have fun!)

On days when my computer is transformed into a blinkie box (ie “Why am I staring at this blinkie box when I could be doing something outside?”) I love getting an email from someone like Garrett who has a fresh point of view. And a meme to share. I enjoy learning about what drives people to embrace what they love because, in part, that makes them who they are.

Garrett’s blog was a lucky discovery made through Robyn, who herself was a lucky discovery. This meme originates here and shortly I will delve into that site and, I’m sure, end up adding another favorite to my list.

The challenge is thus:

My thought in this meme is food items or events that changed your foodie life. Not some “oh, it’s the first time I didn’t put jelly on a peanut butter sandwich and used bananas instead” sort of change, unless you truly feel that affected you profoundly. That’s the key – it affected you profoundly, in some manner. A moment you can look back at and say “that was a defining moment”. The questions are simple, the answers might be harder – an item, person, event, or place that had that effect on you, and why. They don’t have to be big splashy things – sometimes it’s something very small and simple that changes the way we view the world – the famed “butterfly effect” (and I’m not talking about the Aston Kutcher movie). So, to those who want to participate, copy this and pass it on (and, if you’re so inclined, do a trackback to the originating post). Here are your categories:

1. An ingredient
2. A dish, a recipe
3. A meal (in a restaurant, a home, or elsewhere)
4. A cookbook or other written work
5. A food “personality” (chef, writer, etc.)
6. Another person in your life


1.) The Ingredient— Butter. It sounds pedantic, but the day I eschewed margarine for butter was the day I started to cross over. And the day I realized that salted butter was not interchangeable with sweet cream or unsalted and raced back to the grocery store to get the right “flavor”, at some bizarre hour of the evening, was the beginning of the end. My mother thought I was nuts, but I stuck to my guns and even she admitted she could taste the differerence in the cookies I’d made. The taste and texture of good butter and knowing when to use olive oil instead has complicated my life with new flavors and ideas.

2.) The Dish/Recipe— My mother’s baked spaghetti. It was the first thing on I asked for on weekends home from college, even before asking for money or tossing my laundry into the washer. The huge, steaming Pyrex pan of tomato sauce enrobed spaghettini, generously blanketed with cheddar (which is also mixed into the pasta) and studded with hearts of palm and black olives. When out-of-town friends come to visit and want a home cooked meal on short notice I know just what to make. Simplicity is often the best way to go and it is nothing to be ashamed of.

A lb. of spaghettini
A large can of generic tomato sauce- no sugar, no funny spices, just pureed tomato laced with oregano salt and freshly ground pepper
A block of sharp cheddar- grated
Fresh or canned (yep, SACRILEGE!) black olives, pitted and sliced
A can of hearts of palm, quartered

Boil the spagettini- I add a dash of salt and a bit of olive oil to the boiling water to keep the pasta from sticking to itself and for flavor.
Crank up oven to 350 F and swab a baking pan with a bit of oil.
Drain spagettini then pour into baking pan.
Pour in tomato sauce and mix carefully, then sprinkle cheese and mix. Repeat until cheese and sauce are incorporated.
Add olives and hearts of palm.
Put pan in the oven and bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until cheese is bubbly.

3.) “Whatever you do, do not eat from roadside carts or stands.”
—STA tourguide, China 1998

The best thing I ever did as a foodie was ignore a tour guide.

On my first full day in Thailand I had to stop and get lunch. Had to. Normally I can walk all day, have a snack and keep going but the Bangkok-heat was leaching the energy right out of me and I was very very hungry. After a great morning that started with the imperial palace- a structure of impressively carved teak- my “Let’s Go” guide was letting me down big time in terms of places to eat. Determined to press on and see Jim Thompson’s house, I was starting to hallucinate when I smelled rotting veggies.

I will never know why I chose to actually follow the stench, but I did, and in the cramped parking area under an apartment building, two blocks from the main drag, I found lunch. The fly infested cart was also swarming with humans, doggedly eating despite the heat. I pulled up a folding chair and pointed at the words “Pad Thai” written in English and Thai on the whiteboard at the counter.

I can clearly remember the firm noodles, crunchy chopped peanuts, the taste of lime and chilis. I honestly can’t remember if there was poultry, meat or shrimp in it, but I do know I haven’t had anything as good since. Maybe it was sitting elbow to elbow with a bunch of sweaty, exhausted, hungry people just like me. Maybe it was the flies- swatting with one hand while shoveling the food into my mouth with the other. Whatever it was I will never forget that meal and I haven’t tasted pad thai as good since.

4.) The Written Work— I have always loved writing and food, but until I read The Man Who Ate Everything I had no idea that the two could be intertwined, or that I would enjoy the marriage between them so much.

Steingarten, who is also the food critic for Vogue, writes amazing essays in which he makes the pursuit of knowledge his passion. He travels in search of that which is delicious and then writes about it in such a way that I want to whip out my passport and find that perfect baguette he speaks of, sink my teeth into the creamy toro, etc. When Steingarten’s employers at Vogue posted an opening for a new assistant for the man himself, I giddily applied. His previous assistant had the same name as me, so that probably aced me out right there. Or more accurately, my interest in writing rather than assisting. If I could, I would subscribe to Vogue just to read Steingarten’s column every month.

5) A Food Personality— Mario Batali is a mythical figure in his now ubiquitous Crocs, shorts and jacket, his red hair pulled back into a ponytail, a happy giant of a man. When Steingarten mentioned the ice cream at Otto, I literally planned a trip to NYC around it and dragged a friend there. I’m glad I don’t have cable because then my interest in Mario would probably explode into full-blown obsession.

6) Another Person— My father has had a definite effect on my cooking style- for better or worse. He grew up a Navy brat and spent many memorable years in Chile, which I think explains why he takes a good long time to get a meal together. When Dad cooks we may not eat until 9 or after, but the food is simple and plentiful, and he clearly enjoys being in the kitchen.

Dad’s improvised meals have ranged from brats cooked in beer with peppers and onions on a baguette to an elaborate stirfry. Once he took a package of ramen, added sauteed chicken, chunky peanut butter, lime, chili and a touch of sesame oil and came up with a poor man’s Thai peanut chicken soup. He also makes bread — on those occasions he is a slave to the cookbook, churning out the most delicious loaves of date walnut, olive or cranberry bread. His ability to create a meal by the book, or off the top of his head, is something I admire.

I’m tagging, let’s see, Matt of mattbites (who now has a big time site and probably doesn’t do stuff like this anymore, but I hope he will, because I’m curious), Mike of MikeyCooks, Bea of La Tartine Gourmand (ditto on wanting to hear what she has to say) and my Easily Pleased friend. If you haven’t experienced these folks, then hopefully I have introduced you to someone new and a fresh point of view to enjoy.

Can’t wait to see your responses!


2 responses to “MEME: The (Cooked) Butterfly Effect

  1. >Butter is so not pedantic!!! (exclamtion point abuse!!!!!) Props on disregarding what the tour guide has to say, I did that in Turkey and loved it. Did it in Costa Rica though… not such a great outcome. I never read The Man Who Ate Everything he and his bacons fetish kinda weirds me out a bit, but why not? I still have yet to read Heat though…Anyways, yeah, props on the meme. My pasghetti (always pasghetti) will have to try hearts of palm next time. I always use a bit of wine too and really, I’m not a fan of wine (insert collective foodie gasp). I’ll take a cocktail or a shot anyday though. >^.^<

  2. >I know it’s so obvious, but it’s the first time I had REAL food… Like, when I had shaved parmesan and wanted to nuke the company who makes those Evil Green Cans.Or, making a burger from scratch and lamenting all the damn calories wasted on McCrap.It gets annoying tho: making real mashed potatoes, slow-cooked rice and your own mac’n’cheese takes so much damn time! I just have to keep telling myself there’s a special hell for creators of instant “food”…

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