My Mother had many wonderful talents but cooking was not her strong point. With over a dozen children to take care of plus others who lived with us for extended periods of time, my mother focused more on keeping us alive and happy than on creating new and exciting dishes in the kitchen. Meals were prepared efficiently, with an effort at making them nutritious. Because of the high nutritional value of whole grains, my mother regularly got up extra early and made a big pot of cracked wheat cereal. The focus, though, was more on keeping us fed rather than on the texture and taste of the meal itself. I was none the wiser though until I eventually left to serve a full time mission. In the Mission Training Center in Provo, Utah, many of my peers poked fun of the food there. I, however, secretly thought the food was the best stuff I had ever tasted. I gained several pounds in the 8 weeks I was there. I spent the next 2 years in Spain and discovered that I knew nothing about food or cooking. Without anyone to feed me but me, I guessed and experimented at various dishes. I attempted to make a pot of chili but I had no idea of what that entailed. I simply cut up several large chunks of beef and threw them in a skillet with some tomato sauce. I seasoned it as best I could with salt and pepper and my companion and I attempted to eat it. We were unable to finish it. At that point, I realized that I needed a small collection of recipes for meals that were tasty and which I was capable of preparing. For the next several months I watched and learned from my fellow missionaries. I learned how to cook a few quick meals that, though not that healthy, did fill us and passed for taste as well. Eventually, I learned of a fellow missionary that actually knew something about chili. When I learned of him, I cornered him and begged him to teach me. This was my first experience with herbs, spices and aromatics. I never knew what oregano was or the effect of garlic or onion. In fact, onions were things to be avoided in my opinion. Making that chili, however, opened my eyes to the world of cooking and has blessed my life ever since.
Of course, I still did not know how to cook, but I did start paying attention to what meals were made of. I manned up and started throwing onions and garlic into my soups and other dishes. Eventually, I had learned and mastered a small reliable collection of dishes, some of which were culturally authentic. One of these, the Spanish Tortilla, is still a favorite of mine and of my family.
Following my mission, I entered college and occasionally attempted to impress a girl with a home cooked meal. For some reason, however, the meals usually failed to hit their mark. Early in my courtship with my wife, Pam, I thought I would try to impress her with a roast beef. I practiced this dish a few times and eventually got the nerve to invite her over for dinner. The roast went according to my understanding and I was quite proud of it. The beef was a bit dry and tough, but I was excited about it anyway. I was very inexperienced when it came to beef. Pam was very gracious and sat and ate it with me. I could see in her eye though that she appreciated me for trying more than she appreciated the food itself. A week or two later, she invited me over to her house for Sunday dinner with her family. I then understood how gracious she had been. At the Sam’s home (my wife’s maiden name was Sam) we feasted on braised beef that was so succulent and tender that it would literally fall apart on my fork. And the flavors from the onions and garlic enhanced the beef more than I had ever imagined. I never knew beef could be prepared like that. Well, one thing led to another and I eventually married Pam and we took up the hobby of cooking. We experimented with all kinds of foods and learned a great deal on how to prepare chicken and beef. With the demands of law school and a baby on the way though, our energy for new foods fizzled.
For the next several years we raised our children on what we had previously learned. We would occasionally try something new but we did not have time to learn new cooking techniques. Eventually, however, my kids grew into teenagers. With a house full of teenagers, I found myself scrambling to find ways to keep my children interested in our home. I was glad my children had friends, however, I wanted desperately to be a part of their lives and I knew that I could not do that by force. I had to find something that would make them want to be there. Around that time, we had started inviting the local missionaries over our house for Sunday dinner. We wanted to feed them something tasty so we put in a pretty good effort at the meal. I gradually started equipping our kitchen with inexpensive, but attractive, flatware, plate ware, and glassware. Most of it came from Wal-Mart, but it was attractive nevertheless. I learned from a high end waiter how to fold a napkin like a fleur de lis. With all this eye candy, my wife and I felt the need to raise the standard on the quality of the meal. She and I started watching cooking TV shows such as Food Network; and movies such as No Reservations, starring Catherine-Zeta Jones and Aaron Eckhart; and Julie and Julia, starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. The love for food and its art was contagious and we became infected with it. I finally broke down and bought the two volume cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle (Vol. 1 only), and Simone Beck. With that order, I also bought a collection of old recorded demonstrations by Julia Child herself. Additionally, I bought a few other books on breads, sauces, chili, spices, etc. These, particularly the videos of Julia Child, gave me tremendous insight into the art of cooking and helped me appreciate the subtle flavors and textures of foods.
Little by little, my arsenal of pots and pans improved to accommodate new foods and techniques. We learned new dishes and techniques weekly. We had guests over for dinner every Sunday and my children loved participating in all of it. It became a challenge to me and Pam to see if we could stun our kid’s friends with a particularly tasty meal. Sometimes we were successful, and we always had fun trying. Eventually, our teenage children decided that we were pretty cool after all. With our children’s love and support, we accelerated our experimentation and learning. We reached the point of not having to carefully follow recipes, but rather could create sauces and glazes based on general principles we had learned previously. For this past Christmas season, Pam and I planned out and executed elaborate meals for each day of the holiday season, at least those days that my college children were home.
While this passion for cooking had tremendous benefits, it also had its downside. My weight steadily increased. The food was simply too rich and tasty for my body to metabolize. Because the food was so delicious, I was blinded to fact that I had gained somewhere in excess of 20 pounds. Something had to give. I stopped the excessive cooking and tried to lose weight but was not successful. My daughter introduced me to a book called Eat to Live, by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. This book advocates a completely vegan diet and promises significant improvements in weight and health. My wife and I decided to give it a try. I also subscribed to his website DrFuhrman.com. This way, we could still experiment and learn new ways of preparing tasty meals, but this time with an emphasis on nutrition and weight loss. On July 1st of this year we started living the lifestyle suggested by Dr. Fuhrman. The adjustment to vegan was a little bit of a strain for the first week but it eased up thereafter. I experienced a period of withdrawal symptoms but got over it when we expanded our collection of recipes. We are now in our third week and it is getting easier and easier. In my earlier dieting attempts, I would grow tired of eating the same dishes over and over. With this diet / lifestyle, however, there seems to be almost endless possibilities. Pam and I have been able to make the meals interesting and very tasty. I again find myself gravitating to the kitchen to try out new dishes and techniques. This time, however, I find myself losing weight almost every day.
With this blog, I hope to document, describe and explain my experiences with the lifestyle advocated by Dr. Fuhrman. Pam and I have followed it meticulously since the beginning of this month and have noticed significant improvements in our health and weight. It is very exciting to me and I am eager to share my experiences with you.
Bon Appétit! 🙂