Meet Denise Michaels – the Adventurous Foodie
When I was 16 my Mom said, “Denise, come in the kitchen. I want to show you how to make gravy to go with the pot roast and potatoes.”
I replied with a typical teenage eye roll, “Awww, Mom, I’m going to have maids and cooks when I grow up.”
Well, THAT didn’t happen. And thank goodness.
I remember coming home for Christmas break during my college years and spending the entire Saturday before Christmas baking cookies. A personal tradition I’ve upheld for over 30 years now. Whether I’ve lived in the frigid winters of Michigan or the arid desert of Las Vegas – the Saturday before Christmas is sacred baking time. My Dad’s favorites were tart-sweet Lemon Bars on a shortbread base. It’s amazing how special flavors can return us to a wonderful memory
Once out of college and away from bland dormitory food and my Mom’s Midwestern cooking I discovered there’s a world of adventure – or can be – to enjoy right on our plates.
I went beyond pot roast and meatloaf and learned to cook more adventurously. I came to appreciate the intensity of flavors achieved when you magically combine fresh ingredients. I’m not a chef – though I’ve been trained by them. I’m not a professional cook – though for years people have said I should open a restaurant. I just enjoy cooking for the people I love.
It might be a Spanish Fritatta with carmelized onions and red bell peppers for Sunday breakfast or Cajun Salmon for Tuesday night dinner. Or experimenting with the pungent spices in the Indian dishes my husband (originally from the Indian Subcontinent) loves. Food brings us closer together and can help us discover the world and people around us.
Go to New England and eat beef stew and it’s different from the same dish in New Mexico. A corned beef sandwich with Swiss and mustard on rye in a New York deli is a different experience from a brisket of beef sandwich in Texas. And don’t get me started on Cheesesteak in Philly. Same essential ingredients – totally different tastes.
It’s true around the world, too. Go to Greece and they’ll claim their Moussaka is not at all like the same dish in Turkey just across the Mediterranean. It’s a matter of pride.
I’ll be honest – I have preferences. At 52, I’m doing my best to be healthier in my choices. You won’t see a lot of white carbohydrates in what I eat – including bread, pasta, rice and potatoes. I’m spending a little more on organic selections at the grocery story while skipping the fast food joints and many of the chain restaurants. In the long run if I plan smart I actually end up saving – a little.
I’m passing up the scone or muffin with my tea at Starbucks, too. But I might make my own scones with buttermilk and crystallized ginger if I have company coming for weekend brunch. The emphasis is on good food filled with flavor – from the simplest roasted spear of asparagus to Greek yogurt with organic honey and walnuts for dessert.
When I got married at 48 I made Lemon Bars for my Dad so there would be something familiar amongst the more unusual flavors at our reception. This April my Dad passed away. At his funeral someone brought a tray of homemade Lemon Bars. I had one to honor his memory and haven’t had one since. Maybe I’ll make a batch the Saturday before Christmas.
Everyone’s gotta indulge now and then.