Lately I have possessed an obsession to learn more about cooking. Not like I haven’t always cooked, because I have. When it comes to making David’s top ten meals (most of which his mother made) I’m pretty much a James Beard award winner in the comfort food category. Before we moved to the boat I had a full on land kitchen that included a collection of cookbooks. I loved those books. The recipes inside them served as enjoyable reading and as blueprints for some great dinners. In fact, my first born grew up and became an excellent chef; so there must be a spark of a possibility in my DNA too, right? But those cookbooks that I prized for their beautiful photographs and the delicious recipes they contained never taught me how to invent food. And even a loving chef-son has to work so much and so many late hours, that cooking alongside him was a rare moment. Now, the stars have aligned and for some reason that I can’t explain, I have a a curiosity about how to make a from scratch meal with what is fresh, local and in my tiny pantry. I know where to find local produce in the middle of these islands and even where to buy the freshest fish straight off the boat. I’m a Northerner learning to cook perfect, well sourced grits. And just like that, my cooking is less about nostalgia and is “all about patience and trusting my senses” (Edward Lee). There’s no recipe book for that. Apparently I had to be today-years old to see that making David his beloved mom’s meals and doing something I love are one and the same.
I had to live this long and this adventurously to fully merge my senses enough to embody this expanded passion. I registered for a streaming service called “YesChef”. It’s an immersive experience of learning from the stories and kitchens of great chefs from around the world. Anthony Bourdain remains my first chef heart center throb however; now he is joined there with Francis Mallman, Erez Komarofsky, Edward Lee, Nancy Silverton, Asma Khan, and Kwame Onwuachi. The language of good food is a world language; it’s a love language and these chefs have inspired me, deeply. Their art and wisdom have moved me to tears a bunch of times. I cried when Francis Mallman removed his eggplants from the outdoor fire and peeled off the charred skin to press them and create Eggplant Milanese and prepared a simple salad (made with his hands only). I have watched Erez Komarofsky’s story multiple times and each time I am in awe of the Galilee countryside, the natural produce he picks to prepare his dishes, all things fresh and beautiful. I yelled “YES” and ran for my journal when Asma Khan shared her journey from a childhood in Kalkuta to her own restaurant in London. She was reflecting on her return to India where she founded a communal kitchen and restaurant for women to cook their Bengali regional foods. Many of them went on to become entrepreneurs and changed the fabric of the culture there. Asma’s words from my journal, “I cleared a pathway for generations to come. Clearing the way I applaud as they pass me. I want them to be better than me. ‘She’ is standing on me. What all of you see is my victory, you see my success, there was ‘no failure’. No one was there interviewing me; I carry the scars of the doors that closed on my face”. I imagine how Asma feels, while simultaneously being deeply humbled, as I insist to David that he inhale even more deeply, the aroma of the ginger, garlic and lemon grass I am cooking down with the green curry. (Saffron Korma goals are born in those moments.)
There’s a light shining out of my fingertips and beaming from my body to the world as I am standing in IRENE’s galley, on the shoulders of giants.
Living aboard IRENE, sitting on this dock, and turning my attention to the food I am preparing, I have made a few personal discoveries. For example, I discovered that love and salt are analogous. This alchemic magic should not surprise me, yet somehow, it does. Salt works through two chemical processes, osmosis and diffusion. Both are natural ways of seeking equilibrium and both are forms of movement and they are transformable. Understand this and your food and your life will both taste better.
I have discovered that love and fat are analogous too. As I am learning more about how fat works in food, I am reminded again of the chemistry of love. Fat affects taste and determines texture. The unlikely kindred roots of every love and delicious food are clearly a combination of “crisp, creamy, flaky, tender and light”. Render your heart in love like the fat to crunchiness. Imagine your beloved and how your hearts seem magically joined– Two things that have no obvious means of joining together give in to the force and the result is creamy and wonderful. That’s an emulsion. Achieve tenderness by adding fat early like butter in your pie crust, and keep it cool ;-D
One more area of ongoing discovery, acid. It’s not only the lemon for chasing tequila. Acid is meant to be more subtle than that. If salt and fat are synonymous with love, I’d say acid adds a little romance to the mix. Acid brings the balance. It makes your mouth water. I appreciate the joy of contrast in life and consequently, I was quick to recognize that tucking a little acid in every dish to bring the contrast is essential. IRENE’s tiny pantry already included multiple vinegars, pickles, cheeses, a fresh lemon and a lime. Maybe I didn’t offer David a romantic Valentine heart filled with chocolates, but I can throw together an alluring Caesar salad (thank you Nancy Silverton) and make my own mysterious Hot Vinegar (thank you Edward Lee).
Cooking can be a world of conscious creation and chemistry; of history, love, nature, and stories. Whether it is preparing food or making something with paint, clay, wood, movement, or words, the joy of creating is where we can feel our relationship with the one infinite creator (which we are). As my friend Carol Morgan told me, “everything you enjoy is yours…it’s not something you have, it’s what you are”.
So my friends, if “relearning to cook” on a boat on the water can lead me to deeply enjoy my life just as it is, then surely you might consider savoring every moment of your life in this physical world while you are here too. Create a mouth watering journey of your own. Do it for yourself which is the same as doing it for the world. To paraphrase Francis Mallman from his Patagonian frontier home and retreat, “The Edge of Uncertainty”: Do it from a place of joy, intuition and optimism. Please send pictures. I dream of applauding you.