It’s true: I love food (some of my best friends eat it) and love to cook (unless it’s done under duress), and love trying new restaurants, and new items at old restaurants, and all that jazz, but the term “foodie” irks me. I know it’s a handy shortcut of a description, but to me, it comes across as flippant or sarcastic, even. And it’s often in close company of the word “hipster,” which I loathe even more ferociously (and any other word with “ster” attached to it, but I digress). And I also am aware that, because I mention lots of food in my upcoming memoir (It takes place in Louisiana – what do you expect?!), and plan to share recipes from that book here in (Parenthetically Speaking), many readers might think of me as a foodie. They may call themselves that term, and I’m okay with that – to each his own – just don’t call me one.
THAT SAID, I admit that a big part of my DNA programs me to put food at, or near, the top of my list of interests (which includes reading, writing, painting, design, art, music, architecture, travel, and, especially, kvetching).
I started cooking as a kid around the age of eight in Louisiana. The first thing I remember making was French Toast. We used Evangeline Maid Bread, which was designed to not get stale too fast, which actually is not great for making French Toast, come to think of it. It was better, though, than Sunbeam Bread, the other locally-made bread, which didn’t have the pliability Evangeline Maid did, so it would break apart in the dipping batter. Not pretty.
If you can’t make basic French Toast without a recipe, you’re probably doomed to rely on others to feed you. Let’s get those of you who fall into that unfortunate category cooking with the food I started with: French Toast. Beat two eggs, a half-cup of milk or half-n-half, two tablespoons of cinnamon, a dash of nutmeg and/or grated clove, a splash of vanilla, a couple of tablespoons of sugar (to help caramelization) and about a half teaspoon of salt (you need salt, trust me) with a fork in a deep-enough bowl so the batter doesn’t go flying everywhere when you beat it all together. Doesn’t have to be frothy – just well blended.
Dip the bread (preferably stale – and most any bread will do, except rye, which is not a flavor you want on purpose in French Toast) into the batter, letting it soak just long enough to be permeated. Too long, and it will fall apart; too short and it will be fine on the outside, but still just bread on the inside, once it’s cooked.
Heat a couple tablespoonfuls of vegetable oil in a skillet, add a dab of butter for flavor and fry away (on medium-high heat) till it’s got a color you like. Top with whatever you love. Done. The batter described above should make about six pieces.
Over the eons since my childhood, I’ve taught myself a lot of cooking techniques by watching cooks cook. I watched our housekeeper Mildred make her biscuits, my mémère make fricassee, cakes, and other stuff, Daddy make barbecue and Sauce Piquant, Momma make Seafood Gumbo, and many others make their favorite foods. One of my fondest learning experiences was watching a friend make a cream sauce, the idea of which, until then, had so intimidated me, I wouldn’t dare attempt it (it’s really easy!).
A few years ago, at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York, I took a 60-hour baking course (five hours of baking each Sunday night – I was in heaven) because I felt a good primer on real baking would help me in many ways. It did. That experience taught me a lot about the science of baking – it’s an art, yes, but it really is a science first, and unlike other forms of cooking, you have to be consistent and precise if you want reliable, edible results. As you may know, many cooks, including myself, don’t always measure – we go by feel, taste, intuition. Not really advisable with baking. Follow the recipe!
So, while I’m no foodie, I am a cook. That bears repeating: I consider myself a cook, and my hat’s off to cooks everywhere – you gotta love it to do it well. I’m not a chef, not an expert, not even a full-time devotee of the food universe. But, in the course of writing (Parenthetically Speaking), if I can help non-cooks pick up a pan without panicking, I’ll be quite pleased.
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