Months ago, Chaya (Chaya’s Comfy Cook–now only open to members) graciously gave me the Beautiful Blogger award. I was very touched with the award and by Chaya’s generous words. I love reading Chaya’s posts. She’s funny for one thing. I also love her post titles—always succinct and often humorous—and her very direct way of speaking to the reader. She cooks one of my very favorite foods—salmon—weekly (yes, weekly). So, if you are looking for a gluten-free salmon recipe, be sure to look on Chaya’s Comfy Cook blog (again, available only via membership).
Chaya bestowed the Beautiful Blogger award to six other folks (I was in great company!) and told more about herself. Thanks, Chaya!
I thought it would be fun to do my “response” post in my birth-month (as in my birthday and the month afterwards versus the month I was born in), to tell you a little bit more about myself. Just for fun, I’ve decided to relate all to food or spirits. (Warning: There is some bathroom talk and also some words about liver.)
1. My first job out of high school was at the FBI National Academy. Before you get too intrigued, my job was in the kitchen for the academy’s cafeteria, run by the Marriott Corporation. One of my aunts (my mom has seven sisters) was a manager and I got a job as a prep cook/alternate weekend cook. I was 17 years old and had absolutely no cooking experience. My mom didn’t really teach us to cook when we were growing up. Other than making occasional cakes and cupcakes from a box, she didn’t want us in the kitchen making messes. She was (and is) still a great mom and I eventually learned to cook when out on my own. But, there were often calls to mom for advice, and sometimes I still make those calls today.
My aunt did teach me a lot in the giant commercial kitchen (stainless steel, tile, huge walk-in refrigerators and freezers, etc.) and I managed to hold my own. For almost everything I made there was a recipe and the ingredients I used were real ones, even though most were canned or frozen versus fresh. My favorite job was probably making spaghetti sauce in a huge vat. Well, for all my prep work, I pretty much made everything in a huge vat or an equally huge wheeled tub. I cracked eggs—in preparation for scrambled eggs—two at a time, one in each hand. Dozens of eggs, into one of those stainless steel wheeled tubs. Once one of the wheels caught on a crack in the tile as I was wheeling the tub into the walk-in refrigerator and it almost tipped over. I can still see that tub full of yellow teetering. My least favorite task on the job was cleaning the grill after cooking beef liver. Cooking bacon, sausage, eggs, and such for huge quantities of folks on a schedule wasn’t that great either. I had to be at work at something like 4:30 in the morning when I was the breakfast/lunch cook on weekends. I left feeling like a big grease bomb in my gold uniform with the requisite white, ultra dorky shoes. All in all though, it was a good experience and I learned a lot.
2. Mr. GFE and I met while working in a chain restaurant. I was a waitress; he was a waiter. He had just graduated from college in December and jobs were scarce. I was still in college and always kept a job as well. (Sometimes my jobs were part time, sometimes they were full time, and usually I was a waitress, because one could make the most money for the fewest hours.) The restaurant we both worked at had never had waiters before, but Mr. GFE convinced the manager that having another male on hand for the 1 am closing was a good idea.
I can still visualize him as he looked back then. He was 22, but looked like a high school student and frankly, I found him more than a bit goofy. In short, I didn’t give him the time of day. He likes to say that I was the only waitress there who wouldn’t go out with him. Ha! He did have all the other waitresses doing a lot of his work (making salads, brewing coffee, etc.), but to be fair, he was very nice to them and helped them, too; e.g., often carrying their heavy trays. Still … I was not interested, but he persisted.
My two roommates also worked at the same restaurant. One was a hostess and the other was a waitress as well. Unbeknownst to me, Mr. GFE had quizzed them about my favorite things and he surprised me with a bag of goodies as we started our shift one evening. He told me that he’d left something for me by my coat. I pretty much ignored him and the gift until he persisted and I saw the red carnation sticking out of the brown paper bag. I relented momentarily to see what else he had brought me. There was a bag of pistachios … and a box of Nestle Quik (okay, I am embarrassed to say that I was a serious chocolate milk nut then). His simple, sincere gifts got a smile out of me. Still, when he asked me to go out dancing the following weekend, I said, “maybe.” Of course, I did eventually say “yes” … we went dancing and had a fantastic time.
3. The first meal I ever prepared for Mr. GFE was one that makes some folks turn away in horror. Chicken livers. One evening as I was leaving the restaurant where we both worked, I said I was going home to make dinner. He asked what I was having. I told him chicken livers, expecting a horrified reaction. His response was, “I love chicken livers.” So I invited him to stop by after work. As that would be after 1 am, he just expected us to stand in the kitchen and chow down. However, I served the fried chicken livers, plus mixed vegetables in butter sauce over rice at our antique dining room table. On my grandmother’s china. With her good silver. By candlelight. Okay, I admit it … by then, I’d decided I really liked him. It was a good start to many meals together. We still love fried chicken livers. Then, and sometimes, still, I just feel like I need them, not just that I like the taste. (Iron deficiency, perhaps? I did suffer from anemia when pregnant; it’s related to gluten issues. See listing (pdf).) These days, of course, the chicken livers we eat are gluten free and fried in just a little bit of healthy oil, like grapeseed or olive oil. And, they are more likely to be served with quinoa or just veggies as a side.
4. My love of chicken livers also made for another interesting story. Mr. GFE and a group of us had gone tubing down the river near the house he rented at the time. The house was called the Little Castle because it was a multi-level, stone house, with a flat roof and turrets, built into the side of the hill. The flat roof was great for viewing fireworks over the same river. There was a Big Castle, too—the main house, which was also stone, square, and with turrets. The Little Castle had been a garage with maid’s quarters above, that had later been converted into a complete—albeit small—house, with kitchen and living room. (We ended up living there after we were married.) There was also a bomb shelter and a graveyard on the property. The current owners of both castles are friends of ours. They host an annual Halloween party between the graveyard and the bomb shelter, which we attend every year. It’s a terrific party. But, I digress.
So we had gone tubing down on the Rappahannock River. We’d put in at a calm, peaceful area, but then proceeded to the Class III rapids. I had popped out of my tube in one “washing machine” spot and got pulled under. Mr. GFE rescued me and on we went. I had returned to my apartment hours later, grateful to be alive, but still looking somewhat like a drowned rat with wet stringy hair and wearing a damp cotton summer dress over my bathing suit. There was a knock on the door. I answered it to find a handsome stranger in a three-piece suit. He was holding a brown paper grocery bag. He introduced himself as the area Holly Farms sales rep and presented me with 5 pounds of chicken livers. You see … I’d written a letter to Holly Farms complaining that my recent container of chicken livers had been mostly chicken hearts, with very few chicken livers. A few more letters had been exchanged because Holly Farms believed that the chicken livers I had purchased were not their brand, but the store brand. I corrected them showing them that the store had only placed its pricing label on the container. I guess Holly Farms wanted to keep a loyal customer happy, but that’s what I call customer service! I still lament the fact that I wasn’t more presentable. I mean that was back in my very youthful “goddess” days and Mr. GFE and I weren’t yet engaged or anything.
5. In a recent post, I mentioned my ob/gyn issues related to gluten intolerance and shared that I had suffered from postpartum depression. Thankfully, it wasn’t severe in retrospect, but it certainly seemed severe to me at the time. Also, because my body had just been through natural childbirth, I was stressed with being a new mom, and I was unknowingly gluten intolerant, I was experiencing “The big D.” Now most folks with celiac and gluten issues know that refers to diarrhea. After childbirth, “The big D” was a huge problem for me. I went to one gastroenterologist (who still practices locally) who did nothing to help me, but sent me home with one of those little plastic containers to see if I had cancer. He was about as sympathetic as a rock. No, a rock would have been more sympathetic and helpful (especially a pet rock). I never went back. (That was a pattern with many doctors over the years.) Then one of my dearest friends mentioned that her mother-in-law, who was normally a teetotaler, would drink blackberry wine whenever she had diarrhea. The mother-in-law called it a sure cure. Ah, blackberry wine … now that was a solution I was willing to give a try. (I wasn’t nursing so that wasn’t an issue.)
So Mr. GFE dutifully picked up some blackberry wine on his way home the next day, and every other evening after that for a while, to be honest. After he’d arrive, I would sip a glass or two while we chatted and Son relaxed in the baby swing for a few minutes. (Son loved the baby swing and we loved that he loved it!) In the end, the blackberry wine did nothing for my diarrhea, but it greatly improved my disposition. It made me care a lot less about the diarrhea, and even helped me stop crying for a short while. And, it was a call to the surgeon who had removed my gall bladder 3 years earlier (another sign of my gluten issues; reference gluten-related issues once more here) that got me a medication that finally helped enough with “The Big D” to start me on my way to recovery. Well, temporarily anyway. Only going gluten free really solved “the big D” issues for good. Ironically, during my periods of diarrhea and nausea, which I now know were caused by gluten, I would eat only crackers or toast.
6. Before I went gluten free, I craved gluten. (This craving is not unusual for someone with gluten issues; read more from Dr. Ron Hoggan here.) One of my favorite breakfasts was syrup and toast. I have no idea if anyone else’s family ate this meal, but you mixed up King syrup and butter to make a dipping sauce, so to speak, and then you just dipped the toast in the syrup and ate until the sauce was gone. Of course, one always made too much sauce and had to keep toasting more bread. Incidentally, King Syrup is still around, but now contains high fructose corn syrup. However, I’m fairly certain it was always pretty much total sugar anyway.
Again, I craved all bread products before going gluten free, especially cereal. I could live on cereal, one bowl after another. Now I rarely eat real bread products and don’t really miss them. I’ll enjoy them from time to time in the form of my homemade muffins, popovers, or even pre-made bread when a gluten-free friend makes bruschetta or brings a good ready-made gluten-free bread to our meeting for folks to enjoy. But, I still don’t go crazy about it. And, I’ve tried gluten-free cereal, but it does not do much for me and some brands labeled gluten free actually make me sick … but that’s a story for another day.
7. I’m still learning to like new foods and dishes. I really wasn’t exposed to a huge wide variety of foods growing up. That was more about my parents’ food preferences than anything like availability of foods/eating local. So it’s a delight to have found new loves over the last two decades: bacon-wrapped figs, asparagus in any form, broccoli (no sauce needed), avocados, mushrooms, and more. So, I’m looking forward to experiencing even more new foods and dishes in the future.
Technically, I’m supposed to now bestow this award on seven other bloggers but I link to the folks and posts I feel are worthy of award just about every day, so I’ll consider that requirement satisfied. You are all beautiful to me! So, grab this idea (and badge) and come up with your list of seven things about yourself if you’d like. No strict rules or anything, but I do like learning more about my blogging buddies!