I had a conversation with a friend recently about previous jobs and aspirations. Before I got married, I had many different aspirations – one of them was working as a chef. I even wanted to go to the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) after I graduated with a photojournalism degree. This is a long story in itself, but I’ll share that another time. One of the chefs I used to work for (a very strong and amazing female role model) thought I had it in me. This chef gave me my first opportunity to work in a busy New York kitchen – garde manger and pastry sections. I learned a lot about cooking and the kitchen. I believed I had it in me as well, since I survived a couple of years working in a kitchen full of chest beating male cooks and chefs. I have “battle scars” on my arms and hands still from cutting or burning myself in the middle of service. I remember biting back tears and trucking on while the guys watched me and waited for me to break down. I never did.
I don’t want to make it seem like they were all complete assholes who didn’t care, because they did in their own ways. When I fell behind plating during a busy service (which was often), there was always someone who rushed by my side to help and I always returned the favor. That group of people became like my family, which is how it should be. When I gave notice to leave for another job, we all went out on my last night and that’s when I allowed my tears to flow… and I was comforted by those guys. I will never forget that part of my life. It’s just one of many things that shaped who I am today, even if I’ve lost touch with many of those guys, but it’s not who I want to be anymore.
Food has always been a big part of my life and especially made-from-scratch meals. My grandmother (mom’s side) and my dad were the cooks in the family, so I grew up eating homemade Central American-Spanish and Indonesian fare. Going to McDonald’s or such places were a rare treat which I mostly enjoyed with my grandmother, she had a fascination for fast food only because it was a concept she couldn’t grasp. Her whole life, she grew most of her own food and made everything from scratch. She lived with us since I was born, moving away briefly, then lived with us again until I left home. I was living in Germany when she passed away and I still can’t think about her without a part of myself longing for her to be alive again.
When I lived in New York, I ate some amazing meals. Working in restaurants also gave me an opportunity to taste things I had never had before, my palate really opened up when I lived there. For a long time, I thought I would never leave because why would I? I could get anything I ever wanted there. Of course I did leave and it was a good thing, my husband and I have lived a very cool life so far. I mean we got to live in Germany and I traveled around Europe for four years – that was incredibly awesome. Though I miss NYC a lot sometimes when I want something in the middle of the night or when I have not-so-great meals (happens a lot lately) when I go out. I’ve had to tone down whatever it is in me when I do go out with certain friends because well, it’s a bit annoying I guess. I just nod and smile and eat whatever I’m eating, meanwhile I’m thinking of how disappointed I am again. Don’t worry, I’m actually fun to go out to eat with… I promise!
Cooking at home is something that comforts me and there are few things I enjoy doing more to relax. It’s not as fun to make meals for myself since my husband is deployed, but I still try to make things as much as I can.
Recently I had an urge to make olive oil cake, which is one of my favorite things. I don’t remember the first time I had olive oil cake, but I do know that one of my favorites is from Abraço in NYC. When I cook most times I just wing it or use recipes just as a reference, unless it’s something a little more complicated. That’s why I have a love-hate relationship with baking, because I have to force myself to follow a recipe. For this olive oil cake that I made, I followed Simply Recipe’s Orange Cornmeal Cake recipe. I didn’t have any all purpose flour, so I used a mix of spelt and brown rice flours instead. I baked it for a little too long, but it still came out lovely and fragrant even if a little dry.
The best olive oil cakes are really moist and should leave traces of olive oil on your fingertips – licking is highly encouraged. As I always say, I’ll get it right the next time – by following the recipe. *Grumble grumble*