Text & Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
Over the past couple of years, I’ve added food as a frequent topic in my writing repertoire.
It was inevitable, really; Francisco is a chef and a significant amount of our time (and money) are spent on buying, cooking, and eating really good ingredients.
But part of my winding path toward food writing is, as much about one’s writing career turns out to be, a combination of timing and circumstance. I’ve happened to land interviews with some of the world’s best chefs. I’ve fallen, time and again, down the research rabbit hole after eating an interesting or incredible meal and that research has taken me right into my next story.
And, finally, the fact that I’m writing more and more about food has something to do with my being in the kitchen more often. As part of a concentrated effort to slow life down a little bit and do things more deliberately, I’ve been cooking more frequently. And cooking has a way, if you’re paying attention, of awakening your curiosity. Where did this ingredient originate and how did it get into my hands? How does a mix of water, flour, and yeast turn into bread? What’s happening, exactly, during the fermentation of the pineapple vinegar I’ve got maturing in the kitchen?
It’s an exciting time to write about food… and to cook it. Suddenly, everyone seems interested in food: where it comes from, what it took to grow/produce/raise it, how it can be used. Cooking, for many people (at least in the “developed” world), is no longer a chore, but a hobby, something to be delighted in rather than something to be dreaded.
And yet, I recently began to realize that for all the interest in food–despite the growing number of food magazines, the increasing variety of artisanal ingredients, and the ever-expanding cookbook section (and number of customers in it) at bookstores– there are lots of people who are afraid of actually cooking. They love reading about food and they love eating it. They love talking and tweeting about it. They may even love buying those expensive ingredients and storing them in cupboards and cabinets and refrigerator crispers.
But they’re terrified they’re going to stand over the stove and flub it all up.
I learned this during #foodiechats, a weekly live chat among self-professed foodies that takes place each week on twitter. I’d joined the chat because The Latin Kitchen, where I’m a regular contributor, was hosting the conversation and the topic, Latin food, was totally in my wheelhouse.
One of the questions asked of participants during the chat was, “What Latin recipe have you wanted to try but haven’t?” From predictably complex dishes like mole to far simpler ones, like churros and chilaquiles, one participant after another used the phrase “I’d love to make ___, but I’m afraid to try.”
The beginnings of pineapple vinegar.
The idea that anyone would be afraid
(a strong word) to try a recipe was a little baffling to me, but then I realized that I’m no so far removed from that mental space myself. There are recipes I fastidiously avoid (pretty much anything in Diana Kennedy’s Nothing Fancy
, for instance, in which everything seems complex and fancy… though I adore the book) and those that I mark as “want to try” but put off making because I’m worried I don’t have mastered the technique or timing it requires. I’d rather volunteer to cook vegetables for our meals rather than meat (I’m always anxious about undercooking the latter). So afraid
to cook? Yes, I actually do understand that.
Lately, though, I’ve started pushing myself. And I’ve found–though it shouldn’t be a surprise– that risk is nearly always rewarded… even if an experiment ends in failure. Take that pineapple vinegar. Right now, it’s fermenting in a transparent crock, and each day I do a visual check-in on its ripening funk. I have NO idea whether it’s progressing as it should (I won’t know that until I taste test it in a couple weeks), but to watch it maturing is as exciting to me as it was to watch sponge animals pop out of capsules immersed in water when I was a kid. “I made that!” I want to shout to my neighbor through the kitchen window. In two weeks, once I skim off that foamy funk, I’ll be thrilled and completely satisfied if it turns out I’ve created something we can actually use.
Check back in a couple weeks and I’ll let you know how the vinegar turned out.