I grew up lucky enough to have a mom that always made home-cooked meals for us. I never realized just what a blessing that was until I went to college. Not only did I get the rude awakening that cooking a meal every single day is both exhausting and creatively draining, I also met a variety of people that all came from different food backgrounds. Some had been lucky like me to grow up with home-cooked meals. Others rarely ate as families or ate out more than they ate in.
Now this didn't all hit me as interesting until close to the end of my senior year. Many factors played into my new food-contemplation obsession. First, there has been an ever-growing interest in where our food comes from and what it does for our bodies. With the rise of films like Food, Inc., it seems like more and more people are deciding to pay a little more attention to the food they consume. Secondly, the show Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution aired on ABC a few months back. It followed the experience of British chef Jamie Oliver as he tried to help America's unhealthiest city change its ways. He started his "revolution" in school cafeterias. Realizing just how important childhood food habits are really struck a chord with me. Third, being at college gives new meaning to mealtime. One day I'd be inspired to take on a fantastic new dish. The next I'd fall into a routine of grilled cheese and soup or, better yet, something to go from a nearby cafe.
But now that I'm home and have all the time in the world to think about food and experiment with it (ah the life of a recent grad on the hunt for a job), it's all I can think about sometimes. Perhaps it's because once again I'm blessed by my mom's wonderful cooking. Or maybe it's the fact that she has months of Bon Appetit magazines sitting around and, along with thinking about food, I now have lots of time to catch up on my magazine reading.
So what is it about food that fascinates me so much?
1. It's essential to living. Whether we plan out a meal or grab something on the go, we need to eat.
2. It says so much about where you come from. College taught me that a normal meal for me was something bizarre to someone else. And vice versa.
3. It's art. It's beautiful, fragrant, delicious ... like I said in my last post, art can be defined as the expression of human creative skill and imagination. Food is one of the most creative and imaginative ways to describe yourself, your culture, your cravings and so much more.
4. It fosters community. Sure, sometimes you eat alone. But when you're with friends or family, odds are there will be some sort of food involved.
5. It's a beautiful creation. The never-ending combinations of flavors, textures and colors stem from a never-ending assortment of diverse ingredients.
I write this with one insanely happy belly. Tonight my mom made one of my top five meals: steamed mussels. I think mussels are one of those foods that to me were always normal growing up because my family comes from southern Italy where shellfish is king. So if you're someone that has maybe never tried this divine dish, I urge you to give it a shot next time you find it on a menu. Odds are it will be listed as Moules Frites -- and to be honest, I have yet to understand why in Belgium and France french fries are paired with mussels, but I won't argue it. The best part is probably dipping bread into the delicious soupy juice in the bowl.
*If you're near Rocheport, Mo., try Les Bourgeois' Blufftop Bistro's Black Mussels Steam with Solay Wine, Dijon Mustard, Shallot, Peppercorn, and Cream Served with Local Bread. They're probably the best I've ever had.
* Or in Shreveport, La., try the classic white wine Moules Frites at Wine Country.