I've decided, to go along with my book review feature and the "In the Pantry" focus on leftovers and simple cuisine, to throw a third feature into the mix. "Tasting Notes" will be a series of food-related essays, done in a memoir style, that are something of an outlet for my life-long desire to be a food writer. If you really don't care about my past experience with food, feel free to skip over the posts with this heading, but some of you may be interested, especially as I've been sharing the link to my foodblog with some real-life friends.
Creating a Spotlight
It's 1997, and the digital revolution is still a few years off. My family never picked up on the eighties craze of home movies, and so my childhood is documented in still photographs only, but I've been fascinated with the medium of video for as long as I can remember. The middle school video club is my chance to play with it for the first time, and so I enthusiastically join three other seventh-grade students in a little room off the media center in the afternoons, learning from a wiry old assistant principle with thick-framed glasses how to operate the school's two camcorders. Our principle occupation in the club is taping football games for practice, and the field is hot (North Carolina Septembers don't really qualify as autumn), the tripod and the stepladder we stand on inducing a strange sort of vertigo even in those of us with no fear of heights. I don't last long in the club, maybe a month or two, but the ultimate joy comes when I get to take one of the camcorders home for a weekend to practice my new-found skills.
It doesn't take much thought to hone in on a topic. I've been watching cooking programmes on PBS since I could sit still for more than ten minutes at a time, and I have the odd fantasy of becoming one of my heroes, masterfully stirring sauces and baking pies as I keep up a constant, witty narration. I like Jeff Smith and Julia Child, and I'm fascinated by Jacques Pepin (already at that age, everything French was intriguing and delightful) though I can't stand his annoying American daughter. My favourite is Justin Wilson and his Louisiana Cooking. Long before high budgets and "bam!" and the man who disconcertingly prepares gumbo with a Brooklyn accent, Justin Wilson captured my attention with his constant calls for Louisiana hot sauce and "more wine!" The studio audience would cheer as he poured half a bottle into almost anything, and he'd explain with a thick accent how Southern cooks don't need to measure. I'd tell Daddy, when the camera took an arial shot of his hand-measured salt dumped into a teaspoon, that I could see the contour lines, but in college I heard myself saying to my roomate as I prepared a pie, "oh hush. Southern cooks don't measure!"
When my precious weekend comes, I show up at Daddy's apartment on Saturday morning with the camcorder in its hard, heavy case, ready to go. He is making apple fritters, and he shines on camera, in his element somehow despite his normally-reserved personality. Even with the camcorder, clunky on my shoulder, zooming in on his face, he is undeterred, and comes out as the Daddy I know - a brilliant, hilarious man who always has an explanation or knows where to find one, patient and sure with a chef's knife. He details the process concisely but with enough explanation to make the fritters easy to replicate, and I concentrate on keeping the camera still despite the lack of a tripod, zooming in on the sizzling fruit and working as best I can with the cramped alley kitchen, not enough room to stand over his shoulder (and I am too short to do so, even if there were enough). The finished copy isn't perfect. Some of my transitions are shaky, and the sound isn't right. But I feel a tremendous sense of pride in my father, and in myself, at our creation. Unfortunately, the tape isn't mine, and so I have to return it to be copied over with next week's football game, but the memory will remain throughout the years.
Daddy serving Thanksgiving dinner, nine years later