Happy New Year! Have I said that yet? 2015 has started off gloriously busy. You’ll notice my lack of posts this past week as a hint that while I may not be writing here, I’m writing, cooking and photographing for dozens of clients. I wrote the tasty phrases behind the photos for Visit Indy’s Top 25 Local Restaurants piece and I’ve been cooking up new recipes for Tyner Pond Farm, to share a few. But now I’m back, and I have quite the special piece to share with you today. Don’t forget that you can always connect with me at firstname.lastname@example.org or my Facebook group if you have questions or just want to get in touch more often.
Besides spending time on freelance work, I’ve decided to be more intention with Solid Gold Eats in 2015. I, too, signed up for a Goodreads challenge to read more. I think I only read about 6 books last year which is just pathetic considering how much I love to read. This year I plan to read 36 books! Every free moment I have, from standing in the elevator to stirring risotto in the kitchen, I whip out my Kindle or Kindle app and read a few pages here and there. There’s something about reading that brings me such joy, reminding me of the creativity in other people’s lives. You can find my list of to-read books on Goodreads here, and you can read my review of the first book I read in 2015 titled Beaten, Seared and Sauced: On Becoming a Chef at the Culinary Institute of America.” Most of the books I will be reading are chef memoirs, kitchen stories, travel stories and historical nonfiction that relates to why we eat what we eat.
That takes me to my thoughts on food writing.
About once a week I reflect on my career as a writer. It took me a long time to be comfortable calling myself a writer, as if I’m not worthy of the occupation, or one can only be called a writer if they wrote a book. My grammar may not be pitch perfect 100% of the time, sure. I enjoy the casual sway that comes from reading a freshly published blog post containing personality, but I cringe at any misspelled word that somehow made it through my rigorous editing process. As a writer, I put plenty of topics to words for online and print articles. Between writing for my full time job, three years freelance writing about Indianapolis adventures for Visit Indy, and several dozens of articles for print publications such as Edible Indy and the Indy Star and more, I have probably put more than one hundred thousand words to print.
But just because I have something to say and an outlet to say it in, doesn’t make me an expert or a credible source. Without a culinary career, my advice on cooking comes from one adventurous home cook to another. Since another 2-4 years of school is not of interest to me, I rely on my bachelors in art history to get me through what it takes to read multiple books from those with credibility to decipher and discern correct information. I feel like I’m in school all over again, minus the late nights at the library and classes with professors.
There are approximately three dozen food writing and cookbooks borrowed from the library on my shelves at home, more than I could possibly read and devote my full attention to before they are due, but I don’t care about that. The only way I can become a better writer, cook, historian, and taster, is to read from those who are the best of the best.
Let me tell you a story about salt bagels and food writing.
The salt bagel was my first topic and post on Solid Gold Eats, and before that, my Tumblr, which was my first step into figuring out whether I wanted to photograph and write about the food I love. The salt bagel is likely the first food item I can remember that made me appreciate food in the way I do today.
Growing up, my mother would make frequent trips to Indianapolis to buy groceries she did not have access to in Terre Haute, such as soy milk, Rice Dream, rice cakes, organic anything, Tom’s toothpaste, etc. We went to Good Earth well before Whole Foods was even a business. She’d stop at Bagel Fair in Nora, the only bagel business in the city in the 1990’s. I remember asking for them without cream cheese because they put way too much on it and I found it gross at the time, so I’d eat a dry, salty bagel with every bit of pleasure as someone else feels when biting into chocolate cake.
These bagels were, and still are, the best bagels in Indianapolis (pictured above). I’d go so far as to say that out of the three bagels I chowed down on in New York City, I found Bagel Fair to be much better. Sure, there’s a bagel out there somewhere that’s just as good or better, but until then, I will continue to dream about the soft and dense yeasty dough that is freshly cooked and served to me.
Maybe this is why I prefer savory over sweet when given the chance to chose between the two in anything. My blood pressure may be a tad bit high, but all of those thoughts go out the window when I bite into a bagel with pieces of crunchy salt on top. I imagine it is similar to why we add a pinch of salt to any sweet baked good. Salt is necessary to balance the flavors in most every dish we prepare. It’s why I enjoy Asian cuisine so much – how thousands of years of preparation has taught chefs and home cooks how to apply layers of flavors, from sweet to salty to spicy to tangy. An entire chapter is devoted to salt in Michael Ruhlman’s Twenty, which discusses the 20 techniques cooks need to know to understand the underlying facets of taste.
Those crunchy kosher salt rocks are what I long for each time I walk through the door at Bagel Fair, where the warm smell of fresh bagels hugs you like a soft electric blanket. These bagels remind me of why I share my love of food with others. Combined with their homemade lox cream cheese – but only half the regular amount (I still have some of those childish attributes) – a wonderful thing happens. It’s like taking a bite out of all the good things in life, all at once. Nothing can make me feel down when I taste that bagel. Its symbolic never-ending circle blatantly explains that the world is going to continue rotating no matter what I do or say.
Unless Bagel Fair goes out of business, I have no desire to make my own bagels at home. I’ve tried and failed miserably with misshapen, tough things that I can’t even call bagels without laughing hysterically. Sure, I have genuine curiosity about how they are made and what makes these bagels so superior to that of anywhere else, but let the experts be experts.
That bagel sparked my career in food writing. It left a deep impression on me that will always be there, reminding me of who I am and where I came from.
I hope you can bear with me as I take time to pay close attention to my recipes and food writing in 2015. While the posts may not be shared with as much frequency as before, I have poured over each and every word to put only the best in front of you.
The kind of food writing that jazzes me up is the kind where each word paints a picture for me, describing a meal with so much detail that I am teleported right there to that exact moment. Food writing that shares a story of the person behind the meal is even better. We all know what a juicy pork chop tastes like, but when you are dining with James Beard, the pork chop may be great, but the company is much, much better. I do not have the money to travel the world, but I feel as though I am in Vietnam when Anthony Bourdain writes about slurping down a bowl of pho on the street for a mere 2 dollars.
While I may not have the credibility of an accomplished restaurant chef, my hope is that you read my writings about sous vide cooking or dried mushrooms and relate to me and my experiences. I hope my writing encourages you to try new things and get excited about cooking and tasting. After all, it may be scientific, but I’m not saving the world by learning where marinara sauce originated from and teaching you how to make one at home without a recipe. At least I can describe it to you so you feel as though you are right there with me.
Until we meet again, bon appetit!