Food culture.

I’m sure I’m not alone in my number one, self-defeating habit: when final exams and projects begin to pile up, I have an overwhelming urge to bake something, to cook something, to make something that feels more real than typed words no one will ever read again.

Finishing one assignment earlier than expected, I found myself with a partially open, solitary Sunday and wanted to prepare something delicious.

Usually, the desire to make something delicious poses no problem, my never-ending list of “dying to cook” recipes from Smitten Kitchen leaves me with plenty of material to work with.

But today was different for a variety of reasons:

1. Overwhelmed by my end of the year work, I missed the Saturday farmer’s market that I planned on attending.  This meant no fresh produce anywhere in sight.

2. The fridge and pantry continue to become barer and barer as I prepared for a post-Junior year two-week trip to Europe with my boyfriend.

3. And as the trip approached, I could not help but think about my upcoming trip to places with very defined and lovely food cultures: Paris and Brussels in particular.  I mean France, come on.  The nation that inspired Julia Child to bring the glamor of cooking back to America.  And Brussels, you can’t create food more comfortable and soothing than waffles, chocolate and rich, hardy beers.

As I looked through the cupboards, it became apparent that baking was what I would be doing this Sunday.  At my house, baking staples are rarely depleted.  But beyond baking, I was still unsure.  I yearned to feel inspired, but wondered where that inspiration to be creative in the kitchen comes from.  One must first have a solid base of the essentials: techniques, proper ratios of ingredients and spice blends.  I think the great chefs of our day find inspiration in the food culture they have been schooled in or taught themselves.  It seems many chefs study French, Italian, Jamacian or some other cohesive style before they understand how to be creative.  And American cooking is just too diverse to boast its own unique collection of spices and skills.

I was just a girl in an apron with no food culture, and inspiration was far away.

As I stood in my kitchen, I was brought back to Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma.  Though I believe most American families establish their own culinary style, as Pollan says “we seem bent on reinventing the American way of eating every generation.”  And I seemed to be in between generations: too young to have developed my own sense of culinary culture, and too old to follow my parent’s example.  Typically, Americans have to deviate from the recipes of their parents to define their own techniques.  Though I completely agree with Pollan’s statement, the whole things seems completely ludicrous.

Why deviate from the patterns of your parents only to be forced to relearn all the essentials from scratch at age 22?  It seems if we payed attention to our parents’ way of cooking and embraced friends and family who had culinary passion to share, we’d begin to develop a more cohesive style, and maybe more of us would be able to stand in our kitchens without recipe books or wonderful food blogs and create something brilliant.  This organic, local, fresh food movement is doing just that.  It is bringing us plenty of opportunities to establish a food culture: for chefs and housewives to enjoy preparing the same dishes of real, homegrown, unpretentious, just plain delicious food.  And I, for one, find this to be just wonderful.

Oh and by the way, this is what I finally decided on: English Muffins (according to recipe) and Frisee Salad with Lardons and Poached Eggs (borrowing the techniques, but altering the ingredients significantly) followed by some delicious Pecan Sandies.

And if you want to embrace my newly-learned skills, I am fully open to making breakfast together.  The more hands and abilities, the greater our likelihood of success at poaching eggs and making English muffins from scratch.  It’s time we learned to learn from each other, or at least its time for me to do so.