Monday, October 27, 2008

Learning to cook by the book

I was raised in small town America. Alan Jackson’s country hit Where I Come From It’s Cornbread and Chicken is an accurate description of the cuisine of southern Arkansas. My mother was a good cook and made her own bread, thick blackberry jelly and rich homemade mayonnaise. She rolled handmade pastry dough and filled it with fresh apples for pie and made bran rolls or cornbread everyday. Our cuisine was based on the seasons, just as the fancy restaurants practice today. We had home grown tomatoes, corn right out of the fields, freshly picked strawberries and beans by the bushel bought direct from the farmer. I shelled enough purple hulled peas in my day that I had purple thumbs for a week. It felt like I spent my entire summer vacation with a newspaper on my lap shelling beans until the bushel baskets were empty. The only problem was my mother never let me to do a thing in the kitchen except watch so I never learned to cook.

After I graduated from college I moved to a large city and was on my own. As a departing gift, my mother gave me a large red version of her bread bowl so I could make her homemade bread, which she never taught me how to make. When I met my husband Meakin in Houston I could prepare college kid food such as cheese toast, pimento cheese sandwiches and tuna noodle casseroles, but that was about the extent of my cooking skills. Meakin grew up in a gourmet family. His father was an executive in New York City with a three martini lunch kind of expense account and ate in all of the top restaurants in the city. It was a far cry from my cornbread and chicken, and I couldn’t even cook that.

Meakin told me if you can read you can cook. "Give cooking a try," he said, "and if you make something we can’t eat, I’ll take you out." It sounded like a good deal to me.

My first cookbook was With a Jug of Wine by Morrison Wood. It was one of his dad’s favorites. I flipped through the book and chose Chicken Rosemary as my first dish to prepare for my new gourmet boyfriend. It had seven ingredients and I recognized all of them, so it sounded doable to me. Meakin was very pleased with the results. I had prepared my very first successful meal.

Meakin and his Dad had a tremendous influence over my taste in food. I had an adventuresome palate and was willing to give anything a try. As a couple we cooked together. In addition to Meakin, Julia Child, Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey were my teachers. You might say I cut my teeth on such classics as Mastering the Art of French Cooking, The New York Times Cookbook and The New York Times 60-Minute Gourmet. I learned knife skills from black and white drawings in Julia’s cookbooks. The Hoffers ate well. Food and cooking became our combined hobby and our passion. I’ve progressed to winning cooking contests and writing food columns.

How people learned to cook is fascinating to me. I hope you will share your story. I look forward to your comments. Bon appetit.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sam the cook and writer

Welcome to my blog. My name is Sam Hoffer. I live in Murphy, North Carolina and write a food column, From My Carolina Kitchen, for the Cherokee Scout newspaper. This blog is a supplement to my column. I am passionate about food and have never met a food I didn't like. I live to eat and love everyday. My day revolves around my husband and food.

I am a member of the North Carolina Writers Network and active in it's affiliate Netwest.

My husband Meakin and I retired to live in the out islands of the Bahamas for ten years on a tiny private cay in the Abacos called Lubbers Quarters. It was a very special time of our lives and one we won't forget. I am in the process of writing a lively memoir, Living on Island Time, Retirement in Abaco Spiced with Food, Friends and Rum. It's a travel adventure including the wonderful friends we made as well as building a home, boating and fishing, entertaining and, most importantly to me, food.

Stay tuned and check again for some of my favorite recipes and pictures in future posts.

I look forward to your comments and input. Welcome to My Carolina Kitchen. Bon appetit.