Back in the day, really, in the wayback machine, I loved honing the culinary arts from an early age. Custard, served in special custard cups, was a favorite, and I was determined to master the perfect penuche fudge. My mother was a talented cook and outstanding baker, specializing in wedding cakes which we oh-so-very-carefully delivered to the bride in our Woodie station wagon.
My father made an excellent chili since he was the Fire Chief and spent the hunting season with a group of friends in a New Hampshire cabin, with everyone taking turns on providing the meals, so I was inspired to emulate that staple. Also, once I began living on my own, it became a matter of survival to know more than the basics of cooking — beyond custard and fudge.
When I moved to south Florida, and began inviting friends to house parties, I pulled out all the recipes from Bon Appétit and all the tools from Williams-Sonoma — Le Creuset pots, crêpe pans, woks, ramekins and fondue pots. I created appetizers with homemade cream puffs piped with minced lobster salad and chocolate mousse served in a Martini glass for dessert. Appetizers and desserts were my main focus, but I remember that my spicy lasagna was a popular entrée, and there always was jumbo shrimp, my husband’s favorite. There are many ways to utilize shrimp in cooking besides the shrimp cocktail route, and I tried them all. In general, I never followed the recipe exactly as written, going off on a tangent and substituting ingredients.
Souffles are an exception because mine always dive-bombed when removed from the oven. Lesson learned is that you really have to do it exactly right; although even if they collapse, they still taste good. When I left home to strike out on my own, my mother gave me a set of Revere Ware pots and pans, which I still use, because they last forever. I also inherited her soup tureen, which I admired as a child. I promptly broke the cover for it, so filled it with flowers instead.
I can close my eyes and still invoke the smell of a fresh-baked layer cake coming out of the oven or the hearty aroma from the beef, and probably venison, well-seasoned chili my father was stirring in the big pot.