New Year's Eve is inevitably a day of reflection on the rapid passage of time, in the year past and the years before. For me, it's a particularly sentimental day of remembering, since I first met Chef Matt on New Year's Eve 2003. Each year on this day, it's both the sunset of a old year and an anniversary of a great new beginning in my life.
The first time I saw Chef Matt he was, of course, in a kitchen. He was making food for the New Year's party we were both attending, and although I do not remember talking to him much that night, I do remember my first thought about him when I saw him standing there by the stove: "Boy, that guy is really short."
In the seven years since that rather uncharitable thought, I have gone from a single graduate student living with my parents to a wife, mother of two (and one more on the way), history professional, living in our own home. I have also transformed my knowledge and use of food; I am not quite at "live to eat," but I know that I am no longer just "eat to live."
When I met Chef Matt, I did not own salt, pepper or any other spices or herbs. Why waste the money, I reasoned. Sometimes I splurged on grated parmesan cheese, but usually my shells with red sauce went without. I ate noodle and rice mixes a few times a week, and rarely kept unfrozen vegetables in the house. Looking back, it was a sad state of affairs.
In this year alone, however, I have learned to make homemade cherry pie, pizza, au gratin potatoes, zucchini bread and strawberry jam. I have not purchased a box of dehydrated mashed potatoes in five years, and I always make my french fries by hand. This is not meant to be especially impressive; I still use cream soups every week and eat a frozen pizza every Sunday.
It is the focus that has changed. When I was alone, meals were quick events, rarely fancier than something that proclaimed "Just add water!" on the box. But since I'm cooking for four, and since I am trying to consider the cultivation of my children's taste buds, meals have become an opportunity to learn, be creative and conquer the boxed entree. Plus, it is hard to argue that the potato flakes taste better than real mashed potatoes with chicken stock, sour cream and butter.
Overall, 2010 has been a good year in my food education. Our trip to the French Laundry was the shining moment of the year, but on a much less grand note, learning how to make new foods by hand, by way of much trial and error, has made me a more curious, adventurous and patient cook. And as 2011 dawns, a whole new year with my chef and our growing family, I am excited for the food possibilities -- maybe there are souffles and bisques in my future.