The culinary perspective of an olive thief

[I make it no secret that one of my favourite things about the East Coast Guest Posts is the variety of opinion. This next guest offers up her view on food and natural inclination toward the complex. Read on to see what Suzie the Foodie has to say on the topic of food philosophy.]

By Suzie Ridler

When my parents travelled on a trip from Ontario to the east coast I was approximately four years old. They stayed with some friends who had put out little trays of black olives around their living room. The adults had a grand time chatting up a storm when the woman who owned the house cried out in shock, realizing that all of the black olives had magically disappeared while they were talking.

My mom was filled with overwhelming embarrassment. I had eaten every single olive in the room! Yes, I had become an olive thief.

The lady exclaimed to my Mom, “How unusual for a child to have such an adult palette!”

And quite the curse. From a very young age I demanded complex flavours. Pass me the garlic and vinegar! Bland food was painful for me to eat. It still is. I need depth, spice and texture.

I realize that the simple food revolution is what is popular these days. No fancy sauces that need an hour to reduce and concentrate the flavours. No, just a drizzle of olive oil and a spritz of lemon juice and that is all you need. Yeah, right! There is a part of me that wishes I could participate in the appreciation of the basic food flavours. Oh how my life would be simpler and easier. Alas, all I can think of when I eat this food is: boring!

Most of my childhood was spent playing outside or losing myself in books. I do not have memories of hanging out with my mom in the kitchen, her teaching me the basics of food. When I left home after university I really had no understanding of food at all. For me to enjoy food it usually meant going out to nice restaurants and eating an inspired chef’s complex food flavours.

It has taken time, energy and a ton of recipes for me to figure out that yes, my mom is right, I have fine dining taste buds. Perhaps it is not my fault? Apparently the first time my mom had Bearnaise sauce it was in the United Kingdom slathered on a beautiful steak. She was pregnant, with me. This summer when she came to visit me I made Bearnaise sauce from scratch for her. It was the first time, to my recollection, of me ever eating this sauce my mom adores. Yet it tasted so familiar! Not to mention, heavenly…

When the majority of people see recipes that call for much time, attention, chopping, reducing of liquids…they want to run. They want fast and easy. Me? I love a challenge. I get excited wondering whether or not I can accomplish such a crazy culinary task? If the flavour payoff is big enough, I will try anything. In the kitchen, I am unafraid. No shortcuts, no fake food. It is all real or nothing.

Even as a child I was not the kind of person who would eat whipped cream out of a can. It disgusted me. I could not understand how people could not taste the chemicals. The first time I had real whipped cream I was 10 years old and I almost cried. This is what food is supposed to taste like. When my aunt made real ice cream on a hot summer’s day for us? I finally understood what all the fuss was about. I rarely ate ice cream from a box after that. Why should I? Gross!

To get the flavours I want and that my palette demands, I have to work for them. Yes, I would love to be satiated by easy-to-make-meals but in general, they leave me bored and uninspired. It makes my life with fibromyalgia (chronic pain and exhaustion) exceptionally challenging. I am grateful that the kitchen is one of the few spaces in my life where I have some energy. The best part is that food gives me energy back and allows me to share my passion for food with others.

I do not make fine dining meals all of the time but I try to make something special at least twice a week, more often if I have the time and money. I also bake a special dessert at least once a week for my husband. Baking for me is truly a beautiful labour of love. I am not a huge fan of sweets but my husband grew up on desserts following dinner so I make sure that I lovingly create something special for him on a regular basis. And what a treat for me as well!

Food feeds, inspires and challenges me. I love wrapping my head around a recipe and then being a rebel and doing something completely different. Each week I try to learn one new technique, get one step closer to really knowing what the magic of a culinary life is all about. To truly transform food into feast and delicacy is perhaps the closest thing to a miracle my tastebuds have ever experienced.

Photo credit: Suzie Ridler

Photo credit: Suzie Ridler

White Chocolate and Orange Kissed Cookies

2 sticks or 1 cup of unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp orange blossom water or orange extract
zest of 1 orange
2 extra-large eggs at room temperature
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup of white chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cream the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the vanilla, orange blossom water or extract and zest. Then add the eggs, 1 at a time, and mix well. Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt and add to the batter with the mixer on low speed until just combined. Fold in the white chocolate chips.

Drop the dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, using a rounded tablespoon. Bake for 13-16 minutes (the cookies will seem underdone). Remove after the cookies have flattened out and just look golden on the bottom, not a deep brown. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly on the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Suzie Ridler is a foodie, writer, photographer and self-taught cook/baker. Check out her blog at Suzie the Foodie or follow her on Twitter.


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