Finding myself through food

Dano's Heuriger on Seneca on a spring day in the Finger Lakes felt just like Europe.

Veggies: Still thinking about that delicious vegetarian torta at Taquiera Mercado 3 in downtown Cincinnati
Wine: Isn't my go-to drink when eating Mexican cuisine. A spicy bloody mary did the trick.

I've been contemplating writing a post on food memories, and I was inspired to follow through after reading that one of my favorite food sites, Food52, was asking readers to share their food stories. Here's mine...

At the age of 25, I went to Europe for six months, hoping that I would somehow find myself. I came home with an engagement ring, a realization that I didn't want to live an ocean apart from my family, and a passion for food. Which, I've come to learn 14 years later, is as close to finding myself as I might ever get.

I categorize much of my life and my decisions as "before Europe" and "after Europe." For example, before Europe, I got excited when I found Healthy Choice Mac and Cheese frozen dinners on sale for $1. After Europe, I wanted to eat real, fresh food with ingredients I could recognize and pronounce and that didn't come in a cardboard box I mindlessly shoved in a microwave for 3 minutes. (If you're on the after side of that example, you know how life-changing such a thing is.) Before Europe, cooking was a burden. After Europe, I started reading cookbooks like bestselling novels and hanging out in my kitchen for fun.

During those six months, I certainly had some bad meals. Some standouts include guessing at menu items in languages I didn't know and receiving a plate of something with eyes and scales, and crying about a plastic-wrapped deli meat sandwich I'd just bought before a long and otherwise food-less train ride. But most were decent--remember my microwaveable mac and cheese obsession? The bar was low--and many were spectacular.  Partially because of the food, but often because of the environment or the people. I learned a bit more of Jesu's story each night as he served DP and me amazing dishes at a four-table restaurant in Salema, Portugal. I savored the simple delight of a sliced apple topped with a piece of real Parmesan cheese, washed down with a glass of wine while sitting around a table with soon-to-be family members. I told DP, as we sat in a garden restaurant in Germany, that I wanted to own a place like this someday. I'm still filled with joy whenever I recall the father who pulled hunks of bread from a crusty baguette for his son, causing crumbs to fly all over our hot, crowded coach car.

Back in the States, I was eager to recreate the food and the environments I'd loved. It's a mission I'm still attempting to accomplish. I've taken a culinary class here and there, but most of my cooking skills are the result of hundreds of hours in the kitchen--testing, tasting, failing, succeeding--and sharing my creations in my home (partly the inspiration for my annual Friendsgiving party), at family get-togethers, for events (my friend Steve gave me my first catering gigs), and more recently for strangers who became sisters to me in North Carolina. Sharing my food with others is the equivalent of sharing my heart ... I cook with love and care and positive energy, which (hopefully) translates into body-and-soul nourishing meals. And all the better when enjoyed at a communal table over equally nourishing conversation. Let me know when you want to come over the dinner. Seriously.

Before Europe, food was food. After Europe, food is my life. I can't imagine it any other way.


  1. I loved reading about this "food awakening" Jen! And I agree with you 100% about food nourishing both body and soul.

    Food52 is one of my favorites as well! Have you read Amanda Hesser's (one of the co-founders of Food52) book "Cooking for Mr. Latte"? It's one of my favorites!

    Oh, and I'd love to come over for dinner. If I were still living in Cincinnati, I'd invite myself over tonight. Heehee :)

    1. Mia, you are ALWAYS welcome to dinner any time ... you have provided me with some of my most delicious and soul-satisfying dinners of my life :)

      I do love Amanda Hesser ... in fact, I contacted her on Facebook after reading Cooking for Mr. Latte because I was so inspired. She gave such a kind reply, which made me like her even more.

  2. You are amazing. Plain and simple.


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