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Published on March 18th, 2013 | by Donna Martin


Overcooked, Overwhelmed and Overwrought

My brother Hal and wife Jill came to visit for a while this month. You know – the relatives from the north who need a little reprieve from snow and cold about this time of the year. We all have them.

Because they lived so far away even when I was in Michigan, I didn’t know Jill was such a good cook. For most of her stay I witnessed in awe as she labored in the kitchen for hours, using every cooking utensil and pot and pan I owned. Each meal was greater than the last.

She used herbs and spices I’ve never used – like capers for instance. Now be honest, do you know one person in your life including yourself who ever uses capers and what plant family would that be in, I wonder? She bought piles of dill, and parsley, and cilantro. She bought sun-dried tomatoes. I have never entertained a sun-dried tomato in any house I ever lived in from coast to coast.

I remember Jill actually asked if I had a mortar and pestle and also a meat mallet. Come on now, do know anyone who uses these things? Really uses them?

“Have I just been running with the wrong crowd?” I asked myself.

There were at least 5 ingredients in every dish I could not identify. The only thing I was sure of, all meals were so delicious. One day she broiled cod with a bunch of other ingredients.  I’ve never cooked fish in my life, I swear to you. I wouldn’t even know what to do with it. The cod was unlike any I had ever tasted.

I’ve pretty much been a resistant chef (and I use the word chef, loosely), cooking out of desperation because I eat mainly “healthy veggies and fruit” with little meat. I have about four one dish wonders I have been rotating for about 30 years, pretty much healthy, and extremely boring.  I sort of eat just to sustain.

So you’d think I would just be so grateful and thrilled to eat all these masterpiece meals, huh? Well, you’re wrong – Jill just simply ruined my every meal from the day she left. I pitifully ate up all the leftovers savoring them and sadly watching them disappear forever.

But then, never one to ignore a challenge when I recognize it, I vowed to myself to overcome one of my biggest fears – recipes. Armed with my cute little hand woven shopping basket, I enthusiastically drove on down to the local farmers market.  I was filled with hope.

I only knew that I could never go back to my simple “undressed”, “unspiced” and “unherbed” salads and other dishes I barely survive on.

So with the farmer’s help in identifying some of the veggies (for instance a shallot) I never ever had one in my hand. I bought ginger root,  some unusual looking greens I never tasted,( I think it’s called arugula) and a few other strange looking and sounding edible items, I returned home feeling filled with enthusiasm, and I might add, bravery.

I brought out all my cookbooks including a full set of Southern Cookbooks, my Williams Sonoma Salad Book, and several others – all the ones in which I only look at the pictures.

There wasn’t one recipe for salad dressing that I could make because they all listed one or two ingredients I didn’t have in my cupboard. For instance, I never keep dry mustard, lite yogurt, East Asian Black Vinegar, yes, you read that right, sprigs of rosemary, and the list goes on but you’ve got the picture. Poppy seeds,  horseradish, garlic, NO I don’t keep garlic as a rule, does anyone? And tarragon. Where do you get tarragon, for crying out loud?  And what’s all the vinaigrette crap about? I even had to look up the spelling on this. Isn’t vinaigrette a new word of the 90’s or something? I know I never heard of it growing up.

I was so hungry I grabbed a lime and some honey and ginger, which I did have, (I ’m not a complete Neanderthal cook). I even nonchalantly tossed in a few sesame seeds I had just bought. With pride and total abandon, I dripped it over the arugula salad. It worked, it really did!

Today, arugula salad with my own dressing, tomorrow the world. I’m thinking a chef’s apron, maybe.

I’m still pretty lost and overwhelmed and overwrought. I decided I would try to conquer this salad dressing ingredient list like an accountant would, (part of my dark and desperate past careers choices) on a spreadsheet. I think I can subsist on salads until I graduate to whole meals.

I have a real deadline to meet. Austin, younger son of said gourmet cook who ruined my life, is coming to visit and help me out some. Now I know, baloney sandwiches are out…unless, that would be a treat to a junk food deprived individual. Just maybe I can pull this off. It’s all about presentation.

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About the Author

Donna Martin

Stained Glass Artist, Owner of Alchemy Stained Glass Studio, Oil painter and journalist. I love the laid back attitude of Edgewater. Oak Hill is one of my favorite towns because of the simple life, with the old Florida atmosphere and the abundant wildlife. But initially, it was New Smyrna Beach that attracted me. I was on my way to Ponce Lighthouse and took a wrong turn into New Smyrna Beach. I picked up a newspaper (The Observer, in fact). On the front page was an article about the Atlantic Center for the Arts. I folded up my paper, went back to St. Cloud where I was working for Chrysler in Orlando and put my house up for sale. I’ve never looked back.

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