Saturday, January 17, 2009

Passion Fruit

It was early spring in Ocean City, MD when I first realized the passion I feel for food. Actually, my dad helped me to realize it. The trip was nothing particularly special, but it's one I will never forget, for several more reasons not to be delved into here.

My dad's cousin, Tom and his "significant other," Cheryl have a trailer in a little neighborhood right on a canal up there. We were staying in the trailer for what was to be (little did I know) our last "family vacation" that included both of my parents together. Tom and Cheryl were there, along with my dad's sister, Sue, my mom, dad, and myself. Brother Stephen was away at college and our school breaks didn't line up at the time.

One night the six of us were out to eat at a great little restaurant right on the water, where we could watch the sunset. We were sitting outside on the wooden deck, overlooking the bay and enjoying some laughs as we reminisced about past family vacations and silly times we'd spent together. While we were eating, I began to tell my dad about the newest addition to the little historic town of Clifton, Virginia where we called home: The Clifton Coffee Mill, or as I came to refer to it, "The Clifton Coffery". Readers should understand the excitement felt by a regular coffee drinker to learn that the one-street, 4 family-owned-businessed town was gaining a coffee shop on it's Main (and only) Street. Anyway, I began to excitedly describe the shop to Dad, telling him every detail of the inside of the shop and what made it unique, along with a rather thorough description of their menu and of the barristas who found their employment there.

Dad asked me how the "Coffery" compared to a place like Starbucks, and without hesitation I told him that it was better. How was it better? Well, when I order my tall skim cafe mocha from a Starbucks store, I get a lovely cup of coffee, mixed with a little bit of chocolate, with a big dollop of whipped cream straight from a can on top. It is delicious, and satisfying. But, when I order my small skim cafe mocha from the "Clifton Coffery", I get a lovely cup of coffee, mixed with a little bit of chocolate, with a big dollop of freshly, by-hand whipped cream, lightly sweetened and delicately placed on top so that it begins to melt into my drink the second it hits the heat. As I described this subtle albeit important difference to my dad, he grinned widely at me and waited until I had finished to say, "Do you realize how much your eyes light up just from talking about a little bit of home-made whipped cream?" I felt as though the point I had been trying to make had been missed. "That, Jen, is a true passion you have. A passion for food," he said.

I used to think of my passions as those things which I most enjoy in life. However, it dawned on me at that time, that the things I am most passionate about are those things which I not only enjoy; they are the things which light up my eyes when I speak about them; they are the things which energize me and light up my soul when I think about them or act on them.

I have always loved food. I come from a big family of Greek eaters. It's what we do at family gatherings. All life, all activity orbits the central reason for our being there together: food. It has always seemed a normal part of life to me. That is, until I met Stephanie. Stephanie was the pickiest eater I had ever met. She ate very little variety, most of which was frozen or came from a can, and whatever she did eat, she smothered in Heinz ketchup. Her eating habits both appalled and disgusted me. They also made me realize that loving food is not a universal trait. In fact, most people, when asked to list the things they dislike most will have some sort of food on their list.

My dad pointed out to me that night at dinner that I had a special love of all food that is uncommon in today's world. I love to think about the combinations of flavors that I can create in the kitchen with simple, fresh ingredients. If I am ever found watching television, I am usually tuned in to the Food Network. Food is always an adventure. There is always something new to taste. There is always a new combination of flavors that haven't been tried together yet. It requires an open and creative mind, and one with which I've been fortunate enough to been blessed.

As a result, my friends and family get to experience food in a different way than most. They are my guinea pigs and my repeat customers. They inspire me and motivate me. And at the end of the day, and a great meal, they eat cake with me.

The fruit of my passion for food is not just the delicious concoctions I put together daily, but the people I've brought together with my cooking and with my love of food.

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