Where does inspiration come from? Often from the strangest things. You go in the kitchen, you want to cook something, and you wait for something to whisper in your ear, and give you the divine answer for what to make for dinner tonight. Or you wait in front of a blank computer screen, or a blank canvas. As I start to talk about inspiration, what’s the first thing that happens? Nothing!
Immediately when I thought, “inspiration,” I went into freeze mode. Then I started looking around in my space. I walked away from my computer, looked outside my window, and saw the blood oranges growing on the tree outside. Last year it wasn’t doing well. This year I’m going to have a bumper crop. I’m seeing the color orange, and the plants in my garden… Turning, I see the wooden spoon collection in my office, shelves full of favorite books, and my and my friends’ artwork. I see a very colorful throw on my office couch.
This is where my inspiration comes from—from paying attention to what’s around, in any given moment.
Two stories arise in my mind as I look at the oranges, for example.
First I think of all the things I can do with those oranges. They can be put in a salad… they can become a marinade… they can be sliced, supremed, and put in a citrus salad… the perfect post-holiday refresher! What greens could go with them? Radicchio, endive, arugula. What if I put some olives with those oranges? The sweet, the salty, and the crunchy. The perfect salad for my guests coming for dinner!
Second, my mind drifts to the inspiration I’ve received from so many women in the culinary field, who have been cooking for years and years and years and generations, often behind the scenes. Very successful sous chefs, whom I’ve had the opportunity to work for, or people whose books I’ve read, or who I’ve met and cooked with.
Back in the day when I was in culinary school I used to do internships at the James Beard House. Chefs came in from all over the country and prepared dinner for 100 in their teeny kitchen. It’s an honor to be invited. The chefs would bring their own top notch sous chefs, and interns flocked from all over NYC to chop and stir for them. It was very rare to encounter a woman among the sous chefs. I recall one coming up to me and saying, “Whenever you feel creatively blocked about what to do with a food, start with the letter ‘A’ in the alphabet . Try it tonight! Go from A through F in your mind. Pick 5 foods. Come back tomorrow and tell me 30 things you could do with them. From artichokes to blood oranges to fava beans. 30 things!” 30 things? Wow! She sparked inspiration for me.
This year I want to be inspiring you.
On the blog my posts will light a fire for you, It’s ALL about being inspired and empowered and creative. I’m layin’ it down! It’s going to come from my kitchen, my life, my painting studio, the people I meet. Colleagues and dear friends I want to invite to post on the blog, sharing their special sauce. My question will be: how is this going to inspire you?
Our main ingredient for 2018 will be a generous pinch of inspiration.
One of the great things about traveling is that it gets you out of food ruts. When you’re in a different part of the country, or of the world, it’s hard to ignore local fare. When an eighty-year-old nonna puts a strange salad in front of you, what are you going to say—“No?”
I remember the first time I saw this salad in Italy. My initial reaction was, “Oranges with cracked pepper? Really?!” And yet this combination, and another one I saw with oranges and olives, really kicked up an incredible sweet-salty mouth pop that was impossible to ignore. Clearly the combo left an impression, because I’ve reprised it here with my own touch, adding almonds and mint. Maybe it was more than an impression; let’s call it inspiration—just the type of culinary experience that primes the pump of creativity.
There’s fat, good fat, and great fat. Avocados fall into the last category—full of brain-boosting vitamin E and a monounsaturated fat that helps lower blood pressure, which can help lower the risk of cognitive impairment. The same fat also serves to signal the gut and brain that satiation is taking place, which keeps us from overeating. In this delicate salad, the avocado acts as a creamy bass note for the tart pop of the grapefruit and the perky citrus-ginger vinaigrette.
Besides, this is DELICIOUS! And if you want to develop a repertoire of signature foods for entertaining, this is worthy of consideration.