I Should Have Been a Chef by Judy Alter
Mysteries, historical fiction—I’m proud of all the books I’ve published but somewhere along the line I missed my true calling. I should have been a chef. When I was in my late fifties, I had this epiphany that I wanted to go to a culinary school. A little research convinced me I was too old and decrepit for the tough physical demands of the cooking life. My feet and hips were already falling apart, and who knew how long my knees would hold out? Reluctantly I gave up that dream.
I learned to cook almost literally at my mom’s knee. At a young age, I was making peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies. Once when a girlfriend and I were cooking something—who knows what?—a childless friend of Mom’s came by. The kitchen was a mess; I hadn’t learned yet the art of cleaning up as I go, which is now almost a religious practice with me. The friend asked Mom quietly, “How can you let them make such a mess?” And Mom said, “If I don’t, they’ll never learn to cook.”
Another time I made a chocolate cake and proudly served it to my parents, assuring them that I had carefully followed the recipe. It tasted awful, sort of like Alka Seltzer. “Judy, how much baking soda did you put in?” Mom asked.
“Nine teaspoons,” I replied.
“Nine teaspoons!” She looked at the recipe, and there was an error in it. I had indeed followed it carefully—I just wasn’t yet smart enough about cooking to know the disastrous effect that nine teaspoons of baking soda would have. We threw the cake out.
My cooking skills improved, and as an adult I had an undeserved reputation as a gourmet cook. But I loved to entertain, and I wasn’t afraid to tackle such dishes as Coquilles St. Jacques or a roulade of rolled beef, chicken, prosciutto with a marvelous herb/anchovy sauce. Guests raved, and I basked in their words.
I also had an appalling recipe collection, because I was unable to look at an intriguing recipe without clipping it. I even had folders for “Entrees Tried” and “Entrees Never Tried.” Bored with my usual menus? I’d spend hours poring over that collection.
It finally occurred to me that I could combine the two passions of my life (not counting my four children) and write a cookbook. The result was Cooking My Way through Life with Kids and Books, a cookbook/memoir. The first chapter, “A Meat and Potatoes Household,” chronicles my childhood growing up in the meat-centric city of Chicago (and occasionally smelling the famous stockyards) and in a household where the menu catered to my father’s Anglophile preference for meat and potatoes.
Next I moved on to “Marriage and Two New World of Food”—I married a Jewish man and moved to Texas, two cuisines far afield from my childhood experiences. I have been known to joke that the only good things to come out of my failed marriage were my four children and my love for Jewish food. And Texas? I still don’t eat spicy but I love good chili, a brisket, even Tex-Mex.
“The Casserole Years” follows, recalling the foods I fixed as a single parent. Finally, there is “Living Alone and Liking It—Well, Most of the Time.” As an empty-nester, I entertained often, always experimenting with new recipes, cooking for company at least once a week. That chapter even has some hints for cooking for one.
Cooking My Way Through Life is still available (https://www.amazon.com/Cooking-through-Books-Stars-Texas/dp/1933337338/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1488297331&sr=1-1&keywords=Cooking+My+Way+Through+Life). The cover is an adorable picture of one of my grandchildren, dressed in toque and white chef’s coat, holding a wooden spoon. His pre-school had dressed him that way, and he appears to take the role of chef seriously. I would have too.
My now-strong Texas roots (I’ve lived here slightly over 50 years) resulted in Texas is Chili Country, an informal history of chili (no, it did not originate in Mexico) with lots of recipes, including my own “Judy’s Mild and Tentative Chili.” (https://www.amazon.com/b/?ie=UTF8&node=283155&tag=mh0b-20&hvadid=1695090168&ref=pd_sl_63a2t0xbiw).
The road not taken—that life as a chef—led to two books, and sometimes I wish I was a food writer. I settle for recording my cooking success and failures in my blog, “Judy’s Stew.”
Folks can find my books on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and other venues; my web page is http://www.judyalter.com and my blog is http://www.judysss-stew.blogspot.com.