I am grown up from the little girl who would clean her plate at every meal. Who was as likely to tuck into a breakfast of hot cereal as I was one of hot soup left over from the previous night’s dinner or a pan-fried, line caught trout if my father had been out fishing at the break of dawn. Who requested baked-stuffed lobster dinners for her birthday starting at around age 4 and would find her wishes fulfilled by indulgent parents. And who had a grandmother setting a standard of baking excellence.
My maternal grandmother emigrated from Edinburgh in the early part of the 1920s with her husband and young daughters, and not long after, she began working as a baker in the Boston University dining halls. When summer arrived she would leave her husband and three daughters behind and pick up seasonal kitchen work in vacation resorts on Cape Cod.
Nana Burton was a very good home cook too. When we visited her in her small cottage on Lake Samoset in Leominster, we would sit and talk with her and Papa in the front room for about an hour or so. During that time, Nana never displayed much evidence of extensive food preparation or slaving over a hot stove.
But after a certain amount of conversation, Nana would excuse herself from the room. When she returned from her tiny galley-style kitchen in short order, she did so pushing her tea trolley complete with tea service and china dishes…plus a roast chicken, homemade gravy in a gravy boat, mashed potatoes, Scotch peas, and some kind of stewed fruit – apples or rhubarb or apricots, depending on the season – accompanied by a pitcher of English custard sauce. How this much food appeared was a mystery to me. Nary a pot or roasting pan rattled within our hearing and yet, at the exact moment when conversation started to dry up and everyone’s stomachs began to growl, there Nana would be, the trolley in front of her sporting a bounty of good, home-cooked comfort food.
Because of food like that, because I wanted to continue for the rest of my life to eat food that good, I started teaching myself to cook and bake at the age of fourteen. When my parents took day trips on the weekends and left me alone in the house, I would crack open my mother’s copy of the Fannie Farmer Cookbook and fire up the oven. Forget calling boys or taking off with friends, I wanted only to enjoy free rein in the kitchen and unsupervised access to the family pantry.
When I graduated from Simmons College with a degree in English Literature and the desire to write novels, I learned just how lucky I was to possess this aptitude for and love of cooking and baking. Stephen Elmont gave the green, just-out-of-college me my first break in the hospitality field when I was hired to work in catering sales for Creative Gourmets in Boston. When I told Steve I would be moving to Chicago, he introduced me to his friend Christian DeVos, then General Manager of The 95th Restaurant at the top of the John Hancock Tower. Christian took a chance on someone who had no knowledge of the Chicago market and put me to work on the private dining sales team. Food was no longer just a passion; it became my bread and butter.
These days, I thank my lucky stars every morning that I have managed to combine my love of food and writing into a career that includes novels [Hunger (2001), and the New York and New England Book Festival Honorable Mention The Mosaic Artist (2011)], travel, interviews, photography and lots and lots of cooking. I am currently at work on this weekly blog, my third novel, and a non-fiction work that is equal parts food memoir, cooking and baking discussion, and collection of food industry profiles and trends. I have contributed articles to the online regional and seasonal food magazine, Local In Season, and even play around on camera occasionally, appearing in cooking videos for an internet recipe resource found on several Eagle-Tribune newspapers.
I love what I do. Thank you for letting me share that passion with you.