It’s been great to see so many new faces at Nidulari lately! With new faces come plenty of questions of how Nidulari came to be, how I ended up living this life in the forest, and particularly, how did I learn to cook all this amazing food?
Last week I found myself in a very strange (to me) setting: a business meeting. I’ve never worked in the corporate world, taken a class in management, finance, or anything else business related. I’m a generation younger than most of the business owners around here, which is sometimes intimidating: it’s easy to feel that I’ve yet to earn my place among them. I have, however, learned that if you’re offered an opportunity to listen, watch, learn, and participate, you should take it; that’s how you learn as a homeschooler, and also as an adult when you must sink or swim. Watch, listen, and bluff your way through until you get the hang of it all…well, so far so good.
My life has been an adventure, but also a continual series of adjustments: between growing up aboard a sailboat, living in more than a dozen places thus far (and visiting many more) each with unique cultures and culinary traditions, and picking up jobs and enthusiasms in any field that presents itself. Cooking is just one way to bring all these experiences together in a meaningful manner; a way to pay tribute to years packed with welcome and hospitality in so many very, very different places. From drinking fresh-squeezed lime juice outside the tiny wood and tin shack of an ancient, wizened lady in Grenada, to being shown around the dry, sunny, rolling hills of Antigua with its deliciously sweet little pineapples, to being welcomed into new friends’ homes in Hyderabad for home cooked roti and curries, or taken out for a lesson in eating pani puri (a popular Indian street food), to the first taste of cheesy grits in a joint in the outskirts of DC; everywhere I’ve been, I’ve been greeted with immense hospitality and amazing foods. How could I not bring that vision, those experiences, home with me to St Croix?
The cooking side of my life has fallen together over the years. I never dreamed I’d be cooking for a living. I’ve never taken a single cooking class. I generally despise cooking magazines, find culinary shows to be frivolous, and am far too impatient for recipe books. I get bored with the culinary traditions of one country or another. I get frustrated with recipes with 62 ingredients. I abhor going to the grocery store for that one crucial ingredient. Yet it turns out that what people are craving, in this world of fast food, TV dinners, and exclusive high-end restaurants, is food that is simple. Food that is real. Food that is made how your grandmother might have made it: from basic, fresh, unadulterated ingredients, with patience and care, served with grace but not with frills.
If there was a starting point to my culinary journey, I’d have to say it was when my grandmother sent me a copy of the Little House On The Prairie cookbook. I was about 6 years old, and decided that I needed to make everything in it. I couldn’t say whether I ever achieved that goal, but I did discover the art of making a good pie crust…I’m still using an approximation of the same recipe 20 years later. One thing led to another, and soon I was the chief baker in my [quite foody] family, baking in our little gimbled propane oven in the narrow galley of our floating home, a 50′ gaff-rigged schooner. Pies, cakes, cookies, and breads all emerged with alarming regularity from that little oven, and boaters’ potluck dinners were made a little brighter. The story could easily have ended there, but eventually I found myself running off to India, where I fell in love with the food, taught myself to cook curries and roti and all manner of other things…and discovered these skills to be valuable bargaining chips when I tumbled back to the US. Then came the bribery of a custom-built wood-fired brick oven back here on St Croix, along with 20+ kinds of fruit tree and year-round sunshine…how could I refuse?
So it is that I pass my days preparing and sharing with you such an eclectic variety of foods, all with one thing in common; they are made fresh, with love and dedication.