Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Salt

Author's note: This will get religious. If you're not into that or not interested, there are some posts about the economy, relationships, society or my best friend that I'm proud of in the archives.

I like to cook. I mean, I really like to cook. It's one of my favorite things to do. The process of taking these ordinary plants and meats and turning them into something savory, flavorful, beautiful and delicious is like magic to me. I love cooking with a girl on a date and enjoying the fruits of our labors together. I enjoy cooking for large groups and seeing people's eyes light up as they see and smell the food I've worked on. I just like to cook.

My entrance into cooking started small: putting crushed red pepper and Italian seasonings on frozen pizzas, putting some cheese on a frozen burrito, making macaroni and cheese out of a box, and making cream of wheat and accidentally cooking it for 30 minutes instead of the recommended three. When I moved out of my parent’s house I started to experiment a little more. I remember one day, after Lindsey and I had broken up and I was having a hard week, Derald, a friend of mine who had recently married another friend of mine, invited me over one day for lunch. This was a little different because I had always hung out with Derald in groups and with other friends; we'd never hung out just the two of us.

I cannot make hamburgers.

Still, we got along and he's one of the friendliest guys I've known, so I accepted. When I got to his house he had ground hamburger in a bowl and was chopping onions and peppers. As he mixed all the ingredients together, throwing in various spices and Worcestershire sauce into the bowl with the hamburger, he asked me how things were going. He showed genuine concern for my situation. He also made me a great hamburger, one of the best I've ever had. I've still never figured out how to replicate it.

That was one of the first times it occurred to me what a difference spices can make in cooking. Normally I like hamburgers but I don't love them. They're always a little bland and thanks to the FDA going overboard with the "you must cook your meat completely through" message, everyone overcooks them till the meat is dry, flavorless and has the texture of cardboard. Derald didn't. He made me a moist, flavorful, wonderfully textured hamburger. It opened my eyes. The remainder of the lunch we just talked. When I left I was smiling.

Great for starters.

That was shortly after I had moved in with Jared after my freshman year of college. Jared had recently returned from serving a mission in Italy and so he naturally knew how to cook Italian food. I'm quite certain it's impossible to live in Italy for any real period of time and not learn how to cook Italian food. It must be something they teach you at customs. One thing Jared learned in Italy is that salt is awesome. Now, Jared liked salt before, so this simply increased his love of the rock. He put a lot of salt in the water when making pasta, explaining that that's how they do it in Italy, as well as putting salt on everything from tomatoes to chicken to sandwiches to just about anything he made. At the time I thought he used too much salt, but his food was always excellent. Jared was good at cooking, but a lot of what he knew he learned from Derald. A lot of the basics I know I learned from Jared. Lee taught me a lot of cooking skills, too, but we largely learned together. When I would cook with Jared I learned a lot. The most important thing Jared taught me is to use salt.

For a long time I never used salt in my cooking. I used pepper, but not salt. I don't really like the taste of salt. It's...salty. But watching Jared cook, his food was rarely salty, despite all the salt he threw into it. After I'd been living with Jared for a little while, Will introduced me to a show on the Food Network called "Good Eats." I'd watched the

My guilty pleasure in HS.

Food Network before, but nothing much beyond Iron Chef, which was a staple on high school speech trips. (Most high school kids would search for porn or something of a similar nature when given a hotel room with cable; my friends and I searched for Iron Chef.) As I started to watch Good Eats with Will, I became enthralled with it. Here was a show that focuses on the science of cooking. It was like my two great loves merging together to form something greater than the parts. (Station... anyone?) I quickly searched the internet and found as many episodes of Good Eats as I could find. I think they were on season 8 at the time. I spent the next two weeks watching every episode as many times as I could. Alton Brown became my new idol. If it were socially acceptable I'm quite certain I'd build shrines to him. I love the man beyond words.

If you've ever seen the show - or any show on the Food Network - you'll notice that they put salt in or on everything. From salads to seafood to beef to pasta to soup to chili to dessert: salt gets used. I would always see them take a big pinch of salt and sprinkle it over the food. Emeril tosses it in the air and whatever lands on the food is what he puts in. Rachel Ray simply sprinkles it on. Alton Brown uses kosher salt and uses his hands to apply it, usually liberally. If you ever make the food yourself, you'll learn that it's never salty. It's just good. This came as a bit of a conundrum to me and it took me awhile to understand it. Italian seasoning makes things taste Italian, crushed red pepper/cayenne pepper makes things spicy, cumin makes things taste like cumin, pepper makes things taste like pepper, garlic makes things taste like garlic; why wouldn't salt makes things taste like salt?

The key to quality cooking.

Watching Good Eats I learned why. It turns out that salt is unique in that it pulls out moisture from food. From this it often pulls out flavor, as well. Similarly, salt activates our own salivary glands and allows us to better taste food. Salt doesn't make things salty; it makes things taste more like they should. Salt on sautéed potatoes makes them taste more like potatoes, salt on beef makes it taste more like beef, salt on pasta makes it taste more like pasta, and salt in cake makes it taste more like cake. This is one of the single most important things you can learn as a chef: salt makes things more flavorful, it doesn't make them taste like salt.

It's a very unique trait. I can't really think of anything else - any other food - that magnifies other flavors like salt does. Many flavors and spices compliment one another, but that's not the same. Salt is unique in this trait and it's because of it that we're able to do so much with food and create so many wonderful meals. Without salt, food and cooking wouldn't be what it is. The world would be bland. It would be flavorless without salt.

Cooking has taught me a lot of things about life. When I was beginning, I tried to make sure every step along the way it tasted good. I thought that if you've got a 6 step meal and at step 3 it doesn't taste good then there's no way it could taste good at step 6. I assumed each step would build on the preceding one, making it better than the step before. That's not true. There are times in cooking when the food isn't that flavorful. When you're only halfway through a meal, the food probably isn't that good. But that's ok. When you get done, when all the parts have come together, that's when the flavor, the texture, the look, the smell, and the beauty of the food comes out. Life is like that, too. We always seem to want each step of our lives to be better than the last, or each day to get better; we don't always realize that the parts that aren't tasty or delicious are there because the end result of all our experiences will be worth it.

This brings me back to spice. As I said, when I started cooking I didn't use salt. I didn't want my food salty and so I just didn't use it. Because of this, I had to spice up my food other ways, usually with very liberal usage of crushed red pepper, basil, oregano,

Use lightly when cooking.

garlic powder, onion powder, and black pepper. For any experienced chef, you'd notice that each of those spices is quite powerful, and combing all of them in liberal dosages will indeed make any dish flavorful. Of course, it will also make any dish taste like a combination of those flavors: you could cover Styrofoam in those spices and it'd be tasty. I realized that I wasn't really cooking, I was just making various foods taste like the same thing; masking the foods own flavors with others. Every meal was the same, and though it was flavorful, there was no variety. It wasn't until I discovered the actual power salt has over food and flavor that I started to experience the foods themselves and experience the pleasure and sensations they offer.

My life has been like that in the past. I've had spices in my life; things that have made life more interesting. But as time has moved on, I've realized that all these things are doing is masking my own life. I haven't been experiencing or improving my own life. Spices can add to a meal, but they shouldn't be the only flavor you taste. The food should be tasted as well, and in order to do that, you need salt. My own life has been covered in materialistic spices. I've been trying to cover up a lack of flavor with things to make it more enjoyable. Yet all I'm doing is prolonging the same thing I've endured for I don't even know how long. The only thing in life that compares to salt, the only thing in life that can make us more flavorful and make our lives more alive is the Gospel.

I often hear people speak of religious people being stifled and hindered in experiencing life. Truth be told, I often agree. There are a lot of religions out there and while I think some have some right ideas, so many are missing key points. If I were to crush up Styrofoam or plastic so that it looked like salt and cooked with it, it wouldn't have the same effect as salt and would probably make the food taste quite awful. In this same manner, unless you have the

Bringing the Gospel to the world.

true Gospel - the power of the Priesthood gifted by the laying on of hands, the guidance of having a prophet on the Earth today, the security and strength of having the Holy Spirit with you - you won't be enhancing your own life. I don't mean to be saying that other religions can't help people or do good things because they obviously can, but every time I hear someone express a grievance or show disdain for religion and they explain why, all I can think is that my faith doesn't have that hole. There is so much knowledge within this faith and within this church I cannot express it, and I myself am a kindergartener compared to many others in what I know of it. I hear people speak of religions not having any proof, or see people point to wars and travesties and crimes throughout history that have been caused by religion, saying that that is why they don't trust religious leaders, I agree. Many corrupt religious leaders and consequently corrupt religions are responsible, or at least acted as catalysts, for many harsh and inhumane acts in history. If I didn't have this Gospel in my life - if I didn't know that Joseph Smith was a prophet who translated the Book of Mormon and gave it to the world at the cost of his own life, that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet on this Earth today and that revelation and guidance comes to us today just as it did to Moses - I wouldn't trust religious leaders, either.

In the New Testament, the phrase "salt of the Earth" is used and referenced in Christ's Sermon on the Mount. Salt has a long history in the Bible, being used as a purifying agent and that is often the reference it's taken in: "you are the salt of the Earth" meaning "you're the purity on the Earth" when talking with the poor and humble, compared to the arrogance and hypocritical actions of the Pharisees and religious leaders of the day. Today I use the term to express how the Gospel amplifies lives. It doesn't mask our lives like materialistic spices, nor does it turn everything into the Gospel and make it all taste the same; it elevates us and makes lives more enjoyable. It brings out our natural flavors, makes us better and more beautiful.

When cooking, you need a certain knowledge and faith to know what salt will do to a meal. A lot of beginning cooks won't use it enough because they're afraid of making the food salty. Professional chefs use it liberally and throw it on everything. With my faith, I'm still at the beginning stage. I don't have enough faith in the Gospel to trust that it will make my life better in every possible way; I keep thinking it'll just make my life more religious. Those who have had this faith and experienced the results are more liberal with the Gospel, using it often and constantly increasing the quality of their lives with it.

I don't say this enough because, in all honesty, I don't think it'd be well received very often. A lot of the people I interact with aren't religious and many view religion as a weakness, a willing ignorance, a source of corruption, or all the above. I do believe the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is true. I don't always know it and there are times I wonder of its validity,

He gave his life for this truth.

but whenever I think about the Book of Mormon, I realize that nothing anyone could ever do would change the truth inside that book. It is simply not possible that Joseph Smith just wrote it himself. Anyone who claims that just shows that they've never read it themselves. The continuity, the accuracy, and the spirit within that book are all unparalleled in this world. No other religious, historical or scientific text comes close to holding the same truth, and yes, I include the Bible in that. I believe in the Bible as well, but it's been altered and has its own flaws due to translations, word-of-mouth adaptations and various altercations throughout time. It's not all true and I fully understand why people have quarrels with it. But the Gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints doesn't rest in the Bible or even in the Book of Mormon;

The First Presidency.

it rests on the living prophet on the Earth today and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. I don't blame anyone for being cautious of religious leaders or unwilling to trust anyone with the faith that people usually put in them. Truth be told there are times when I falter myself; but every time I hear the Apostles or the Prophet speak, all those doubts roll away and I know they are inspired and guided by the Lord. I can walk away from hearing them speak knowing the answers to my questions and my own fears comforted, even though they didn't say a thing about what I was wondering. The Spirit is so strong with them that it touches us when we hear their words and it salts our

Add salt to your life.

lives, letting us know the answers we need to know, helping us when we need help, and enhancing our lives in every possible way.

I'm a good chef and I have the knowledge to use salt liberally when cooking to make my meals better. I'm trying to have the faith to use the Gospel liberally to make my life better.

5 comments:

--jeff * said...

this morning i was making the vegetable scramble that i learned from you and i forgot to add a pinch of salt. i was genuinely surprised at how bland it was, even with the fresh garlic and ground pepper.

this is your strongest post your blog: well-thought out and eloquently said. excellent work, t.

station.

Becky said...

I like it. I like it a lot. You are a good writer, brother.

Em said...

Jeff sent me here (and everybody else actually).
I'm loving this.
The Gospel AND Alton Brown, perfect.

The Perry Family said...

You don't know who I am, but a friend, Emily Flinders, posted a link to this post from her blog. I just had to tell you that I loved this post and how well you wrote it. Thanks for sharing.

Chell said...

Great post, glad I followed Em's suggestion..