In the summer of 1969 Ellen and I were both in Providence at the Rhode Island School of Design. We had finished our freshman year and the both of us were staying in the city for the summer rather than going back home. Our timing getting out of work for the day was such that we always ended up walking together on our way home. We were friends and enjoyed talking with each other on these walks home. We would discuss our day, friends, music, the world and, it being the 60’s, how we were going to change the world.
At this point I was living by myself in a small apartment, a couple of rooms in what had been a mansion in better days and like much of the off-campus student housing, it had been partitioned into a rabbit warren maze of apartments. I remember what the interior of those apartments looked like: a slab of foam instead of a mattress, day-glow rock concert posters on the walls (if you were really cool a poster of the ‘Super Session’ album cover), masonry block shelving, tiny kitchens with virtually no cabinets, the secondhand couch covered with an ‘India Print’ thin cotton spread, with luck an old table and mismatched chairs, incense and incense holders, and always – the iconic stereo (Marantz, Phillips, AR, Design Research components) and the record collection. Ah, and the bathrooms. Not something to linger in, it held a toilet that you used trying not to think of it, an age stained sink and the metal shower that always was rusting at the base. I recall that women’s apartments always looked more inviting: cleaner with freshly washed bed sheets.
One soft early summer evening on our walk home, with no malice or forethought on my part, I said, “Why don’t you come to my place and I’ll make us dinner”. I’ve always wondered what possessed me to say that. Prior to that monumental moment in time I had never made dinner for anyone other than myself. At the time I believe that my repertoire consisted of some kind of steak, frozen green peas and one of those ‘Uncle Ben’s’ flavored rice dishes (my memory, flawed though it may be, remembers these as pretty tasty). She looked at me incredulously and said, “You can actually cook dinner for the both of us? Really? You’re not going to just order pizza?” My response, “No problem, I like to cook.” We got a bottle of wine from ‘Rozz and Jack’s’ before we got to my place (Rozz and Jack, God bless their souls, owned a dingy hole in the wall liquor store and would sell liquor to you without an ID if you weren’t picky about the label, the price or falling down drunk). In the fashion of those times the wine was probably Lancer’s, Blue Nun or Mateus (red or white – I hope that I was savvy enough to get the red). I like to think that even at the moment of creation of my cooking odyssey I would select a real wine rather than Boone’s Farm.
Ellen was thrilled that someone, me, was actually cooking her dinner. She told me how really nice it was for me to do this. She asked where I learned to cook (with the exception of the steak, the other two ‘courses’ had cooking instructions on their containers – that’s where I learned to cook the meal). The meal was nicely done. I am assuming this because I don’t remember it as a disaster. I mean really, it wasn’t a hard menu to master. I don’t remember the detail of the meal other than it was a nice little, end of day, relaxing, domestic scene, the soft summer evening melting into night.
As I started cleaning up she came up to me, put her arms around me and with a twinkle in her eyes that I will never forget said, “That was sooooo nice of you. None of the guys that I know have ever cooked me dinner. Now ……. . her, kissing me so softly……….. what can I do for you?” At that stop the earth moment in time I believe that I began to comprehend the full import of knowledge that caused Archimedes to leap from his bathtub and run naked through the streets shouting, “Eureka!” and I began to understand the full import and power of cooking and food.
It really was the start of it all. The proverbial ‘click’. It was that moment when all the gears and all the planets were in the right placement. It was that moment when all the memories and tastes of food events past and the knowledge that this was something that was going to carry into my future took the first beautiful step. Did I know the depth of it? Of course not, but I did feel that ‘click’, that feeling of something discovered.
Men, women! See, if you perform an act based in sincerity, without expectation of reward, you may, as the Bible says, get paid back tenfold. Actually, I don’t think that the Bible had my particular experience in mind with that statement. When you have cooked for the sheer joy of cooking and been paid back in a most unexpected and wonderful manner, not necessarily sex, please kneel and ask the Lord to bless me for putting you on this path. I’m curious to see what the Lord’s response to your requesting a benediction for me, in this particular regard will be – better make it just a short silent prayer for the salvation of my soul. Have I and my cooking traveled beyond the whole ‘cooking yields sex’ thing? Absolutely, but it’s sure nice to remember where it all started.
Rose Hips from the Cape on their way to becoming Rose Hip Jelly
Who The Hell Is This Guy?
What is this book about? So what, so what, with all this love of cooking? Who the hell is Dave Grunwald? Dave Grunwald, me, I am an architect, I have built homes with my own two hands (draft it up at night and go out and hammer the wood together in the day with Jim and Paul), I have been a real estate developer, I’ve designed and made custom furniture and I am a musician (a musician, not a drummer – old joke). But, more constant than anything else I have always been a cook. This book is an orderly ramble, but a ramble nonetheless, through my life as defined by my cooking and food. It is the tales of those food memories that are so much a part of my life. It is about my ‘Dinner Diary’: the diaries of menus and dinners that I have kept since 1983. It’s about me getting so wrapped up in cooking and food that I can relate virtually all of my life to it – and yet it’s not how I make my living. This, my, cooking and food has represented all aspects of my life; survival, humor, sorrow, failure, achievement, tradition, family, need, friends – and love. Nothing, absolutely nothing in my life, has been as constant as my love of cooking and food.
Ask anybody who has ever cooked anything and cared about it and they will tell of the ‘rush’ of bringing it to the table and having this dish, this meal, oooh’d and aaaah’d over by the seated ones. You get addicted to it. It is a magnificent obsession, a compulsion, the core of me.
The narrative, the food stories describe the incidents of my life that are related, in some cases obliquely, to food and the cooking journey: good food, bad food, dinners served by friends, crap served by people who said they were my friends but weren’t if they served me crap, good and bad and horrendous restaurants, absolutely wondrous food stores, old ladies selling the best jams and jellies in the world by the side of the road from a shack.
My love of cooking and my innate obsessive compulsiveness led me to keep the ‘Dinner Diaries’ – a diary that I started in 1983 that tells the stories of the meals that I’ve cooked, the friends and family that I’ve shared them with, what went right and what went wrong, how I’d do things the next time and our musings on those things that were so important in our lives at that moment .
I enjoy journeying through these diaries and seeing the flow of people in and out of my life, how the menus shift, or remain the same, based on the times, the seasons, the weather, whether or not we had any money, the amount of time that I could give to the meal, the repeat recipes, the times when I wasn’t cooking as often as other times, the friends that have been, or once were, major fixtures in my life. How the remembrance of a particular dish or menu is affected by the mood of that moment in time in which it occurs – the context of the moment. I’m sorry that I didn’t start the diaries when I started cooking in college in the late 1960’s. It would be nice to remember with some degree of accuracy (I can’t even begin to tell you what I can’t remember from the 60’s and 70’s) many of the menus and friends that it all started with but, hey! How did I know that I was going to LOVE cooking as much as I do!