As a small child, I was a very picky eater. The only vegetable I ate was alfalfa sprouts; the only fruit, grapefruit. I drank only milk and water and wouldn't touch pizza, soda or candy. Anything red was strictly off limits.
My poor parents struggled to nourish me and eventually succumbed to bribing me with a points system for trying new foods from which I could earn action figures. Crazy as that may sound, it worked. I remember forcing myself to eat two handfuls of macadamia nuts while on vacation in Hawaii so I could earn a new Luke Skywalker before going home.
A couple years later in San Francisco, I discovered my first ethnic food love: Chinese. Sure, at this point, I still wasn't eating strawberries, but put a plate of Kung Pao Chicken before me and I was in heaven. Unlike many others, spicy never turned me off.
By the early '90s, I'd expanded my palate and it was time to take control: enter the kitchen. My mother deserves credit for pushing me before the stove when she decreed it unfair that she was making all our family meals while she was still working and my retired father and me, a high school student, were killing the afternoon hours watching Batman cartoons.
My father delivered mixed results in the kitchen, but I showed a particular aptitude for it. Guided by the popular on-trend cookbooks by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, I began to churn out black bean soup, Mediterranean chicken salad and pasta primavera. I developed a deep and lasting affection for extra-virgin olive oil and a love for fresh ingredients.
During this time, I also started to really appreciate restaurants. As a little one, a buffet was the best choice to ensure there would be something I'd eat. But as a high schooler, I became interested in my hometown's burgeoning restaurant scene, begging my parents to take me to the latest eateries I'd read about in the paper's annual dining guide. I discovered Thai food, wood-fired pizza and Turkish coffee ice cream. When, as editor of my school's newspaper, it was proposed to create a restaurant column, I assigned myself as food critic. And although our school was in the suburbs, all the restaurants I chose to review were in the city (I was a terrible suburbanite).
Later, after college (an era defined for me more by pad thai than ramen), I worked at really honing my cooking skills, learning to maneuver a small apartment kitchen while turning out Food Network-inspired dishes, embarrassingly large Thanksgivings dinners and whatever flights of fancy I embarked on with local, seasonal ingredients.
I've been really lucky to spend my young adults years in Washington, D.C., a city's whose food scene has really matured in recent years. During the summer, there are farmers markets in every neighborhood now plying me with the reddest, ripest tomatoes imaginable. And our restaurant scene has become a who's-who of the James Beard Awards, with names like José Andrés, Cathal Armstrong, Mike Isabella, Michel Richard, Frank Ruta, Bryan Voltaggio, Spike Mendelsohn and Eric Ziebold making the city a true food lover's destination.
It's a very exciting time to be someone who likes to both cook and eat. Hence "Cook In / Dine Out," my attempt to put into words what I've been putting into my mouth. My intent is to describe my experience in the kitchen and in restaurants. I intend to share recipes I've found that I love and those I've created that work. I want to write about restaurants I've been to and those I hope to try. I want to start discussions about special ingredients and insanely delicious cocktails. There are a google of food blogs out there. I don't expect mine to make me a name. I'm just here to have fun. I hope you do, too.