For me, food has always had a strong connection to family time and showing affection, when cooking for a loved one. For example, back when I was a kid, during summertime, I used to go visit my grandmother, who lived in the countryside. My birthday is in late July and quite often, I'd ask her to bake my favourite dessert: home-made apple pie sprinkled with cinnamon.
She always agreed to make it but each and every time, she would tell me that first, I had to go and pick apples from her garden, so that we would have the fruit ready, by the time she would finish mixing the dough. That way, she would make sure that we made the pie together. Each of us would contribute to the final product and therefore, would enjoy both the time spent together and the delicious sweet treat. So, I'd go pick apples from the tree, then go back to the kitchen to peel, grate the fruit. Last but not least, I'd add cinnamon and sugar to the mix. In the meantime, my grandma would make two layers of thin dough, which would later be put in the baking tray. We'd add the apple mixture in between the two layers, use a fork to make holes in the pie so it would bake properly, and then off it went in the oven.
I'll never forget the sweet cinnamon scented flavour which filled the house when the pie was ready. It was something so unique and familiar, that it made me feel at home. Nowadays, when I eat a piece of apple pie, whether it's home-made or bought from a local bakery, I always smell it first. If the flavours remind me of a sweet yet spicy summer day, I'll most likely have another slice of pie.
Growing up, I always joined my parents when they went to barbecues with their friends. Such an activity became a tradition, which usually took place on Sundays. We would go to such social gatherings during winter as well. Depending on the season, the dishes we served varied. For example, in winter, the food we'd usually have was chargrilled chicken and chargrilled bread, which was afterwards rubbed with garlic. My parents used to tell me that garlic prevented us from catching a cold, while being outdoors in low temperatures. The flavour of the garlic when we rubbed it on the piece of bread was so intense that it almost numbed my nose but I liked it so much that I used it nowadays as well, when I go to barbecues with my family. The only thing that has changed, is the complexity of the recipes and the variety of ingredients we use.
Almost 20 years ago, food dishes were so much simpler, especially due to the fact that I grew up in post-communist Romania, where certain ingredients were harder to find, so people used simpler recipes when preparing food. For example, one of my favourite dishes to prepare when having my loved ones over for a barbecue is the following: chargrilled chicken marinated with white wine, garlic and rosemary served with grilled toast and creamy avocado sauce, as well as baby spinach with cherry tomato salad dressed in balsamic vinegar, on the side.
In essence, it's pretty much the same combination: grilled chicken and grilled toast. The only difference is the variety of herbs, fruit and vegetables we use in the combinations, due to the fact that in the present, supermarkets provide us with such a wide product palette to choose from. However, when we gather to have a meal, we always prepare the food together: I marinate the chicken, my mom makes the salad and avocado sauce and my dad prepares the barbecue. To top it all up, we also have a glass of chardonnay. Cheers!