My initiation into the world of food was a San Francisco test kitchen. This should have been heady stuff: developing recipes for national-brand clients such as Dole, Del Monte and Sunkist.
But the fact was, my boss was a wacko. So frankly, after three months on the job, the first real payoff came via a phone call from my cousin, Ron, back in Washington, D.C.
"Jan, what are you doing this weekend?"
"Well, not much, why?"
"I was sort of hoping you could spend it with Carol and me to look over the recipes in my book. Maybe even give some of them a test run. If you're willing, there will be a ticket for you at the United Airlines counter for this Friday."
The book, one of Ron's ongoing personal hobbies, wasn't associated with his day job, of course. He was one of the more influential lobbyists inside the beltway. But one of his loves was cooking. The current project was titled "Cooking With Booze," and he'd be handing it out to friends at Christmas.
Of course I went. I've always loved hanging out with my cousin and his wife. And Carol made it clear she was relieved I'd shown up. For one very practical reason: "Frankly, Jan, I'm just worried about the litigation. I mean, couldn't some of these bourbon-soaked recipes explode???"
Aside from a bit of editing to bring a common structure to the recipes — and a tiny amount of tasting and testing during one afternoon of cooking from the book — I'm not sure how much help I was for Ron's project. But I had a wonderful time.
At one point, I met him downtown for lunch at one of the city's more trendy restaurants. Sans Souci, Ron explained, had become the fashionable gathering place for the Washington elite. "In fact," he added, "I'm, going to introduce you to a real four-star general. Be impressed!"
Over soft-shell crab and a divine salad, he advised me on love ("Dump the guy!), life ("Just picture where you'll be in five years and ask yourself if what you're doing now is even on the route.") and work ("You're too good for them, Jan.").
Reflecting on that weekend, it's obvious that helping Ron with his recipe development was pretty much a ruse. He had sensed my arrival at a significant crossroad. Direction was called for and, as only a loved one confident in his message and my ability to hear it can do, he was unfolding his road map and laying it out on the table.
Ron isn't the only member of our family who's found food to be a natural bridge between giving advice and taking it: My own brother and I have resolved multiple dilemmas while standing over a simmering crab pot; my mother heads for the tea kettle when her daughter is in need of council; and I've learned that some of the most heartfelt thoughts spring from a granddaughter's brain while making caramels and taking turns on the crank of the ice-cream maker.
With that in mind, here are a few simple summer recipes to inspire conversation and encourage dreams while you enjoy some lazy moments on the deck or the trail with those you care about.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit" and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at email@example.com or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.