First Attempt at Soup
I remember one of my first made-up recipes was for soup. I filled a small saucepan with water, added coarsely chopped celery and carrots, dumped in a bunch of dried herbs from the spice rack, and heated it up. I think I cooked it long enough for the vegetables to soften, but I'm not sure. All I know is that my mom put on her game face after tasting it and proclaimed it "Great!" That's what moms are for.
I decided to create a savory vegetable pie one day. I made a pie crust and loaded the pan with sliced zucchini, onions, tomatoes, and herbs. I added a top crust and baked it until the vegetables were tender. It came out great, but pretty soggy. My mom still raves about it to this day.
Trailer Duck à l'Orange
Around 1981 or so we moved to a house under construction about 200 yards away from the house where I grew up. It wasn't easy, since the only finished part of the house was the cellar and the floor above, which served as our roof. It was kind of like camping, except it was real life and at times it was pretty dismal. Like the time it rained all night and when I woke up the next morning and swung my legs out of bed I landed up to my ankles in water.
To provide heat and hot water we used an old woodburning cook stove. After a bunch of red dust had been blown out of the water pipes (I guess it must have been sediment from the water that it had heated for its former owners) it proved to be a wonderful stove that also yielded boiling-hot water at the opening of a valve and heated the whole place. You could bake cookies in about a minute and a decent-sized turkey took only an hour and a half. Eggs would fry in 30 seconds. But of course the stove's main drawback was that it took a long time to heat up.
We got ahold of an old camping trailer, a really tiny one, which we parked right outside the cellar door. It had a gas stove, which we used when we wanted to eat quickly and didn't want to wait for the wood stove to get up to cooking temperature. Apart from the gas stove the trailer was pretty gross, so we never slept in it used it for any other purpose than to shelter the stove.
One day I was getting pretty fed up with cellar-hole living and wanted to elevate myself and my family to a higher way of life. So I found a recipe for Duck à l'Orange in Joy of Cooking and cooked it up right there in the trailer. As I recall, it came out perfectly.
I'm sure that duck wasn't authentically French and that it probably wouldn't have earned high marks from a food critic. But for me it was a slice of Heaven.