Tuesday, September 29, 2009
on becoming a cook
i'm not sure when exactly it was that i became a cook. i remember having people over for dinner during college and grad school. big, elaborate dinners that were way over my head and over which i slaved and panicked and wore myself out to the point where i didn't really enjoy it once the food was served. once, together with a good friend, we cooked an entire thanksgiving menu by the book from bon appetit magazine. my main memory of the meal is actually some danish aalborg aquavit in a funky triangular bottle that i searched high and low for in every liquor store in a three-state area and which was worth it with the soy almonds we made as a snack.
it's funny the things you remember. i also remember a huge fight with my starter husband over the place of velveeta cheese in our home. i felt strongly it had no place and he thought it was an essential ingredient in the thanksgiving green bean casserole. i think that was the beginning of the end for us...
food provokes strong emotions. and memories. and laughter. and, as bee said, nearly every social occasion centers on food in some sense. this way in which food ties life together, both literally and figuratively is, for me, what this blog is about. the memories attached to certain foods, how they can evoke comfort and well-being or take you back to your childhood. exploring how we establish traditions through food.
although i grew up in a household with a mother who is a very good, solid cook, i don't know that i cooked that much there. i have more memories of baking or helping with canning and making homemade tomato juice in jars for winter (it is spectacular). my grandmother on my mother's side was a prolific baker. at christmas, she would make dozens of cookies in dozens of varieties. but i don't have clear memories of helping her with that, except for helping to eat them. my grandmother on my father's side was famous for one dish...her homemade chicken and noodles and i'll undoubtedly share that recipe along this journey, when it fits.
i remember as a kid, going to bed with nothing fun to eat around the house and waking up in the morning to the smell of freshly-baked apple bars (a recipe i will undoubtedly share soon) or a perfect pie cooling on the countertop, because mom had been up in the middle of the night curing her insomnia by baking. i haven't inherited that habit, tho' i do have a bit of insomnia. i'm more likely to cure it by reading or blogging.
i have to admit that what really transitioned my own perception of myself as a cook had to be the rise of the cooking show. i love to watch cooking shows and always feel inspired when i do so. my cookbook collection is undoubtedly heavy on the british cooks due to several years of a channel called BBC Food, but even when i still lived in the US, the Food Network was a favorite. watching cooking shows gave me courage to leave the recipes that i didn't really have before them. i was a slavish recipe follower. i succeeded at it for the most part, but i never felt like a courageous cook, even tho' i had a reputation as a good cook. it really took food television to move my cooking to the next level.
today, i'm as likely to pull down nigella or paul cunningham (a brit, but he writes in danish and has a michelin-starred restaurant here in denmark) when i want to relax and just read something as i am to turn to mma ramotswe. i adore food writing. good food writing. almost as much as i love to watch cooking shows. and when i do, i almost always end up in the kitchen, kneading up a batch of bread dough, inventing a new twist on potato salad or baking up a batch of red velvet cupcakes.
because the times when i consciously feel the most contentment are when i'm chopping or stirring or filling my red kitchenaid mixer with butter and sugar and eggs. sabin, at age 8, has already noted that that's one of the best smells you can smell, so i guess i'm passing along the love of being in the kitchen to her. and i see that as one of the most important things i can do.
for me, this blog is about thinking more consciously about the food we put on the table at our house, sharing it, recording the memories of it and hopefully, hearing from all of you what works for you and your families. and i hope to learn a whole lot of fabulous new recipes from bee. because she's a great cook and i know that sharing this with her will push me and help me to grow, both in my writing and in my kitchen. we're looking forward to seeing where this takes us and we hope you'll come along for the ride. we promise it will taste good.