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.


Merisi said...

"Starter Husband" - I almost spilled my tea over the keyboard, for laughing out loud! Is it too much to ask if he went sour? (Sorry, but starter will forever evoke sourdough starter, which you needed to survive the gummy bread days before DC became a cosmopolitan city thanks to a few great bakers like Mark F├╝rstenberg).

Jelica said...

i remember exactly when i started cooking--when first kid was born and eating out non-stop was suddenly not an option. but it was an absolute drudgery at that time. i think i only became a cook very recently and now i enjoy having friends over for some food (and wine, of course).

great blog idea, by the way!

Snap said...

I don't know where you find the time to have all of these blogs, but I'm glad you do! I always laugh when I read "starter husband" and velveta should be outlawed. I can trace my love of cooking to my father ... he always enjoyed whatever I made ... good or bad. Bless him! Have fun with this. I'll be along for the ride/read!

Agnieszkas Shoes said...

You're based in Denmark. I've only been twice. The first time, we crossed the border from the Schloss Glucksberg, and suddenly realise we hadn't eaten for about 8 hours. The few places we could see by the side of the water were already closed. Eventually we stumbled through te doors of somewhere that was actually open and ordered a set "market menu" without really looking. What we ended up with was one of the most extraordinary meals we've ever had, quite by chance, at a lovely place called the Fakkelgaarden. The second time we went to Denmark, it was specifically to have dinner there.

Nimble said...

I also snorted at Starter Husband. There are no do-overs, one must just keep trying! Thanks for sharing your food and cooking philosophy here. I don't know how strongly you feel about it, but I would like to request capital letters in future posts. No doubt I'll keep reading whether you use the shift key or not.

julochka said...

merisi - if he was like sourdough starter, he did indeed go sour. i always refer to him as that. because i apparently needed a starter husband before getting the real one.

jelica - thank you!

snap - i'm not sure where i find the time either, but it's a bit of an obsession.

AS - i don't know where that is, but will look on a map. it must be in jutland, the bit of denmark that's attached to germany. whereas i live on sjaelland, or the "devil's island" as the natives call it.

nimble - i'm afraid i don't do capital letters, so i hope you'll just bear with the posts that come from me.

julochka said...

nimble - i explain my lack of capitals here: i hope you understand. it's both a style and a psychology.

Tessa said...

Good heavens - I though for one split second that you'd somehow managed to pinch all my cookbooks while I wasn't looking! Extraordinary, really, mine are even arranged in that order...almost. I think I have the two Moros next to Nigella...

I love, love, love that you and Bee have got together to create this most sensual of blogs. What a glorious feast it will be - of that I'm certain!

Speaking of good food writing, I'm sure you've read the 'oldies' like Elizabeth David and Alice B. Toklas...just wonderful! Another of my favourite food writers is the irrepressible Elizabeth Luard.

You are so right when you say that food provokes memories, love and laughter. Fervet olla, vivit amicitia: While the pot boils, friendship endures.

Great good luck with your new blog. I, for one, will be hanging on to your every post, Bee and Julochka!

Anne said...

Funny how different people feel about cooking shows, isn't it? The trouble for me is that while I enjoy listening to some cooks talk about food (Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Nigella Lawson, and to a certain extent Ina Garten), and while the shows might include a recipe I'd like to try, they don't actually make me want to cook. Which is strange, because it's dangerously easy to make me want to rush into the kitchen and strap on my apron. Give me an issue of Gourmet, or a food blog, and my whisking hand starts twitching in anticipation.

I did more than my fair share of baking when I was growing up (I recall in particular a late night spent baking and decorating a rather elaborate buche de noel for a French class in high school), but not all that much cooking. I didn't start cooking properly until second year of undergrad, when I decided that I'd had it with dorm cafeteria food and could do much better myself, thank you very much. My parents got me a couple of basic pots and a few basic knives, and away I went. It's been one long and very slippery slope ever since.

I am so excited about getting more of both of your voices in the bloggy world. This blog is going to be great fun.

Tracy Golightly-Garcia said...

Bee and Julochka
I am hoping you both will share good recipes and tips for people who are on a budget. I am truly looking forward to all that your blog will offer and I love the pictures of your cookbooks. Bee, I hope you don't mind--I am sending you a personal e-mail with some questions I hope your can answer for me.
Tracy :)

Bee said...

I really like that phrase: "the times when I coonsciously feel the most contentment." A lot of people feel like they don't have the time to cook, but I know that when I have been really busy (ie, working full-time and getting a Master's and raising children) I have truly loved that oasis of calm and concentration that I get from cooking. I specifically remember a HORRIBLE day, after which I came home and made a pot roast and an apple crisp. It was so soothing to make that meal -- and also to eat it.

Funnily enough, like Anne, I'm not that inspired by cooking shows. But maybe that is partly because I'm not much of a TV person? I do try to watch Nigella's programs, mostly because I think she is gorgeous and she does the kind of easy-but-luscious stuff that I like.

Tracy - yes, please, do email me.
I've got lots of easy/cheap stuff in mind.
If you look at my Bee Drunken blog there is a recipe for black bean soup (cheap and healthy) that we have at least once a month. Julochka and I have talked about the word "luxury" -- but I interpret that as making the simple and the daily more luxurious. We aren't going to touting foie gras or anything.

julochka said...

tessa - i promise to move the moros for your sake.

anne - i love hearing your stories of becoming a cook.

tracy - budgets definitely on my mine (tomorrow's post mostly "found" food)

bee - i have to admit i love fois gras.

julochka said...

that was on my "mind" not "mine"...not accustomed to PC keyboard with a heavy touch....

Anne said...

Bee, I so agree about the oasis of cooking. Recently when I've sought relief in the kitchen it's been more about the process than the product. Muffins are nice, but there's something very soothing about the well worn steps of the creaming method, the preparation of a mirepoix, and so on. Regardless of what comes out of it, treading that familiar path and watching the ingredients come together is immensely satisfying.

Bee said...

Anne - I have a sweet risotto lined up . . . in your honor!

Julochka - I'm not saying that foie gras doesn't have its place in a lush life.

christina said...

ah huh, ah huh. i am loving this, oh so much. sometimes i peek out the kitchen door, to watch the person, take the first bite. a symphony, i tell ya! i love it here.
ps: gotta get one of the moro cookbooks. i know.. shame on me. i can then hold my head, up high.
hugs to you both.

julochka said...

anne - i think that's exactly what i was trying to get on with the bit about moments of conscious contentment.

bee - it's true i've not cooked with fois gras myself, just partaken in restaurants.

christina - the first moro is the best. but undoubtedly you can hold your head high even without it. :-)


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