There is something you should know about me. Ready? Okay…
I haven’t always loved cooking and baking…or the food network channel or, good restaurants, cookbooks or everything else that foodies generally enjoy. I’ve always loved eating, I grew up around wonderful cooking and I’m fairly certain I came out of the womb with one sweet tooth and a brownie in hand. However, it has to be said that in my 23 years of life, I did not start spending time in the kitchen (other than eating) or even have my interest piqued by cooking and baking until just a few years ago.
It seems like most cooks and bakers grew up in the kitchen, developing a love for cooking at a young age, and learning how it was done from their family members. I however, was not the little girl who pulled a stool up next to her mom in the kitchen, wide-eyed and ready to help assemble a cake or learn how to make a sauce. I was the little girl who most likely pestered and distracted my mom in the kitchen, when I would wonder in periodically to see if the cake batter was done yet and if I could lick the beaters – (which luckily for me, my mom always indulged me). My contribution in the kitchen did not exceed beater licking or similar activities, asking when dinner would be ready and what we were having; but merely observing how tasty everything smelled and then leaving the room without offering to help. (I always ended up setting the table).
There are some things you just inherit in your blood. I’ve inherited my dad’s insatiable love for desserts, my granny’s passion for chocolate, vintage and her stamina for shopping, both of my parents’ curiosity and interest in morbid things and true crime – (they both used to be journalists), my grandma’s artsy/creative/craftiness, the shape of my mom’s eyes, her impatient nature and her tendency to be late, and the stubbornness that just seems to stem from everyone in my family. No one has a clue where my brown eyes came from.
As for the cooking gene I never knew I had in me, I think I’ll attribute it to some of the ladies in my family…my mom, my great grandmother (on her side), my granny and my great grandmother on my dad’s side. My mom has always been a wonderful cook and I could have had so much to learn from her, if only I had been interested in the labor part, instead of just the eating. It’s fun to talk to her about recipes now, because even her love for food has grown too. She cooked a lot of the time (and still does), and she’s fearless in kitchen, always ready to tackle something new and most recently, is quite enamored with her KitchenAid pasta-making attachment. My great-grandmother (her grandmother), was also an excellent cook, and my mom makes some of her old dishes, like her famous coffee cakes (every Christmas morning), her pork roast and gravy and her chocolate cake with caramel icing. My granny makes the creamiest, and probably the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever had and is a true southern cook. Although I never got to meet her, my great grandmother (on my dad’s side) apparently made the most incredible fried chicken (she lived on a farm) and chocolate cream pies with honey-drizzled meringue.
But it wouldn’t be fair to leave out a certain little country across the pond. During the second semester of my sophomore year of college, I moved to a tiny little town I’d never heard of before, called Alsager, located about 40 minutes outside of Manchester England. I experienced a cultural wake-up call and in my first hour spent in my green carpeted isolated dorm room, I sobbed into my fish and chips, took two bites and threw it away. I was severely exhausted, jet-lagged, no one was back from Christmas holiday yet, so the campus was empty and I couldn’t figure out my new mobile phone to call my parents. It wasn’t the fish and chips’ fault. Luckily I quickly adjusted to British life and loved everything about it.
It was there, I began cooking for the first time. Now I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that British food tends to be lacking in the flavor department (and the healthy department for that matter), salads are about as scant there as biscuits are (and I don’t mean the cookie). The Indian food is the most incredible I’ve ever had, and probably gives India a run for its money, but Britain’s native cuisine is not so fortunate. I was on a small campus and the campus cafeteria was equally small, with a limiting selection, unless you count potatoes prepared five different ways as “variety.” Not to mention, whenever there was something green in sight, it would usually just be some plain greens and unless I wanted to eat them plain, I would have to open a packet of Heinz salad cream, and the name alone is deterring. What is salad cream? I tried it once and still never found out – giving it another chance was out of the question.
I have to admit I did love the chips and beans. I can’t find baked beans like those over here. All we seem to have are barbeque ones and the ones I had were tomato-based and delicious and paired with some greasy chips, made for some excellent hangover food on Thursday mornings.
Naturally, I got sick of potatoes and started craving veggies and salads and my friends and I decided it would be fun to take advantage of the kitchen on our dorm hall and make up some fun meals. We made glorious theme salads with everything in them and one night we sautéed some chicken in a creamy sauce with braised leeks and some zucchini. We even made Mexican one night. Something was happening to me. I was cooking, and in a foreign country no less, and I even liked it!
When I returned to the states I started watching The Food Network Channel and I fell in love with Giada de Laurentiis and Tyler Florence, and when I moved off campus for the first time my junior year, I did not let my tiny apartment kitchen stop me from cooking again. I was given a Rachel Ray cookbook (my first one) and used that as a guide to start experimenting. (Just so you know, Rachel Ray and I aren’t on good terms anymore. I was never that crazy about her stuff and honestly she’s a little scary). My boyfriend even cringes and then runs away whenever he sees her jack-in-the-box smile on the cover of a magazine or hears her voice on TV. (Sorry Rachel Ray). I then discovered the foodie world of the Internet and to my amazement, found gorgeous photos and slideshows on Bon Appetit and Gourmet’s websites and was intrigued. I started flipping through the recycled issues of both magazines that our neighbors had given us, and started tearing out recipes that looked interesting.
And then I discovered food blogs.
One day, I was studying a blog of someone I knew and saw something curious in their blogroll. I clicked on the link for Smitten Kitchen, and that’s when I think I had my true food epiphany. I was hooked. I set my printer on a frenzy, printing off recipes left and right, until I had acquired a collective stack so massive, I didn’t know what to do with, except to properly organize in sheet protectors and file accordingly in a binder. Well it didn’t take long for that binder to grow. I had to upgrade to a mega binder, which now houses hundreds or recipes that I have tried and haven’t tried (yet), and I lovingly refer to it as my “Bible.” Since then, I have been scouring the Internet, falling in love with food blogs, namely Smitten Kitchen and Orangette (my first loves) and putting recipes to the test. I was becoming a cooking and baking addict and still am, as my passion for it continues to grow, challenging me, thrilling me, frustrating me, and rewarding me almost daily.
When the trailer for Julie and Julia came out, I was also intrigued, and I hate to sound cliché, but yes, I thought about starting a blog myself. The closest thing I’d ever had to a blog was a Xanga (in high school and part of college), and yes that is embarrassing to admit but I can get past it. This would be different though. It wouldn’t be me gushing over guys and concerts and posting mysterious lyrics that mimicked how I was feeling that particular day. It would be my space to talk about food and other things that matter to me and most importantly, it would get me writing again. I was inspired (and still am) by these bloggers, especially by the photography of Deb Perelman and the gorgeous, dreamy prose of Molly Wizenberg. I wanted to take pictures like them, making food like them, and write like them.
I’ve always loved writing and have considered it one of my strongest talents and I used to write for fun all the time when I was young. Since, I had neglected it, leaving most of my writing to reports and thesis papers, and the occasional depressing poem. It wasn’t until October of 2009 that I finally got to writing again for me and it has felt so so good. Not to mention, this food epiphany has shed some much-needed light on a nagging question I’ve been having upon graduation and even before, come to think of it. What the hell am I going to do with my life? I’m a drama major and still have a great appreciation for theatre, but not a passion for it anymore, as far as a career is concerned.
Stumbling upon these inspiring food blogs, the Dining section of the New York Times, The Food Network Channel, Bon Appetit Magazine and Gourmet Magazine has been one of the greatest things to happen to me, because it has made me realize what path I am interested in going down. I no longer believe it is theatre or film. I now know that it has to be something food-related, it has to be a creative field and it cannot be too stagnant. I am attracted to the transient and I have great wanderlust, so I want a job that will allow me that. Since starting this blog, I’ve discovered that more than anything else, I am writing about food and that is what is making me happy. Cooking it, baking it, photographing it and writing about it. Most of my alone time now, is spent searching for new recipes to add to the Bible and thinking about what I want to make next, and I love that. I do not know the exact direction I am heading in and how I am going to get there but I have so much clearer of an idea now than I ever did.
In the past six or seven years or so, I’ve also discovered what distinguishes a good restaurant from a bad one, and that for the most part, I’m safer off steering clear of chains. It would be a bit of a lie to deny that I am somewhat of a food snob, especially when it comes to restaurants, but I’ve learned and I think it’s for the best. I mean, there was a time when I considered O’Charleys and TGI Friday’s as my favorite restaurants, although I guess most kids would. After my parents divorced, my dad had to learn some basic recipes and in his new repertoire, my sister and I actually went crazy over his frozen chicken fingers and popcorn shrimp, canned peas and this boxed rice-a-roni pasta with a packet of herbed parmesan sauce. Also, I am happy to report that my palate has evolved magnificently, thank God, (my mom is still a little shocked). I was never a very picky eater, but now I eat a plethora of things that I used to never venture near – like raisins, mixed greens, sun-dried tomatoes, sushi, feta cheese, and the list could go on for miles. … I’ve come a long way from boxed macaroni and cheese and O’Charleys.
So that my friends, is how a foodie was born. Who could have known.
Whew. I did not intend to type you an essay, but it looks as though I have. I’m off to make some tomato sauce with onion and butter, by Marcella Hazan, via Molly Wizenberg over at Orangette. Then it’s dulce de leche chocolate bread pudding for dessert. Bring on the carbs!