(Sorry for no post yesterday. I had an off-site story planning meeting for the magazine and had no time in the morning. Well, I guess I would have—if I’d gotten up earlier! Anyway, on to today!)
I saw Julie and Julia. I read the book. Then, I read Julia Child’s My Life in France. I watched some Paula Deen and Giada and the Barefoot Contessa. I made a cake recipe from the Pioneer Woman and began reading her blog somewhat regularly. And I fell in love with cooking.
But actually, I fell in love with cooking a long time ago. At my parents’ house, the kitchen is kind of the heart of the home. I don’t mean that it’s in the middle of the house, but rather that it’s the place where we tend to congregate. As a child, our family ate meals in the kitchen (we had a built-in booth). It was where I did math homework in high school, the place I’ve had some of the best conversations with my parents, and the place where my mom taught me to cook. I don’t remember lessons, per se, just me being in the kitchen with her, watching. She’d give me tasks and I’d learn how to do them. I remember her teaching me to make scrambled eggs, leaving me to make a cake (using a mix), and showing me how to read a recipe. She mostly did that by asking me to read aloud the recipe to her as she completed the steps to make something delightful. When I got older, we’d divide up the steps or the things we were making for a big dinner and both work separately, but together, in the same small kitchen.
At some point, it became my job to make lunch on Saturdays. At first, it was sandwiches. All. the. time. Then, my skills grew and it got to be better. Growing up in a farming family, it was common practice in the summer when my mom was home (she was a teacher), for my dad and brother to come home for lunch. I helped with that as I got older, even to the point that when my mom wasn’t there, it was my duty to cook lunch. And sometimes, it took planning to get everything on the table by noon. Depending on what you’re cooking, you may even have to start at 10:30 a.m. I sort of liked the deadline aspect. It’s one of the things that always appealed to me in journalism, too.
Somewhere in there, though, I fell in love with cooking and baking. I’d have something at a restaurant and wonder if I could recreate it at home. I started trying to pick out the separate spices in salsas I liked so I could make them at home. I decided recipes were guidelines that I could use to guide my efforts, but could also add other flavors, spices, and ingredients for more zing and pizzazz. I fell in love with the creative aspect of cooking and baking. I fell in love with using the best ingredients to make something simple and then savoring every bite. I fell in love with the seemingly simple pleasure of all the ingredients simmering together, melding flavors and spices to become something delightful and unexpected. I fell in love with the look on peoples’ faces when they taste something you’ve made and their eyes close and they whisper things like, “Oh. My. Word.” (Not that that always happens. I’ve had my share of kitchen disasters.)
My point is that my kitchen is one of the places in which I am the happiest. I like chopping up onions and anticipating the taste of whatever I’m adding them to. I like creating new recipes and making the time-honored, family traditions. I like the smell of yeasty bread rising and am sometimes sad to wash my hair after baking, because the smell of cinnamon, sugar, chocolate, or whatever is gone. For me, there is joy in cooking. For me, cooking is an expression of love. It’s a way to share something you love with others and delight their taste buds, but it’s also a way I express my love to others. So when you get baked goods from me, you can bet it was a labor of love.