Tuesday, March 24, 2009

My Village

I love to cook. I love to bake. I love to take some raw materials and manipulate them in a way that creates something better than what I started with.

But before Justin and I got married, I realized I didn't know much about cooking. I could do OK with a recipe most of the time, but I hadn't had much experience on a regular basis. So, I started watching my mom in the kitchen. I'd always been in the kitchen with her, but this was different. I started asking questions - trying to figure things out. Over the course of several months, I had written down her directions for some of my favorite meals in a spiral notebook.

I say directions, not recipes. My mother is an excellent cook, and she's got her own system which involves lots of if-you-want-to's and just-see-what-it-looks-like's or I-forgot-how-I-did-it-last-time-so-just-guess's. I tried to keep up, making her nail down the amounts and times for a more user-friendly recipe.

That notebook was invaluable to me during the first years of my home-making. But what helped me even more was having a great network of women to call with questions.

I'd call my grandma. "If I'm out of white sugar for this recipe, can I substitute with brown sugar and honey, or will that ruin the texture?"

I'd call my aunts. "How long do you think it takes this much meat to roast?"

I'd always call my mom. Sometimes 3 or 4 times during the course of a cooking session. "Should I add the cheese to the sauce in the pan, or wait until it's cooled?" 10 minutes later, "What if the sauce looks like gravy, instead? How can I fix that?" 5 minutes later, "I think I did it wrong, why don't you just come over?"

One time, I even tried to ask my dad for help when my mom was in the shower. He was sure he could help, but he just ended up being the middle man - shouting questions to mom, and relaying her answers to me.

It makes me wonder what I would have done without such a support group all around me. Surely I wouldn't have given up altogether, I enjoy cooking too much to think that would have happened. But Justin would have had to sit through more questionable meals than he deserves.

After having exhausted my mom with questions about technique and ingredients, I hope I've gained some of what she's always had: the ability to experiment. The desire to throw a few things together and hope for the best. While I think I'll always be more of a rule-follower (uh, hello sleep schedule) I think I'm learning how to add my own style (really?) to those rules, as far as cooking is concerned. I'm cutting out ingredients I don't like, and adding my favorites in their place. I'm estimating. I'm guessing. Sometimes I'm failing. But, I'm trying.

Apparently, it's taken a village to get me this far. Maybe someday, I can be part of somebody else's village.

Who in your village has had the biggest influence on your way of cooking?


  1. My mom and stepmom get the same calls from me. I always have someone to call in any situation. My mom is an experimenter and my stepmom is a rule-follower. I try to be a good mix of both (try being the operative word, as my instincts always make me want to follow rules).

  2. I can't even remember the number of "teachers" I relied on during the early years! Isn't it nice to know we never have to walk alone.


Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?