Saturday, July 17, 2010

My History in the Kitchen

My mother began teaching my older sister to cook when I was probably five or six.  My sister never truly enjoyed it that much and probably enjoyed it even less because her little sis was always poking her nose in the way.
I couldn't help it!  I have a love of all art forms, and to me, cooking is one more art form.  My mom taught me to bake and cook as she made dinner each night.  By the time I was 13, I had the experience of making the entire meal--completely by myself.  Of course, my mom wasn't far away and it probably wasn't the greatest meal in the world, but I was so excited to be able to say 'I made dinner'.  I can't remember what it was, but I do recall green beans and corn bread were part of it.
After I married, (at the age of 19) I experimented a lot more.  I spent several years learning everything I could from Great Chefs of America, and Great Chefs of  the World--the TV shows, haha.  (Did you think I meant culinary school...?)   I'm sure that doesn't sound like much, but I devoured every cooking term and cooking method I could, then tried it out in my own kitchen later on.
 I checked out a lot of cook books and especially loved one that I found called The Lottie Moon Cook Book.  It was over a century old, and clearly, the recipe methods of cooking back then are a whole 'nother world!  I learned about what I now call 'the eyeball method' and what it means to have a 'fast oven' or a 'slow oven'.  This was a new concept to me.
So, measurements don't actually have to be precise?  And temperatures don't have to be exact?  But America's Test Kitchen makes it all seem so scientific!  

I threw exactness out the window because it had always been a hindrance to me anyway--when you think about it, aren't all ovens slightly varied in their temperatures and heating abilities and all measuring cups are not the same.  I loved the idea of complete freedom in the kitchen.  You don't have to have a recipe to make something.  You just have to have had the experience of baking something similar with a good recipe.  After that, you know the general idea, the mix of ingredients, the 'chemistry' of what goes into it.  Now you can explore, add and create.  Substitutions are never ending!  It's an awesome feeling to not be stuck at a road block because you happen to be out of eggs or milk or whatever.
I spent a year as a cook for my college's (Clear Creek Baptist Bible College) cafeteria in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky.  We made almost everything from scratch.    I have probably baked hundreds of cookies and roasted more than 30 turkeys.  I've cracked hundreds of eggs at a time when we were making breakfast for Alumni Conferences and peeled many many many potatoes.  After a few months, I was promoted to 'head cook'.  So...yes, I do actually have a bit of formal training under my belt, however lowly a cafeteria job might seem.   It was very good food.  How many cafeterias do you know where you can get homemade, cornbread-battered catfish with hushpuppies and homemade tartar sauce and coleslaw?
From there, I've just enjoyed the chance to create new and different meals each week, learning as I go.  The internet has really made cooking easy.  If you can't find a recipe in the cookbook you're browsing, I know you'll find it on the web.  And probably even a YouTube video of the entire process!
My advice to any cooking newbies is to have fun with what you cook.  Substitute and customize as you go.  Create and enjoy.  I guess that's what it means to put your heart into what you cook.  
(That sounded kind of gross, but you know what I mean!)


  1. so I'm not a cook -- but I loved reading this about how you truly are. (admirable.)

    i do love hushpuppies. mmmm.

  2. Ah, thanks Kelsey! I've been lost since this new move, trying to get life back to normal--when normal is never very normal anyway--and somehow lost my routine of reading your amazing blog each week. I'm glad you just reminded me!


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