When I Fell in Love with Cooking

May 17, 2010 § 32 Comments

I miss cooking. Not my kitchen, not my fridge, nor my pots and pans (though those are just to die for). No. What I yearn for is the process of making a meal. The gurgling of a rolling boil. Pasta thrown into the water. The sputtering simmer of a saucepan brimming with rich, rose red marinara. A spoonful of sugar to cut the acidity of the tomatoes. The heady fragrance of sauteeing garlic and herbs. Surefire ecstasy for the sense of smell.

I miss the layering of ingredients, the depth of flavor, the trust I’ve gained in myself as a cook. The anticipation of taste and texture. The fact that the end game is always an exhibit of my own creativity. The way that careful plating feeds the eyes first. I miss the natural ease, the sashay from stovetop to sink to counter. From mince to mix to mascerate.

I don’t just love food. It’s not the strands of linguine wrapped around the tines of a fork that I’m after. It’s knitting the velvet robe of bechamel. It’s not even the slice of dark chocolate torte. Ok, it is the slice of chocolate torte. What I mean to say, is that my passionate love affair with food does not begin and end with the food itself. I fell in love with the dish, the slice, the bowlful, through the learning… and the labor… and the loving memories tied to them.

Where did it all begin? At what point did I transform from food spectator to food specialist? I think it was in Italy four years ago. A galley kitchen in Roma. I’d stopped at the market to pick up fresh linguine, creamy mascarpone cheese, smoked salmon, a couple brown eggs, and bottle of fruity olive oil. A few of my friends had told me of a simple smoked salmon carbonara that they’d tried near Via Veneto. It sounded simple enough that I must have thought I was capable of creating something from nothing. Either that or the wine at lunch was doing the thinking for me. Vino or not, a meal was born.

The confidence that came with the successful execution of a few pure ingredients was magic. It made me crave more. So I cooked on. Simple dishes like pasta primavera, a broiled filet of salmon, and bruschetta. My friends and I would throw dinner parties, trading off locations and responsibilities. Learning to really cook is about a willingness to experiment. It’s following a few basic recipes until you’ve mastered them, and then moving on to bigger, more daring dishes.

It was an exploration in taste and technique. And I felt like an adult. My whole life, I loved to watch my mom cook. If we were to dig up her birth certificate, we’d find her middle name to be “From Scratch.” The woman was making homemade crackers, pies, stews, wellingtons, and pates, faster than Good Housekeeping could churn out a cookbook. It was marvelous. I’d look up at her dusting confectioner’s sugar on a pan of the most lusciously lemon squares. With guests to arrive any minute, she’d still have her wet hair in a towel, basting a golden brown bird with buttery glaze. She wrote the book on entertaining. The whole enchilada- from table setting, to theme, to tettrazini followed by tiramisu.

Inspiration is an understatement. Even at age 4 I was helping her frost a freshly baked layer cake. We were browsing the Silver Palate Cookbook like a bedtime story. The memories I have of my mother’s kitchen escapades could fill a book. A bookcase.

Not only do I vividly remember the dishes and the deliberate technique, but I also remember the light in her eyes as she served a meal. I became conscious that her devotion wasn’t the dinner but the diners. She loved, and still loves, to nurture. To make others smile, even if only through their bellies. And now, perhaps because we’ve never fully cut the umbilical cord, I feel the same.

Since cooking has been my religion for the past four or so years, many have asked me if I’d consider culinary school. Hmmm. I don’t think so. Because what I’ve come to learn about myself, through thinking about my mother, and my life as a foodie, is that the people I serve are equally as important as the components of the meal. That is to say, at least half of my culinary passion exists in feeding my loved ones. And though I can’t be sure, I’m guessing that I might not love cooking quite as much for Dave Diner or Carrie Customer. And when I do create a plate that I believe in, I love nothing more than sitting down at the table to enjoy it in the company of my family and friends.

That being said, I have toyed with baking. Opening my own bakery that doubles as a cafe. A cozy spot where people stop in for breakfast or meet for lunch. Just me in a buttery apron, kneading dough and licking the bowl of cookie dough. No. That’s unsanitary. I’d have to get a clean spoon first. But really, there are only so many confections I can eat all by my onesies:

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

The Chewiest Sugar Cookies

Carrot Cupcakes

Cream Filled Devil’s Food Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache

Coconut Cupcakes

S’Mores Cupcakes, Cookie Dough Truffle Cupcakes, Mint Chocolate Cupcakes, Basic Vanilla Buttercream Cupcakes

Bird’s Nest Cupcakes, Chick Cupcakes

Butterfly Cupcakes

Boston Cream Cupcakes

Thank you, as always, for reading.

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§ 32 Responses to When I Fell in Love with Cooking

  • whydeprive says:

    I love cooking too. Its so much fun starting with just a bunch of ingredients and turning them into something amazing. And I agree with you, I dont think it would be the same just cooking for a bunch of random people.

  • Jennifer says:

    Reading this got me very excited for you! Seriously! You blow me away every time I come to your blog because your food looks so professional and so well made. You can truly tell that you have a love for cooking and it is so sweet that you share that love with your mom. You can open your own business! I don’t share this in the info on my blog but I had my own business for 5 years. I handled everything from finances, advertisement etc. I owned a dance school and taught 10 classes a week to about 100 girls. The rewards of sharing your love of something with someone else is endless! I decided to leave the business when my husband and I were married and he got a great job offer 5 hours away. Really Andrea, you can do this! People would love your food!

  • peggyhogan says:

    Andrea, I love your great detailed descriptions. I don’t know about owning a company because that sounds like kind of a headache (to me) but you are such a talented writer. I haven’t been reading that long so I don’t know what you really do for a living but certainly you are a wonderful wordsmith! Do you have a day job you love? I’m looking for one myself!

  • Erica says:

    Such a beautiful description of why you love cooking! And I love that your Mom taught you so much (as did mine). I loved being in the kitchen with her and helping her cook up amazing creations. You should totally open a bakery. I promise to come visit and buy up one of your beautiful creations!!

  • Anna says:

    Ohhhhh, I love cupcakes :-)

    Food is so tied to memories for me to, especially of my mother. Beautiful writing!

  • This is my most favorite post you have ever written. Your passion just completely shines in every word. Thank you for writing for us.

  • Lindsay says:

    You are such a rock star writer! This post totally shows you as the amazing person you are!!

  • I wish everyone would have even half of your passion for food- the world would be a more joyous and healthy place. :)

    And I’d totally come work for you. And use a clean spoon in the bowl of cookie dough, too…

  • Faith says:

    You have such an amazing way with words. You absolutely should open your own bakery, Andrea! Your baked goods are always to die for!

  • malpaz says:

    the more along and confident i get in recovery the more i am branching out to recipes, new food and experiencing everything from taste to satisfaction food has to offer! even currently awaiting slow cooked ribs for dinner….omg i cannot wait!!!!!!

  • homecookedem says:

    You are such a gifted writer!! What a beautiful and passionate post!! :) I’m still waiting for “cooking” to sweep me off my feet and make me fall in love, haha! ;)

  • Loved reading this post! I could barely boil water until about 2 years ago, and now I find great joy from my time in the kitchen. I love this line that you wrote: “Learning to really cook is about a willingness to experiment.” I have found this to be so true. I was always afraid to try anything new in the kitchen; I was totally intimidated. When I decided to relax and just have fun with it – accepting that sometimes the food would turn out great, and other times it wouldn’t – I began to truly enjoy cooking.

  • katecooks says:

    have i told you how much i love the way you write?! i feel like i should met some chocolate and hand torch some marshmallows for hot cocoa and “curl” up with your posts :)

  • Every single time you bake something I think you should start your own bakery. Yes! I think you’re awesome and not only what you bake but the fun ways you play with food–decorating it in cute ways. Now move back East and I’ll be a taste tester. :)

  • Oh my god, those cookies and cupcakes look soooo delicious and gorgeous! I love the decorative toppings too!

  • Sagan says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post. It’s beautifully written; you’ve captured the passion for cooking and baking perfectly!

    I get that same feeling… the process of cooking just MAKES the food.

    Also will you bake me some cookies please? Thanks ;)

  • Wow, I just came across your blog and my mouth is seriously salivating after seeing all those delicious treats you posted! What a fabulous post…I’m coming back tomorrow to read more! :)

  • dianacheung says:

    my dream has always been to open a bakery and coffee shop. I would also host parties in the back for people’s bday

  • I would definitely come to your bakery my friend!

  • You are adorable…just thought I would add that! I too dream of owning a bakery that would be for the usual suspects, but also for those of us that can’t have dairy or gluten. I just always fear that it would take the passion I have for cooking away. My other thought would be to teach others. I have recently had people ask me to go grocery shopping with them and to cook with them. I am going to see how that goes and then I will try to find my path. Your food is beautiful! You think like I do about food. It is more than what you see on the plate!

  • I love this! I’ve been wanting to read about your cooking/baking history for some time now. There’s no doubt you’re talented in the kitchen!

  • Not only are you an amazing COOK, you’re an amazing WRITER, as well!! I’m completely serious when I ask you if you’ve ever thought of writing a cookbook? You definitely have a huge talent for both of the components!

    My mom used to cook like crazy, then just stopped one day. She’d gotten sick of it. Lately I’m trying to pick up the pieces of her culinary adventures, and I’ve found some awesome supplies in our cabinets- yogurt makers, fondue sets, millions of bundt pans. It’s something I want to do for my family, when I have one.

    Those cupcakes are making me drool, by the way :) Hope you have a wonderful day love!!

    • Heather says:

      Yes! This is what I was thinking too! Your food looks FABULOUS and I can’t wait to try your recipes, but your writing just draws me in! I just discovered your blog a couple of days ago but I have really enjoyed reading all about your story. I’d totally buy a cookbook and visit you at your bakery too :)

  • I just love your food journey. It’s so full of good memories and a true passion for doing what you’re doing. No better place to start on your own then in Italy and have grown up with such a wonderful role model. I’ve always though of opening a bakery/cafe too! A place were people can go to enjoy good food and good company!

  • Wow-I loved this post! What a great writer you are!

  • Cindy says:

    or if that doesn’t work you can be a food writer because honestly no one I read does it better than you M’Lady!

    MAN I AM HUNGRY NOW.

    I love to cook for my guys….and to entertain. I have considered culinary school and it seemed like it would become a job and I am so afraid to turn my passions to “the grind” and end up hating it.

    but when you whip up a nice turkey/salami sandwich with all the fixin’s and your men (who sometimes are very vocal about thier likes AND dislikes) OOOHS and AAAHS over a seemingly simple sandwich…

    well, it doesn’t get any better than that!

    I would have DIED to spend some time in Italy. Maybe later.

    I was just recovering from a bout of sweet tooth itis…and now you had to go and display your amazing baked goods! stinker!

    have a wonderful Tuesday

  • Andrea you have such a passion for food and it really shines through your blog! You make the simplest dishes, like a turkey sandwich, look beautiful, appetizing, and out of this world. You have a gift and if you opened up a bakery I will HAVE to make a trip to try out your delicious creations. By the way, I don’t think you need cooking school, you are already a pro ;)

  • Andrea — I will echo the others when I say that you are an amazing writer! Seriously!! I love the way you write about food, and how clearly your passion shines through with each carefully crafted sentence. You really need to write a cookbook (I’ll support it!!). Or open a bakery…which I would travel across the country just to taste your amazing looking treats!

  • Wow…if you are going to open a bakery or restaurant, can we put one in Philly?

  • luvtoeat says:

    to be honest, i think i like eating more than i like cooking…haha. i only cook because i’m cheap and i hate spending 100 bucks on a meal that i know i could make at home at half the cost. but i can totally understand why some people love to cook. when someone eats the food you’ve slaved over for them and they have that look of pleasure on their face, now that’s the true reward. too bad i don’t get many of those looks of pleasure lol. any time you wanna invite me over for dinner though you know where to find me ;-) i’m sure i’ve said this and i’ll continue saying it again and again, girl you’ve got talent! did you bake all those yummilicious desserts? WOW! (and DROOL)

  • Devaki says:

    Dear Andrea – Thank You for taking me on this insightful and intensely personal journey of your culinary adventures and dreams.

    I love your description and inspiration that is your Mum. I hope all your dreams so come true!

    I couldn’t agree with you more – cooking for a bunch of strangers is not for me either.

    LOVE the coffee shop idea and I could totally see your gorgeous smiley self baking away & brightening up everyone’s day!

    Love your pointers on setting up home as well. Busy but exciting days ahead :)

    Ciao, Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

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