My Evolution as a Cook

betty crocker cookbookI began my cooking life with my mom’s tomato-red copy of the Betty Crocker cookbook, 1969 edition, sporting fondue pots and cocktail party appetizers on the front. It is now dog-eared, stained and held together with clear packing tape, but I keep it front-and-center in the bookcase above my cooktop because it inspired me in some of my early cooking efforts.

As a young teen, with a working mom, I had many opportunities to cook, and Betty was with me every step of the way from ginger snap cookies to homemade bread. Some of my early culinary endeavors required the cooperation of my extended family, such as the time I requisitioned my grandmother’s antique marble table top to freeze so I could make hard candy on its surface. I studied bread, with a concentration in cookies and cakes and an occasional honors project in candy.

When I married, I inherited the cookbook and got a graduate degree in roasted herb chicken, jamabalaya and ratatouille. I added the Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook (1980 edition) to my arsenal along with a copy of Martha Stewart’s Entertaining (1982 edition). My mother’s decoupaged, olive green, faux-antiqued cedar recipe box was my resource for heirloom recipes such as my grandmother’s fresh apple cake, but Betty and the cadre of cooks at Good Housekeeping helped me in every other department. Immediately after retiring from my work as a software engineer, my first indulgent task was to take all my clipped and copied recipes, garnered from newspapers and magazines, and put them in a binder with sheet protectors. My “Hall of Fame” section of that cookbook is one to which I still refer.

Even now, I enjoy occasionally looking at cookbooks; but, I also maintain a folder of digital recipes on my Mac notebook to refer to when I have to plan a dish or meal. When I find a good recipe (kid-tested and husband-approved), I publish a copy in my folder of favorites, and always include an aspirational picture. I cook Thanksgiving dinner with my laptop open on the counter of my prep surface. Pinterest is an inspiration, along with the many, popular foodie mother-blogger websites. When I plan a dinner party, I make a dinner menu journal entry (filed on my laptop) to include the menu and who attended. I make follow-up notes about what worked or didn’t work well. I maintain several Pinterest boards for inspiration whenever my digital cookbook fails.

For a brief period of my life, I planned my dinner menus for a month in advance; but, sadly, this utopian domestic bliss lasted for exactly one month before I returned to the last-minute, daily scramble of 1) what can I pick up from take-out or 2) what can I make from what I have in the refrigerator, freezer and pantry. This method just seems to suit my creative, unfocused personality better. It also is more adaptive to my my husband’s telling me as he walks out the door in the morning that he has a deacon’s meeting after work and should he pick up something for his dinner.

A more recent development is my foray into original cooking. Now, with more than 26 years of family cooking under my belt and 2,860 approximate meals cooked, I cook from memory and imagination, mostly. My least favorite part of cooking, the planning and grocery shopping, has developed into a routine of deciding at about 5:30pm what I want to cook for a 7:00pm dinner. This method also ensures that I am not required to eat spaghetti when I really feel more like eating salmon. A quick mental review of the food items I have in my house, combined with a quick trip (20 minutes) to the neighborhood grocery store for fresh items, allows me flexibility (if not efficiency) in deciding what to fix for supper.

I love asking friends, “What are you cooking for dinner tonight?” Of course, as my children age, and my friends’ children age, this has developed into, “What are you picking up for dinner tonight?” My family truly, at one point, became the family of the TV commercial where the mom cried out, “Time for supper,” and the kids all ran to the mini-van. While my family enjoys eating out and take-out, I know they enjoy even more having a dinner at home, prepared by me.

This page will record my cooking adventures, and perhaps will inspire you in your own culinary expressions. Perhaps it will inspire you to have a home-cooked dinner at home once in a while. Cooking is not hard, but it does require inspiration.

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