Sunday, December 5, 2010

Non-recipes: A Retrospective

When I get new commenters or followers on my blog, I excitedly check out who they are.  I was honored to have a "veteran" food bogger Miriyummy read my blog.  (Her blog is six months older than Cooking Outside the Box.)  I have seen her comment on other blogs I read, but the first time I read her blog was when she commented on some of my posts.  Her cookbook review got me thinking about my feelings on recipes and my history with food experimentation. 

Miriyummy LOVES cookbooks and celeb chefs.  I do like cookbooks.  I like new ideas and mouthwatering pictures of food (or "food porn" as Miriyummy puts it.)  But the idea that someone would plan my meal down to the bottle of wine doesn't turn me on.  I just don't enjoy trying to buy everything on a prescribed list.  I love being inspired and taught by recipes, but I eat what's in season and on sale.

Miriyummy looks at the author's background of not knowing anything about cooking.  Not only is that not me.  I can't even relate.  It's not that I have any culinary education, but I just don't see a huge leap from eating food to cooking food.  What is a meal?  You take raw ingredients, add heat and seasoning as appropriate, and put it with other foods to balance your nutrient intake.  This know-how is instinctual or based on skills you learned in elementary school.  If it smells good it might taste good.  If it's soft and looks like something you would want to take a bite out of, it's probably ready to eat.
This also got me thinking about my own history making up dishes and trying recipes.  When I was young, I thought I would surprise my parents with a special treat: American cheese melted on saltine crackers topped with little slices of Tootsie Rolls.  Their disgust is still evident when they retell the tale.  Another time I tried to bake a chocolate cake from the Joy of Cooking that looked just divine, in honor of my doll, Rachel's, second birthday.  (I chose the arbitrary date of August 2nd and waited for it to roll around.)

When my dense, flat cake came out of the oven, my mom inquired if the recipe said anything about separating eggs.  It did, but I didn't see the point, since it was all going in the same batter.  Now I generally avoid recipes that involve whipping whites and trying to keep them alive while "gently folding" anything into them.

My dad owned an Italian restaurant for a few years while I was in high school.  There, he picked up quite a bit of cooking knowledge.  I still call him when I have food-safety questions. (Picture to left: current image of my father in his home kitchen; above: picture I created of my kids to print on an apron for my dad a few birthdays ago.)

Now I see my preschool age son experimenting with his own culinary ideas.  If you ask him what he wants to be when he grows up, he's likely to answer, "a chef."  (If you ask my daughter, she'll tell you she's already an artist.)  Last week my son insisted I make him cottage cheese with chopped apples and sun-dried tomatoes.  If you're thinking, "hmm, I wouldn't have tried this on my own but it might be good," you're wrong.  I thought the tang and saltiness of the tomatoes clashed terribly with the cottage cheese.  But both my kids requested seconds.  As soon as he stops putting ketchup on everything his culinary instincts might really blossom.
I think I'm becoming more confident (maybe even cocky) about my culinary instincts as I experiment with dishes and people actually like them.  My style is also maturing as I read more about cooking and listen to podcasts like The Splendid Table.  I feel like a real grown up now that I own bay leaves.  One day I may even make sourdough or successfully fold a fat into whipped eggs!

For more of my reflecting and reminiscing read my interview with CookingManager.


  1. I enjoyed reading your post, and I love the apron picture. My mom didn't use cookbooks much, but she enjoyed reading them to learn new tricks.

  2. Wow, thank you so much for linking my blog! I think we share a lot of the same memories, just with different details. And how cute are your kids!

  3. I'll tell you the truth - I think I'm a pretty good cook, and I also shy away from recipes that involve separating eggs :)
    Your blog is beautiful!



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