6.20.2012

Finding My Inner Child...Julia, That Is

For the majority of my married life, I have be an avowed hater of cooking. I have declared (sometimes proudly, sometimes not-so-proudly) that "I don't like to cook" or that "Peter had to teach me how to cook" when we got married. The bottom line is that I truly believed that I could not cook.

Oh sure, I had the staple recipes that I could pull out if we were having people over. My "tried and true" lasagna (a slightly altered version of my mother's recipe), the standard pots of chili and chicken noodle soup, or the never-fail Cranberry Chicken in the Crockpot. I found a comfort zone and I stayed there. Guests complimented my meals, but rave reviews were rare.

Once we moved overseas, I was forced to think outside the recipe box when it came to food. I managed to keep lasagna on the menu, but for the first time in my life, I had to make things like pizza, bread, and any desserts we wanted, from scratch. I got pretty good at loaves of bread, but I'll never forget the first no topping pizzas or the hamburger buns that didn't rise. It solidified in my mind that I couldn't cook, and highlighted my lack of desire to learn. Besides, I knew we wouldn't be overseas forever, and once we were back in America - why make it when you can buy it?

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Those were supposed to be hamburger buns {Sentani, Papua, Indonesia}

When we moved back to the States, I came home toting a few new recipes (including one for a scrumptious Chicken Tortilla Soup), and a newly acquired taste for Indian curry. In the world of food, my vision was broadening. Still, I easily fell back into the old groove of fixing the same things, over and over again - until we were completely sick of them.

Last year, while I was working at the pharmacy, we started going out to eat a lot more often. In many ways, I'm thankful for that experience, however, because it caused me to step out of my comfort zone and try new things. Because of our weekly treks to a local restaurant, I discovered that fish, when cooked correctly, can be delectable, and eggplant, when lightly fried, is nothing to be afraid of. But I think my personal breakthrough moment came when I finally decided to try my hand at cooking a childhood nemesis: Brussels sprouts - low and behold, they were delish!

I had read Julia Child's memoir, My Life in France, and followed that up with Kathleen Flinn's first book, The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry - both of which raised my interest in cooking and caused me to add Mastering the Art of French Cooking to my Christmas wish list. However, I knew that even if I found the set under the tree, I would look through them once, and then stick them on the shelf with the rest of my unused cookbook collection. It was too hard, the recipes would be too complicated, and we were trying to eat healthy, for goodness sake!


{For Sale via UUPP on Etsy}

Last month, a friend told me that Flinn had written a new book that I might be interested in, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School (which I may have mentioned a few times on the blog - ahem). I ordered a used copy and, being newly unemployed, I devoured it upon it's arrival. I'm not sure what it was about The Kitchen Counter, but as Peter has since said, "It's like it opened your cooking floodgates - you had all this desire just waiting to be unleashed."

Flinn took the complicated and made it understandable to the lay person. She de-mystified the kitchen. She brought the world of a French cooking school to the average Josephine, and she taught "regular" women how to cook. She taught me how to cook.

I started by trying one of the recipes in her book - it wasn't even a recipe, really. She was just describing a portion of the class where she taught her students how to cook a chicken breast with goat cheese and basil. Something in my head said, "That sounds easy" - and the next thing you know, I was at my local Fresh Market, requesting bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts and buying a log of goat cheese. I was planting basil in my backyard and learning about the different tastes of salt. It was like experiencing Disney World for cooks - it was magical.

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I was so excited when the meal that I fixed, looked like the photo in the cookbook - and got rave reviews from Peter!

My cookbooks aren't dusty anymore.

Are yours?

{Next up: How I've Changed My Grocery Shopping Habits}

6 comments:

  1. Great post, and I absolutely love the title!!! : ) I need a change like this -- I seem to be an even more blah cook than I used to be. One of my teenage sons is now gluten-free and dairy-free and the other is picky, and that makes it harder, but still.... It's embarrassing how often I end up making spaghetti and meat sauce (w/ both gluten-free and regular noodles), just because I know everyone will eat it (and I haven't taken time to plan anything else). I checked out The Kitchen Counter Cooking School when you previously recommended it, and have renewed it -- now that I'm back from a trip, I hope to actually read it! I'm sure my husband would be thrilled to have some more inspired cooking.

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    1. Sandy - I hope you learn from the book as I did. One of the dangers of promoting a book so strongly is that I'm afraid of setting the expectations too high, but I honestly think that there are a lot of easy take-away lessons from this one. Keep me posted!!

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  2. My cookbooks have become incredibly dusty since we've moved. I think it's all the tempting new restaurants we want to try AND the fact that man oh man, food is WAY more expensive here.
    I'm sure they'll come back out of hiding soon... but until then I'll just read about your adventures.

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    1. Molly, do you think that food is more expensive than going out to eat? That's something we had to look at, because I was dying at the higher cost of better ingredients, but then I realized that I could make more food than just one meal, so I was getting more bang for my buck. I don't always come home with a doggie bag when we go out to eat, but I always have enough left over when I cook to send lunch for Peter the next day. However, if we lived in a large city, I'm guessing we'd take advantage of the variety of restaurants as well! :-)

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  3. I love this post. An influential book that I found 3 (?) Christmasses ago was "How to Cook WIthout a Book" by Pamela Anderson. I received it from some friends who didn't know me too well, but it was exactly the sort of book I needed.

    I struggled with breaking away from a recipe and taking chances if I was missing one or two ingredients from a stated list. This book helped me work with a few ingredients first, give me a lot of "ground rules," so then I didn't feel too crazy if I then deviated from the list a bit.

    I'm a bit out of practice these days with Jon taking over quite a bit of our home maintenance, but I do look forward to my upcoming school breaks to try my hand at some new food adventures again. I'll have to check out this book you're recommending.

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  4. I've actually looked at that book on Amazon, so with your recommendation, I'm going to have to throw it in the cart. Maybe "Santa" will stick it under the tree this year. ;-)

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There are more than 400,000 words in the English language. My only request of you is this: Use them wisely.

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