Thursday, October 16, 2014

How I Learned to Cook: Part 3


Wouldn’t it be nice if I could conclude by saying that I am now a great chef, supremely confident in the kitchen and experimenting with my own recipes? I’m not. I still get flustered and distracted easily while cooking. Still get overwhelmed while trying to plan a week’s worth of dinners. Still prefer the ease of baking compared to trying to get different dishes done at the same time.

But I am a cook. I learned, thanks to teachers and mentors, and the opportunity to try again and again. If you do anything almost every day for ten years, you can’t help but get better at it.


It’s only a story to me because I never expected it, for so long consciously avoided it. And now I consider it a gift to be able to feed the ones I love, to gather friends around a table.

I saw how cooking in no way limited what else Brian might do. And once we had children, I suddenly cared twice as much about what ingredients we used and where our food came from.

So many of my fondest memories are centered around a table. I grew up in a household where, if Dad was home for dinner, all of his children had better be too. On Saturday mornings, my mother would make a large Irish breakfast and we would spend hours around that table, listening to stories about my mom growing up on Adams Street in Chicago. You can’t grow up Catholic without seeing the sacred in gathering around a table and breaking bread together. In Russia, we learned that even more keenly. When we came home, we lived for a few months with our best friends, also newlyweds, and took turns making dinner together every night. In Oregon, my friend Alison welcomed us into her home and to her family’s table so many times.

2013 05 15_food sweet and sour stir fry

I miss being able to call my mother with a quick cooking question, or getting a call from her about a great recipe she saw on TV and could I please find it online and send it to her. That’s how the hot corn dip I bring to everything joined our repertoire. I didn’t learn at her knee like some girls do. She was a busy cook and I wasn’t interested, but as adults it was one of the ways we connected best. I have probably called my friend Angie for her salad dressing with rice vinegar and a dash of Tabasco at least six times (why do I keep losing that recipe?). In Utah my friend Annabelle embraced cooking and baking, as well as inviting people to dinner---a lost art! And every time I bake her rum cake or make a salad with pork loin now, I think of her. I love the community of cooking, and the way food and memories intertwine.

2014 02 pork_loin_salad_ipad_photo_by_DOK

I have cherished recipes in my mother’s handwriting, my grandmother’s, my mother-in-law’s. I’ve loved Nora Ephron’s writing since I read Heartburn at sixteen, and eventually came to love Nigel Slater and Laurie Colwin as well. Michael Pollen and Molly Wizenberg, Ree Drummond and Jenny Rosenstrach. They have been my teachers and companions in the kitchen too.

web cheers on mothersday breakfast

Ultimately, more than my mom or Brian, websites or cookbooks, these three faces have been my motivation and teachers in the kitchen. I hope someday they’ll be welcoming Brian and me to their table, where we’ll toast to new celebrations, play movie lines and try to get each other to say the word “what”---and there will be plenty of food and love for everyone.

31 Days button

This post is part of Myquillyn Smith’s Write 31 Days challenge. You can find all my posts on A Pattern Language, and this tangent, linked here, and other blogs participating in the challenge (and writing on different topics) here.


  1. So cool that you taught yourself to cook and found a wonderful community to cook with!

  2. Love these graphics and quotes. SO very pin-able! And I'm a self-taught cook with three boys of my own. Let me know when you're headed to San Diego and I'll host a boy cookout in our backyard. What fun we'd have. Love making friends this way - they are usually the very best!


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