I have come to love cooking. I didn't start out loving it. My mother spent a good chunk of her working life before I was born working as a diner cook. By the time I came along, she was good and tired of being in the kitchen. She cooked meals - that's what women of that era did, after all. But she really didn't enjoy it and wasn't particularly creative about it. My father was one of those clichéd "meat and potatoes" men, and if vegetables weren't cooked to the point of mush his opinion was they should be fed to the pigs - and we didn't even live on the farm! When you add in the factor that there wasn't a whole lot of money, cooking for my mother became even more of a chore - trying to figure out how to make the grocery budget stretch to feed the family until the next payday.
Food at our house was serviceable, not bad by any means, but certainly not gourmet. There are dishes from my childhood that I remember as being wonderful and thoughts of them bring back fond memories. Yet, my mother's lack of enthusiasm for cooking passed itself on to me for many years. I didn't really know how to cook and, therefore, didn't really have any interest in it.
I can't pinpoint, exactly, when my interest in cooking began to develop. But I suspect it had something to do with entertaining. I'm pretty social, and I love spending time with people. Having people over for dinner seems a common way of expressing that. Yet, to do that, you have to feed them. At first, I had a couple of meals that I relied pretty heavily on. They worked well, guests complimented me on them and considering the fact that people cleaned their plates and asked for seconds, I don't think they were just blowing sunshine up my skirt.
But one or two meals, even good ones, get old pretty quickly, so I began to branch out. At first, it was cookbooks, but then - the miracle of all miracles for an aspiring cook -- the internet. The internet is heaven for anyone looking to learn anything (as high school students and would be terrorists will attest) but is a source of never-ending delight for a would-be cook. There are thousands of sites. Recipes, cooking instructions, how-to-videos, photos, blogs -- everything you could possibly want or need to know as you navigate through the chemistry and the art of playing with food.
There are countless bloggers whose sole content is cooking. They post their recipes and their photos (I've heard people use the term 'food porn' to describe some of the photos and it's somewhat apt!) and their tips on how-to and how-not-to. What I like about these is that they are most often just ordinary people. They aren't a food network star, they haven't written a cookbook, they don't own a restaurant. They're just regular people experimenting with cooking and sharing the results.
Other sites are community sites. There's one in particular that I use quite often. Their recipe base is mostly made up of user-submitted recipes, although they also publish sponsor recipes. But this is where you find the type of recipe that's been passed down for generations in a family and been printed up in church-basement-lady cookbooks. You can search these sites by recipe title. You can also search by ingredient. Say you have a neighbor gift you a bushel of zucchini at the end of the season - you can type in that ingredient and a list of recipes using it will pop up right before your eyes. They have categories - desserts, salads, main dishes, holidays - and ideas for complete dinners including everything from the appetizer and beverage all the way down to the dessert.
They also have a community tab where you can ask questions and advice or request a recipe. You can also give your advice and suggestions to others. As with all communities, there are some who are there for something other than cooking. There are always people who look for drama and who are willing to create it if there isn't any to be found and cyber communities are no different. But after a little while on the site it's pretty easy to figure out who is there for what and you can just skip on by and avoid that type of thing. And, proportionately, it's a small part of the whole. Mostly, people are there to talk food and to share their knowledge and expertise and passion.
People are also able to rate and review recipes. You can read how others have adapted a particular recipe to their tastes, and help judge whether you need to adapt as well and how best to do it. You can submit your own recipes for review, if you are the competitive type. Mostly, though, you can indulge your interest in figuring out how to make dinner a delight instead of a chore.
So yesterday an old friend came for lunch and I made a new recipe for an asparagus quiche, a new recipe for a cucumber salad, a new recipe for some cheddar and scallion biscuits, and a new recipe for a lemon-mango cake. Tonight, another friend is coming for dinner and I'm trying a new recipe for beef stroganoff. Food is nourishment, yes. But it doesn't need to stop there. It can also be an adventure. So next time you're at the grocery store, buy that jar of something new and different, and figure out what to do with it.
I wish I had thought to take a photo of yesterday's lunch, but did not. Credit for this photo goes to: http://www.thecnj.com/review/2008/071708/foodanddrink071708_116.html
2 hours ago