Thank you to everyone who submitted their love stories. It was such a pleasure reading about those who have influenced your love for cooking and how you continue to show love through home-made meals. We wish you all a wonderful Valentine’s Day and hope that you enjoyed the stories as much as we did. Here are a few of the stories that we fell in love with:
I cooked with my folks when I was little –cookies, breads, etc. but it wasn’t until I got out on my own that I fell in love with cooking. I got invited to a dinner with a group of women who were older than me. The food was amazing, but the conversation about cooking changed my life. I was resistant to becoming a person who cooks. I wanted to be out changing the world, writing books and telling stories. I said as much, and well that was like throwing the gauntlet down. They talked about all their experiences in the kitchen and the joy they got from being “food artists.” They weren’t chefs. They were everyday women who saw the beauty in preparing food.
When someone dies, people cook food and bring it. It says “I love you. I care about you. We are bonded.” When someone who really knows what they are doing makes a cake, they channel love, creativity and art. When somebody is sick with a cold, you roll up your sleeves and make a chicken soup, that seems to have a healing power. I had never looked at cooking in that way before I heard these women talk about the art of cooking, and the power of the cook.
I was so excited and rushed home to start my love affair with cooking. It didn’t take long for me to learn for myself that you can tell a whole story in a muffin. A gumbo is a history in a bowl. A hot homemade roll is a missive, a prayer. So whenever I get so busy that I forget about the power of the pot, the magic of a sharp knife, or the spell of the last of the cream cheese frosting in the bowl, because I am off creating stories, I go back to the kitchen and fall in love again. For me, cooking, and the ability to create in that way is one of the arrows that points to my true north.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I fell in love with cooking in first grade. That first winter of early mornings, my mother would have a bowl of Cream of Wheat ready for me, I would eat, and we’d be off to school. One morning, I grew cantankerous over eating the same thing every day, and my mother told me I could do whatever I wanted with my hot cereal — but I was required to eat the entirety of the results.
The next morning, I was ready early. I was so excited to make my own Cream of Wheat! I levered my small self up onto the counter, opened the spice cabinet, and promptly received a black eye from an economy-sized jar of ground cumin that tumbled out of the cabinet (my family was fond of taco night).
After this incident, I approached our overflowing spice cabinet warily. My mother told me she used brown sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon most mornings. I experimented with combos of those ingredients for a few mornings, gradually growing more adventurous. My mother encouraged me, telling me I would probably do ok, as long as I stayed away from the green stuff. Of course, the inevitable day came when she put me in a snit, and I decided never to listen to any of her advice again.
That morning, I used a lovely mixture of black pepper, rosemary, thyme, nutmeg, honey, almond extract, and mustard seeds in my Cream of Wheat. I took a bite, then promptly called our dog over. The mangy mutt that ate everything turned up her nose at my breakfast. I walked into the laundry room adjacent to our kitchen, and stuck my cereal under the utility sink. I congratulated myself as we headed out the door, thinking how wonderfully I had fixed things… until my little brother told my mother where he had seen me hide the bowl. I was late to school that morning, but I ate every cold, nasty bite.
The next day, I tasted the herbs and spices before I added them to my Cream of Wheat. I gradually learned what was “good” and what was “not good.” For weeks, I ate single-spice cereal concoctions to learn the tastes. Soon, I started identifying herbs on the meat we had for dinner, and spices in other dishes. Twenty-five years later, I still find joy in experimenting with food.
When I found out, as a young teen, that boys are always hungry! At 55, I’m still feeding hungry boys – of all ages! It started with cookies and breakfast pastries and pies, and now I love to cook all things. My first ingredient in everything I make is love; if it doesn’t come from the heart, it’s not going to taste as good. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Let’s take a walk back to almost 2 years ago, I was a rather chubby individual who was well…for a lack of a better term miserable with many different things going on in my life. Then after a my younger sister decided to sign me up for a half marathon (unknown to me) I had 2 options: 1 – take on the challenge or 2 – continue being miserable. I opted to take on the challenge, and seeing that the only place that I had been running was to the refrigerator this was going to be a very large challenge.
Clearly just getting out and doing the running wasn’t going to help me accomplish this goal, so I had to do a total U-Haul of my entire diet. This was when I fell in love with cooking. I started finding a healthy way to eat the things that I loved, I started trying more things, and most importantly I started to actually like what I was becoming.
As this obsession to complete this half marathon grew so did my love of cooking. I started wanting to have people over to my home to try and create new things for them. I actually won a fresh market bag from the local greener grocer and started getting vegetables that I had never heard of. I made a competition with myself to never let anything go to waste! Therefore, learning to cook things in ways that I had never imagined.
While doing all of this I learned of the techniques classes every Sunday at Williams Sonoma and have made this part of my weekend. I attend every week and learn something new – often times bringing new friends, having others across the country attend in their stores as well and then we discuss what we have learned. I have even made some new friends!
My love of cooking was a gift to me from my grandmother. When I was growing up my father and grandfather ran a butcher shop. Every able-bodied family member was on call for busy days, which in our part of the country happened most often during the fall hunting season. I don’t know how Grandma was assigned to stay at home with me, but I suspect it was because they all loved her cooking, and as her only available helper, I was drafted before I could reach the counter tops, perched on a stool and teetering on one leg as I watched and learned.
Some of my earliest memories in her kitchen involve the fetching of ingredients. It was with great pride that I memorized those mystical names; cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom. But the things that really captured my young mind were the gadgets.
Out on the back porch, in a five by ten foot space, was Grandma’s fruit room. Today they’re simply known as pantries, but in my mind no place in my grandparent’s house was as magical as that fruit room. The right half was full of canning jars, whether empty or full, all neatly stacked in rows. Applesauce, cherries, green beans, and pears, all neatly sorted and waiting. On the left lived the gadgets and tools that were too big for the kitchen.
There were grinders and mashers and slicers and choppers and whisks. Storage containers and mixers and measurers and colanders and sieves and, well, you get the idea. At the helm sat a stainless steel bowl large enough to nest a fully grown turkey, and it was in this industrial sized bowl we carried the dough into the living room to raise on the oil stove.
Cooking is how I preserve memories of my grandmother. When she passed away, some of her gadgets came to live at my house. From time to time new ones come to play and find a place of honor in my kitchen. I proudly learn their names and uses, and I wait for the day when small hands will come to hold them and assign to them the some mystical qualities of their own.
It most assuredly was watching Julia Child on public television. She was smart; she was funny; and she most definitely possessed a sense of humor that she used often at her own expense. I can remember after one of her many kitchen debacles saying, “Oh well, I know you’ll do much better. Bon appetit!” My mother was an excellent cook, but when mental illness caused her periodic absences from the family, I had no one to mentor me in cooking. When I was a young woman, Julia Child and also some local television cooks/chefs inspired me to become the mediocre cook I have become. A couple of the Portland, OR cook/chefs I watched and learned from were Betty Davis and Horst Mager. I admit to currently watching too much on the Food Network, i.e., Chopped, Iron Chef, etc. I do believe cooking is an inherent talent – one which I wish I had – but I think it’s possible to at least learn some basic skills. The thing about cooking is that it is dynamic…..there are always new things to learn, new products to try, and new flavor combinations that make the science downright sensual. Whew – my kitchen is steaming!
During my first marriage, I enjoyed cooking but I often was (as many women are) trapped by the confines of errands, in-laws, and the working of multiple jobs. After my divorce, I lived with a wonderful housemate who hated to cook. She also happened to endure very difficult surgery shortly after I moved in. The pain of the surgery and her recovery was a source of great sadness for her. Needless to say, I would make her whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted. If I noticed that she seemed particularly sad one night, I would get up early the next morning and start cooking a delicious breakfast. What can elevate your mood better than waking up to the smells of a tasty, homemade breakfast?
Once she was well, I moved to my own place back in my hometown area of upstate NY, which further expanded my culinary freedom. I bought a Kitchen-Aid and learned that electricity in the kitchen can really be your arm and shoulder’s best friend. I grew my own herbs, berries, tomatoes, and peppers. Living alone, I realized how long a bag of prepackaged bread actually lasted, and, alarmed by what must be in it to make it look and feel the exact same way for so long, I began making my own bread. If ever I could have doubted the purity of this love, that doubt was erased the first time I cut into the crackling crust of fresh bread from my own oven. I’d share my bounty with my neighbors and extended family, often indulging their requests for their favorite treats and dishes or teaching them how to prepare their favorites themselves. Cooking, of course, is a skill that can and should be taught to anyone willing to learn. And now, remarried and living in a tiny apartment to be close to my demanding job, I have kept cooking for my household, family, friends and coworkers as a high priority. The love has grown, and, like any real love, it is a love that is not content to merely indulge itself but rather demands to be poured out to the benefit of others. Of course, the love has also grown well outside of the space of my tiny kitchen, and overflows into the dining room, living room and den.
Cooking and I tied the knot on July 9, 1986. Although it’s not my most vivid memory (it was day I was born), hindsight allows me to now reminisce how I was head over heels.. my heart went pitter patter…I was madly in love with…Cooking. It has always been my one true love…even in the womb! Not surprising, however, a third generation Italian with Buccigrossi on my father’s side and Ciccantelli on my mother’s side, I was destined for lifetime of happiness with cooking, all past down from generation to generation. While it started with simple bowls of cereal, my skills progressed to peanut butter and banana sandwiches. I was not even 6 when my mom let me help her can the homemade grape juice and stir the pot of pasta sauce all day. Cooking and I flourished from there!
Like any other relationship, however, we have had our highs and lows. Life as a kid with packed bologna sandwiches and juice boxes numbs one’s appreciation for real cooking. Another era as a college student too easily helped me forget about cooking to the likes of late night study sessions fueled by takeout pizza, microwave dinners, and instant coffee.
Despite the rough patches, I was eventually centered. The lifelong influences of my great grandmother, grandmother, and mother all became important again. Kneading dough for pasta, Saturday morning breakfast spreads, experimenting with a plethora of smoothie recipes, prepping soups and stews…it all came back so naturally and has since become an vivid and integral part of my life again.
I recently met my to-be husband, got married, a started my own family. Of course, cooking has remained the one central part of my. Cooking for family and friends is the greatest joy in my life. It brings nutrition, happiness, pride, tradition, entertainment…From grocery shopping to saving scraps for the compost heap, from simple before-work breakfasts to football feasts, from hosting holidays dinners with three tables worth of family to throwing together a one-pot meal, from learning a new recipe to teaching a century-old family dish, I love everything about cooking! Cooking is a universal language and the focal point of all of the most important aspects of a person’s life. For that, I will forever be graciously in love with cooking.
My story of loving cooking is a story of rekindled romance…
For as long as I remember, I have loved to bake. I am soothed by the silkiness of flour and dough between my fingers, satisfied by all things beautiful, fresh, and delicious. From as early as I can remember, I have many happy memories of messy moments with my mom around the Kitchen Aid mixer (the very same mixer I use to this day).
When I finished grad school in 2003, I took baking and culinary classes at a local community college to hone and expand my skills. I spent the next couple of years contentedly hosting dinners and parties featuring decadent, complicated, culinary masterpieces. I spent hours experimenting and creating in my apartment’s tiny kitchen.
All of this complicated cooking came to a grinding halt when I became a mother for the first time in 2006. The demands of working motherhood required much simplification…especially when my second son was born in 2009. Complex concoctions were replaced by frozen chicken nuggets and hot dogs. Since my husband and I work staggered schedules so that one of us can always be home, the energy required to create something special was replaced by the Darwinian need to quickly feed my offspring. I sustained myself on whatever little morsels remained on the plates of my two toddling boys.
It wasn’t until this past summer that I rediscovered my love for cooking. In August 2011, we received the news that my oldest has celiac disease. At first, I was deeply saddened by his diagnosis. Even in the blur of early motherhood, I had managed many happy kitchen memories with my boys making pancakes and cookies and macaroni and cheese from scratch. I lamented the loss of all the flour-based goodness we would no longer enjoy.
Fairly quickly, sadness was replaced by a firm determination to make sure that my son’s life was as delicious as any other kid’s. I dusted off all my old recipes, researched some gluten-free alternative products and went to work on creating gluten-free versions of everything I could think of: pizza, cookies, cakes, macaroni and cheese, pancakes, waffles, chicken nuggets…you name it. I never wanted my son to feel ostracized at a party, resentment for all that he must do without. Further, I wanted to give him the skills to make deliciousness for himself…to learn that challenges are inevitable but that overcoming them can be so enjoyable and incredibly satisfying.
All this gluten-free experimentation has reconnected me with my love of cooking. I feel such a sense of accomplishment and pride when I am able to create something that my boys enjoy. It feels so much better than plopping something frozen onto a plate and heating it in the microwave. Admittedly, my recipes are not as complicated as they once were. When the boys are hungry…an hour or two in the kitchen is NOT an option. However simple, our meals are fresh and scrumptious and filled with love…which I now truly understand is the most delicious and important ingredient in any dish.
I don’t remember ever actually falling in love with cooking. Not at any given moment anyway. I think it was a culmination of moments. There was no heady rush of feeling, no sense of dizzy wonder, no weightless fall. None of the feelings you expect when you “fall in love”. I just know that one day, I woke up and I was there.
My earliest memories of cooking begin with my dad. He had no formal cooking, not learning until my grandma (my mom’s mom), took an interest in him, as he took an interest in cooking, and taught him. What I remember was him being happy while cooking. He would be in our kitchen at home, with his reel-to-reel blaring Boot’s Randolph, Glenn Miller or the like wearing nothing more than shorts and a t-shirt (regardless of the outside temperature), a dish towel hanging from his back pocket, and an old-fashion glass filled with ice and Canadian Club. He would either be whistling and/or dancing in the kitchen as he pulled together his Sunday meal (dad typically did the Sunday meal). Who could look at that picture and NOT be drawn in and want to be a part of it?
Dad loved to branch out into different areas, not confining himself strictly to the meat and potatoes meals most men love. I remember Dad’s first foray into cooking with yeast and the lesson he learned about killing the yeast with too hot of water. He is always good natured about his failures and that one lives in infamy. Yeast rolls…hard enough to knock down the 10 foot long icicles that were hanging from the roof that winter. But as it says in the song…”from the ashes of disaster grow the roses of success”. He has redeemed himself, several times over and in the process taught me not to give up.
I had been cooking from my late teens onward though I never attempted anything difficult and typically followed recipes. I was well into my 30s when I figured out that recipes weren’t always hard and fast rules but sometimes more like guidelines. I began looking at recipes that had similar ingredients and combining the parts of them *I* liked and creating something extraordinary. I am not drawn to one area or style of cooking. I love doing it all. Well, except the clean up, but that’s why we have kids right?
Ultimately, I don’t think I fell in love with cooking. I think cooking fell in love with me. It has been a wild and crazy ride. But then, that’s love right?