I’ve changed my mind about cooking as I’ve gotten older. You see, when I was in my 20s and 30s, I thought cooking was a waste of time. My philosophy then was, “Why spend all this time and effort preparing a meal when it will be gone so quickly? Instead, I want to focus on something that will be lasting.”
However, several situations conspired to alter that early philosophy and suddenly I’ve turned into someone who enjoys – and values — cooking. I’ve even had others over for dinner and shared recipes that I’ve loved.
So how did life change my mind? Here goes:
- When I was growing up, my mother’s mantra was: “Try everything on your plate. If you hate it, you don’t have to eat it, but at least you’ll have tried it.” That approach – with a few exceptions – has guided my palate ever since.
- I moved to a city — Austin, TX –just as the concept of “foodie” was taking hold. I discovered so many diverse restaurants with offerings beyond what I had previously experienced so meals became an adventure.
- While still living in Austin, I befriended several foodies – especially Rose, Billie and Roger. They not only took me to wonderful restaurants where chefs created unique flavors, but these friends were also wonderful cooks in their own right. They encouraged me to expand my palate and to start thinking about cooking.
- Grocery stores started offering more diverse products. I was fortunate that Central Market opened while I lived in Austin. This store was stocked with a cornucopia of culinary goodies and surprises; additionally, the store offered cooking classes that made different cuisines accessible. In fact, I would take out-of-town friends on a tour of Central Market because I was amazed by its forward-thinking approach.
Then, just as I was fully embracing these culinary experiences, I moved to a community where the primary food offerings were hamburgers, Mexican food, barbeque and chicken-fried steak. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with these meals, I don’t care to eat them every day. Instead, I found myself craving the food that I had in Austin – so I had to break down and learn to make these foods myself. Plus, I discovered that many meals offered on restaurant menus are inherently unhealthy since they are laden with calories, fat, sodium and sugar. By learning to prepare my own meals, I now have firsthand knowledge of the various ingredients that comprise a dish. I’ve learned to see cooking as a way to nurture myself and others and support a healthy lifestyle.
So how did I learn to cook? Fortunately, before I moved from Austin, I purchased Quick Cuisine: Easy and Elegant Recipes for Every Occasion by Ann Clark. That cookbook opened new doors for me and I found I could prepare tasty meals on my own. I even purchased a copy for my mother and marked the many recipes – such as paillard of chicken breast with Parmesan; spinach fettuccine with walnut-gorgonzola sauce; spaghetti with Italian sausage, sun-dried tomatoes and oregano; angel hair pasta salad with basil, tomatoes and sliced grilled steak; Mexican potato, corn and poblano soup; and soupe au pistou — that I had made and liked.
In the years since, I have accumulated a lot of cookbooks spanning a wide range of culinary areas – baking, international cuisines, grilling and collections by well-respected chefs. I’m currently going through and culling my collection. My decision is based on cooking four diverse recipes from each cookbook. To keep a place on my shelf, I need to really like three of those recipes. The cookbooks that don’t cut the mustard (so to speak) are going to the resale shop. The rest are staying in my kitchen – and may be featured in future I Start Wondering posts to guide others who are interested in expanding their culinary skills.
So here’s to trying new recipes, different ingredients and cooking techniques. Bon appetite!
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