Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cooking is like an interpretive dance ..

But baking? .. well, baking is a disaster waiting to happen unless you've got just the right moves.

I grew up in the kitchen, helping my mom and both of my grandmothers. When I was a child, we always had dinner at the table, as a family. We had home-cooked meals every night, and weren't allowed to touch our food until a blessing had been said. I was a very picky child. My idea of potatoes were either fries or a baked potato doused in A1 Sauce and bacon bits with a mountain of pepper. The mashed, scalloped and twice-baked would have been the death of me - at least I thought. I'd eat a black eye pea, but not a green one; raw spinach, but not cooked; absolutely no squash, onions, broccoli, peppers or zucchini; and forget anything with milk, mayo or sour cream. When forced to eat any of the above I would present my gag-reflex technique at the table, causing my fellow family members to lose their appetite, leaving me to my baked potato and sweet tea. That technique, while effective, had a short lifespan. The folks caught on, realizing I was faking, and then forced me to eat those disgusting foods. Thankfully I had a legitimate intolerance for dairy, so it wasn't all a loss. Having been raised in a very, VERY large and traditional Southern family I found family get-togethers sometimes very challenging - because there was ALWAYS food involved and boy do they like all the things I swore would kill me.

Over the years my appetite has blossomed. My list of "no-no's" has slimmed and I'm open to try new things, but I think what helped me most in opening up my palate was cooking for myself. Knowing what exactly went into the preparation of my food made me realize that you can take an unpleasant food and make it taste quite delicious. All those years of being told not to play with my food backlashed because playing with my food is what helped me learn how to cook with soul and originality. So I encourage everyone to play with their food, but the old rule is still in play: Wash your hands prior to handling your food.

Now back to my testy friend, baking. Baking is like that science project we all did as kids; the one with the volcanic reaction. If you didn't get it just right, you were left with nothing but a big, disgusting mess. Baking is much like a woman, you don't treat it with extreme caution and calculated moves, she's sure to have her wrath.

While I got the savory down from the maternal side, I got the sweet from my dad. My dad, his dad and all of my uncles have this insatiable sweet tooth. I don't remember a time walking into the kitchen and not finding brownies, rice crispy treats, cookies, homemade ice cream, pecan rolls, cake or pie. And the holidays at the grandparents? Gosh, it was like walking into Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, except the gobstoppers were platters of fudge and the chocolate birds were cookies. Had we been bombed and forced into a sheltered life, we'd still be able to survive for days without starving. Dad would let us help him make treats nearly every night - and yes every night because there was rarely a crumb left before bed or after school the following day. I find it funny that throughout most of my teenage years I rebelled against sweets, especially chocolate. These days, while I prefer the savory, I can't pass up on a good piece of cake or a rich piece of chocolate - especially the expensive and imported stuff. Hersheys and Wonka is for the birds. I mean, if you're gonna go for it I feel like you should REALLY go for it.

I just transitioned in the the art of baking several years ago. My dream since my early 20's has been to one day have my very own cafe, where you can walk into the connected book boutique, grab a book, grab a bite and sit, enjoying the best of both. I may still be amateur but I think that (through many, many inedible disasters) I have come a long way. There is no such thing as a failure in the kitchen. Through my trials and tribulations going forward I hope to share with all, some of my greater 'sweet' success stories.

Stay tuned for more stories from 'The Sweet Life'.


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