It took me a long time to see cooking and baking as my art.
Growing up, we cooked and baked as a necessity. It was a chore, although perhaps one I disliked the least.
I started to find joy in baking as a young adult. Maybe not cooking so much. Cooking was still part of the daily grind, but baking was special. I did it to make a special treat for a friend or a family occasion, or I pampered myself by baking something naughty and scrumptious. But I still baked with the thought of “now who is going to eat this?” in the back of mind. If I didn’t have an audience for my art, I didn’t do it. And that, I think, kind of defeats the purpose of art.
It also took me awhile to believe that food can be art even if it doesn’t look like art. We have all seen masterpiece cakes or fussy chocolate and sugar work on TV or in fancy bakeries that are truly works of visual art. But the taste and smell of food and its ability to take us to another time and place are what truly makes it art. I smell sauerkraut and dill and I am instantly in my grandmother’s kitchen. I make a grilled cheese and tomato soup and I am 7 years old, stripping out of my snow suit and boots in the mud room. I sneak of brown sugar out of the canister while I am baking and my Pop is practically standing in the kitchen with me.
It’s interesting to me to think about how my relationship with cooking, and my relationship with cooking and food, have evolved and changed throughout my life. (Also my relationship with food itself, but that’s another blog entirely).
As a child, my grandmother and my mom were my two big influences for cooking and baking. Everything they made followed a recipe or a certain method and was served just so, typically with the same side dishes. I came to love those meals that were like a warm friend you could rely on. You knew just how it was going to taste and make you feel. There is something so comforting about those foods (literally why they are called comfort foods) but that way of eating also prevented me from being adventurous with foods for a long time.
I can remember almost all of my first ethnic foods vividly – Hibachi with my family while on vacation after some fellow salesmen had dragged my dad to one and he loved it; Chinese in a mall food court with my cousin at age 16; Indian food with my now husband after months of pleading with me to try it (by far my favorite cuisine now); Sushi I was brave enough to try from a co-worker’s lunch. Now, you are just as likely to find me in the kitchen trying to replicate a bibimbap I had at a Korean BBQ as you are to find me making my grandma’s oatmeal cookies from memory.
While cooking and baking were always my favorite chores, I still saw them as chores. Part of a domestic life that I wanted no part of as a teenage girl. I was going to be President of the United States one day. I didn’t have time for cooking and cleaning, gardening or farm work. Sometimes I think if I could go back in time, I would slap myself around a little bit. If all I could do now was garden, homestead, bake bread, tend chickens, can vegetables, cook dinner, and write about food, I would be in heaven.
I was going to be President of the United States one day. I didn’t have time for cooking and cleaning, gardening or farm work.
But for now, I cook and bake when I get home from my day job, teaching high school English, which at least provides me a few weeks in the summer to can and garden, too. I live in central Pennsylvania with my husband and our two beer-named cats, Porter and Shandy.
I hope you find something you love here. -Beth