My mother is the chef in my family. I have always been, most simply, an eater.
I come from a long line of cooking women. My great-grandmother was an award-winning pie baker in Iowa City, Iowa, where she donated the winnings to charities each year. My grandmother’s sticky buns were world famous (or at least I thought they were), dripping in homemade caramel and fluffy with – get this – instant mashed potatoes. My mother, a rebel born in the age of second-wave feminism and independence, skipped the Midwestern domestic goddess routine and tried to transform her love of the culinary arts into something new. Instead of baking, my mom worked in a fine dining restaurant on the Oregon coast, a ’60s institution, serving Manhattans and beef Wellington and Baked Alaska. She learned from the chefs there, watched their technique, and eventually moved to Eugene, Oregon, now a ’70s new-age amateur chef studying Psychology and how to throw a dinner party on a college-student’s budget.
Twenty years later, I was born. I was raised in the household of a woman who had been around the bend, never panicked in the kitchen, knew how to save any fallen souffle or breaking hollandaise. I sat in the kitchen nook and watched her, boisterously singing along to Aretha Franklin as she popped leeks in the oven, whisked sauteed shallots with heavy cream, wrangled a turkey on Thanksgiving. When I helped, I was peeling potatoes, reducing vinegar, stirring. The kitchen was her domain, and if I was going to learn, I was going to start at the bottom.
Nisreen Galloway, a talented young woman who constantly astounds me with her ambition and accomplishments, came to me after we shared an internship at NoshOn.It. She had founded a food e-magazine called Simmer, which was designed for the college foodie. It had recipes, restaurant reviews and even plain-old food porn. She asked me if I had any interest in working for Simmer over the summer and, without an internship or any particular plans, I happily agreed.
My first recipe was an ordeal. Unlike my mother, I am a wreck in the kitchen. I am frantic, ready to give up any time a sauce thickens too quickly or a piece of chicken burns. But with time, a few deep breaths and a spoonful of goat cheese, I began to slow down, let myself take notes as I doctored up soup broths and simmering liquid, captured steps with my Nikon, tasted each ingredient and remembered other moments in the kitchen, other dinner parties, other meals. Cooking family recipes feels like driving to my beach house. Each time I visit, I’m sure I’m going to get lost, but then I see a familiar street sign, the old Greenbury store, the town elementary school. All the panic goes away. My confidence climbs back into the front seat. Memories have always been the road signs, the co-pilot, the sous-chef.
I have three recipes posted on the Simmer website. All of them hold significant positions in my personal history, from beach trips with my mother to evenings cooking with my father (a rare occurrence, let me tell you). I love finding peace in the kitchen. I’m working for a catering company this summer, and I love walking into the staging area and understanding what the chefs do, watching people pair flavors and watching guests admire successful pairings. I have always loved food, will always love it, but this summer I’ve rediscovered the pleasure in creating something delicious, watching eaters instead of doing the eating.