A Very Fine Year to Become Queen

English: The Queen of Hearts, from a 1901 edit...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I celebrated my first anniversary as a blogger on November 24th.  And now that 2012 is coming to a close, I’m about to reach the 5,000 hit mark.  Not bad for a first year!

I wrote this post to celebrate as part of the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge.

To Write or Not to Write.  That was the question.

It had been about 35 years since I’d written anything that got published. I still considered myself to be “a writer” and if I did write something, I still put my all into it–letters, emails, shopping lists, reports for work.  I still loved any type of writing.

In the meantime over those 35 years I became an accomplished cook and taught cooking for 25 of those years. Cooking became my art and my craft.  It replaced writing as my creative outlet. This is convenient since I also eat food daily and have people to cook for but the writing bug was still within me, patiently waiting for the day when I would start my novel or my series of short stories or whatever it was that I would promise myself I was going to eventually write.

Love to cook.  Love to cook for others to enjoy.  Love to write.  Love to communicate to others. Scared to try a big project like writing a novel.  (Wow.  I am actually admitting I’ve been scared to start that novel. That is a first.)

And not interested in opening a restaurant, catering business, or cooking school. Or write a cookbook for that matter.  That would seem to be the logical solution to loving cooking and loving writing.  But that idea just didn’t meet my needs.

I Became Queen of My Realm

So I decided to start a blog about cooking.  Short writing projects about my cooking life that can be completed in a sitting.  I’m the dreamer, author, editor, photographer, designer, publisher and promoter.  I’m the Queen of My Blog, Baby!

I tested the waters with all kinds of food and cooking-related topics.  I shared about my growing up and family life, I got on my soapbox about the evils of sugar and GMOs, I introduced some favorite characters (Claude Mouse, Lars and Edith), I posted some of my standby favorite recipes and some new ones I created just for you to read in this blog, and I dabbled in the  food photography arena.  (So far, not extremely successful with that endeavor.)

I do throw in some original recipes.  Sometimes I do the recipe thing because I think, “That’s what people want.”  But it was never my intention to have that kind of recipe-cooking tips-how-to blog.  Not strictly.

More enticing to me is the expression of life through cooking and the way cooking has seemed to weave its way into every part of my life.  I get some of my best ideas while cooking and as a matter of fact, when I’m writing a post for this blog, I often get my best ideas for cooking.  Blogging has provided on-the-spot cooking inspiration and vice versa!  See how it is for me in my cooking life?

As my fellow Kings and Queens of Blogging know very well, receiving encouragement and comments in response is the pay.  Thank you for responding to me over the past year! Along the way I met many wonderful people and fantastic bloggers and found out that reading blogs is not only a lot of fun, but it is a great way to find the cutting edge of current thinking about all kinds of subjects.

I want to thank each and every one of you for your interest in reading what I have to say, for trying some of my recipes and cooking tips and for responding to me so generously.  It is such an inspiration and encouragement for any writer to be acknowledged and know that someone heard (or in this case read) what was communicated! So thank you, thank you, thank you my readers and fellow bloggers! Thank you, husband Jack and my sons, for your enthusiastic encouragement and support for me to keep on cooking and writing!

And thank you WordPress, for providing this medium where I can become one with my writing and my cooking by sharing My Cooking Life.

Bouquet of roses

Bouquet of roses just for you! (Photo credit: Robo Android)

Conveniently Impractical

Compared to some people, I just don’t keep up with high-tech gadgetry.  I do have an Android phone (but don’t know how to use most of the features yet – to me it’s a phone) and this past Christmas I got my first iPod which I do enjoy.  (Before that I was listening to music on a big boom box CD player that I’ve had for twenty years and I have to be in my kitchen to do so.)  I’ve barely managed to learn how to use my new toys with the help of my husband and advice from Joe, my “technology life coach.” (I keep telling him he could have a career being a technology life coach and charging people like me for his consultations!)

As for high-tech on the Internet, I’m certainly not against it.  I enjoy having multiple channels to rapidly communicate on.  After all, I’m blogging aren’t I?  But if I want to know how my friends and family are doing, I like visiting them.  And I still write real letters and mail them.  I refuse to use that snide term, “snail mail.”  Most people would love to get something in the mail besides bills and advertisements!  There is nothing like a handwritten letter or card.  (Please write to me if you know my address–a personal letter amongst those bills is so refreshing!)

My best friend from college, Martha, persistently begged me to get onto Facebook and finally I did.  I found out that even though there were “posts” to read nearly every day, this was by no means a way to truly catch up with her and her life except for photos when they’re posted.  It is too contrived or something.  And too public. So I traveled to Virginia to see her and then started writing her real letters.  So much better and much more personal and satisfying.

In my cooking life, I’m also not high-tech when it comes to kitchen gadgets and for much the same reasons, I think. Over the years I have seen new and improved kitchen and cooking gadgets come and go without even a thought of buying them.  Not that they’re all bad–I do have a few favorites–but really my basic cooking tools do the job and for the most part I don’t need choppers, grinders, processors, slicers, dicers, “bullets,” electric grills, yoghurt makers, or a Darth Vader bread-imprinting toaster.  I don’t even want or need a microwave.

Yes.  I said NO m i c r o w a v e  ovens for me!  (In my opinion, they aren’t “high” tech — they’re OUT tech!)

Give me a good knife, a cutting board, some cast iron and stainless steel pots, a gas stove and I’m good to go!  I do love a high-quality sharp knife which is a must for cooking.  Cheap or dull knives in the kitchen are dangerous and you will never get a consistent, aesthetic product with them.  My current favorite knife is the Shun Elite and I have a big vegetable knife and a smaller paring knife.  This is practical and convenient.

No fuss, no muss julienne carrots

Me and my knives can take on any chopper-slicer-dicer thingy.  I can julienne carrots like nobody’s business, cut dozens of paper-thin cucumber slices or dice an onion faster than you can load your slice-a-matic.  Cole slaw?  No problem.  And my clean up is a wash off of a knife and a few swipes of the cutting board–nothing to disassemble, get into the corners and crevices to clean, dry all the parts and put back together.  Who wants that mess?!!

If you learn to use your basic kitchen tools right, you will find they are the quickest and most convenient way to get a great meal prepared.  It is also the way to get the most aesthetic and delicious meal.  You can’t exactly imbue a lot of “life” into food when you’ve trapped it into a set of electric-powered blades and mowed it down to size or scrambled its molecules all to pieces in the nuker.  Using a good knife and hand-cutting vegetables is an art which allows you to implement your intentions and creativity in a way that really communicates in your finished dish.

Not that my cupboards are completely devoid of any type of kitchen gadget.  I do have a few favorites that amuse and entertain me and work well enough that I’m willing to pay the price of having to disassemble and clean them:

1.  My mother’s food mill.  This is by far the best kitchen gadget for mashing things.

Easy squeasy

2. A plastic lemon juicer that came free with coupons and purchase of a popular salad dressing mix.  A former roommate got it and I inherited it.  You can’t beat this thing for getting a lot of fresh, seed-free lemon juice fast.

3. The Garlic Pro E-Zee-Dice.  Mostly I use my knife and regular garlic press to prepare garlic.  But this thing dices so much garlic so fast it is amazing!  I use it because it works oh so well and I LOVE garlic.

None of these things are electric but all of them are time-consuming to clean after use. For the most part, gimme my good knife and big ol’ cutting board.  That’s my idea of high-tech in the kitchen.  That’s how I roll.

Got garlic?

So where do you stand on the whole kitchen gadget situation?

And do you ever write letters?

Blend Dreams from Available Household Items

My cooking life philosophy was very well expressed by someone named “Irene” in 1989.  Some people put quotes on their refrigerator, some put affirmations on their mirror, I have my mantra on a decorative tile I bought in Cape May, New Jersey and it has been hanging in sight near every stove I’ve cooked on since.

It says,

“Joy of Dreaming

Roll out your own dreams, cut out your destiny and put your own stars in your own sky and make your dream come true. try it. Blend dreams from available household items.”

My philosophy exactly.  Thanks, Irene!  http://irenes-tiles.com/irenes-tiles/home.html

My Obsession

It is Thanksgiving Day 2011 and I have been toying with the idea of writing about cooking for thirty-five years or so.  I’ve considered cookbooks, novels in which cooking takes a major roll (á la Like Water for Chocolate), poetry, newspaper columns about cooking, and painting and drawing about cooking.  That last is not really “writing,” but you get the idea.  And that whole time the one thing I did do was cook!  A lot!

I taught cooking for over 25 years in various cities where I’ve lived.  I taught out of my home, at natural food stores and other places.  I have invented recipes and even invented a no-tomato pasta sauce and a vegetarian alfredo sauce that was actually manufactured for a brief time in a Brooklyn food factory.  That’s a story for another blog.

I also wrote a column about natural foods in the now defunct Philadelphia Bulletin under the name of a local co-op.  It was a Q & A column.  We wrote the questions and the answers until people started actually sending in questions.  I have the columns in a portfolio I keep of my freelance writing adventures and not too long ago pulled it out.

And there was this Q & A column in which I once recommended making peanut butter and sauerkraut or peanut butter and pickle sandwiches.  That used to be a favorite with my kids, but I wonder how many people actually tried that?!  I know what you might be thinking—“No wonder the Philadelphia Bulletin shut down!”  No, it shut down years after my column ended.  Really!

I’ve gotten a lot of encouragement along the way that has made me pretty self-assured about my cooking.  Years ago my friend named Anne Marie bought me a book about how to write a cookbook and wrote me an incredible letter validating my talent and she continued to bug me about writing this for years.  But I never did it.

I used to cook for other people too. I did it for money but mostly I just loved doing it.  I had several friends who cooked for other people because we were studying and teaching Macrobiotics and eastern philosophy and healing.  So I cooked macrobiotic, vegetarian meals for friends and for people who were ill with degenerative diseases.  Many of them did better eating healthy food and some healed and some didn’t.  At that time I didn’t have the full picture of what would cause a person to heal that I have now.  That too is another subject.

Those wonderful people, friends and their families also urged me to start a catering business or open a restaurant.  I’ve always thought that would be way too labor intensive and really I considered it might ruin cooking for me.

I guess I could have gone to cooking school, and I did study with some fabulous teachers off and on in my life who remain an inspiration to me.  I never stopped studying cooking and have done it all sorts of ways via television cooking shows, books, friends and dining in all kinds of restaurants.

Probably the outstanding thing about my obsession with cooking is that I absolutely love my own cooking!  And this is annoying to some people who think I should not be the first one to compliment my own dishes at a meal.  (Sorry Dan, I can’t help doing that!)  It’s like being the first to “like” your own posts on Facebook.  Which I sometimes do also.

For instance today I’m going to my church for a big, beautiful Thanksgiving Dinner.  My friend Robin asked me to make the salad.  For a week now I’ve been imagining how various ingredients will taste together.  Now the salad is made and I taste-tested it to see how my chosen ingredients worked out together.  My first thought when I tasted it was, “I’ll probably mostly eat this salad at the dinner.  It is soooo good!”  So you see, I do love my own cooking and making and tasting this holiday salad pushed me over the edge to start writing!

The salad:

  • Red and Green curly leaf lettuce
  • Celery diced pretty small
  • Bits of sun-dried tomato
  • Fresh ripe pears skinned and diced
  • Roasted pecans flavored with a small dose of maple syrup (100% real stuff) and coated with a mix of cinnamon, cardamom, Hawaiian sea salt (I bought Hawaiian ‘cause I was thinking about my friends Kim and Ruth who now live in Hawaii and with whom I have shared many Thanksgiving dinners in the past) and some paprika.
  • The dressing is a simple red wine and olive oil vinaigrette that has salt and a dash of liquid stevia in it.
  • Garnished with a little shredded extremely sharp, stinky cheese if you like that.  (Sorry, I already threw the wrapper out and now I can’t remember the exact name of it.  It has holes like Swiss but it’s not Swiss and it’s not Havarti.  I will find out and let you know.) 

I won’t apologize for not including measurements!  I don’t measure hardly ever and you don’t need to either.  You just go by your taste and experience of what works.  That is the adventurous way to go.

Finally after all the years, I realized that the idea of creating aesthetic, delicious dishes and meals is my personal expression, my art.  And I realized that I have a viewpoint about many, many aspects of life that is manifested from my experiences, adventures and love of cooking.  So this is what I’m writing about—how I see and experience life through the viewpoint of cooking.

I hope you enjoy My Cooking Life and would love to have you contribute to it with your feedback, your own stories, or let me interview you!  At this point I have no idea how often I will be blogging but my target is at least once a week.

Much love,  Patty

PS:  I still love peanut butter and pickles on whole wheat toast!