Friday, May 8, 2009

The Voice of Experience

Yesterday I mentioned rocky starts. None of us are born with any experience whatsoever. I was no exception.

If my mother owned a cookbook, she hid it away much as one would stash a pornographic bodice ripper so the children wouldn’t be corrupted. As a consequence, I led a childhood of blissful and unsullied innocence. Convenience foods were the stock and trade of family meals, right down to the frozen spaghetti dinners and Swanson staples. I didn’t know there was another way.

Sharing an apartment in graduate school with three other girls brought my ignorance into the open. We each cooked one night a week, and my pitiful contribution – every week – was pancakes. I could make these from scratch, sort of. At least that was my impression. It was one not shared by my roommates, however, and after three weeks I was re-assigned to washing dishes and the cooking was left to the others. I was inept. I was a cooking pariah.

That was the year I lost my innocence. When I discovered you could make lemon meringue pie without first opening a box of My-T-Fine powdered lemon pie filling mix and purchasing a ready-made pie crust at the grocery store, I began to suspect there was a whole world I wasn’t privy to.

My eyes had been opened. My curiosity had been awakened. I became a snoop. Some snoops check out the medicine chest when visiting friends and relatives. Not me. I scoped out the kitchen and there I found treasure.

I discovered that people actually wrote books about cooking food. Breads, casseroles, desserts, main courses – there was no end to the wonder! These books weren’t hidden away – they were out in the open, shamelessly peddling their wares.

I began to read cookbooks as if they were mystery novels, which, in a manner of speaking, they were. I looked for clues- these were the ingredients. I followed the plots – appetizer led to salad which led to main course which led to dessert. I studied the characters – Julia and James and a host of other cooks – people who actually made their living cooking!

With a cookbook propped open by the typewriter, I typed recipes and filed them in folders. Eventually, I needed a filing cabinet to hold them. No longer a child, I was ready to enter the adult world. I was ready to prepare Thanksgiving Dinner – from scratch.

Tomorrow: How to Explode a Turkey


  1. Hi, Karen,
    Nice post. I continue to be impressed with the crisp, clean quality of your writing. Very easy to read, very easy to follow and understand. Well done...again.

    Best Regards, Galen.

  2. I love this post! My Mom was a good cook, but she did it without recipes and, unfortunately, never passed these mysterious secrets along. When I was in college there were 5 of us that shared a 2 bedroom apt. Neighbors kept the fire department on speed dial for us (3 of the girls actually caught the place on fire - one making popcorn (I have no idea how she did that), another by "making donuts" (apparently bought frozen donuts and put the contents - box and all - in the oven to thaw it out) and the other was a grease fire by the girl who, sadly, was the best cook in the apartment).

    It is really sad so many of us grew up without the secrets to learning how to cook. I have gotten better over the years, but I still get nervous over trying new things. Great post! I'm hungry for turkey.

    NA Sharpe

  3. I so enjoyed your comment about reading cookbooks like they were mystery novels! So appropos.

    I find your personal path to cooking fascinating! Looking forward to hearing about your exploding turkey...


  4. Love your post. It's amazing that you became an expert in the kitchen, considering your background! My mother is a great cook, but I'm not so hot. I'm glad to read there's still hope for me! :)


  5. Wow, mouth watering! And your teaser about exploding Turkey sure tempt readers to come back.

    In Quest of Theta Magic

  6. I too thought I finally entered adulthood when I cooked my first turkey. LOL!

    Jennifer Taggart

  7. Enjoyed this line:

    I began to read cookbooks as if they were mystery novels...

    Looking forward to exploding a turkey!


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~ I'm the author of Headwind: The Intrepid Adventures of OSS Agent Katrin Nissen. If you're a WWII buff, you'll like it here!