Post 110 – You are what you cook?

To get the results you want, it all depends what you’re aiming for. The best recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies. The all organic recipe. The natural foods recipe. The healthy recipe. The sustainable recipe. The list goes on and on. There are so many times when choosing a recipe that these are the types of question I face. Do I want my ingredients to convey how “good this cookie is or do I want the taste of my cookie to speak for itself?

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At any one point in time we are trying to define ourselves: a neat freak, a runner, a healthy eater, a minimalist. We do all the research to find out how to be that person, what to buy and what not to buy and how to show ourselves to the world. We convince ourselves that it’s a goal worth pursuing, that it’s the right thing to do, and why haven’t we been doing it all along? A week later, a month later, it’s a different story. Things fall apart, we get out of the habit and it’s back to the self we were before (which isn’t necessarily a bad one). The next week it’s something new that we’ve discovered and we’re off again pursuing the new version of me. That’s how it is for me anyway, especially when it comes to food.

Once-baked biscotti (which means twice-cooked)

Once-baked biscotti (a cookie whose name means twice-cooked)

This month I began the Cookbook Challenge – a self-imposed challenge to cook at least one recipe from every cookbook that I own. I didn’t start off with a lot of written rules, other than stating that the majority of my recipes should come from cookbooks and not the Internet. I also told myself that I had to follow the recipes as closely as possible, only substituting or changing ingredients if I thought it would greatly affect the dish or if I did not have that ingredient on hand. I started this challenge wanting every recipe to be a stunning, new fan favorite, but also to reflect something positive about me as a cook. My cooking persona has taken on the personality of whatever cookbook I choose that day. Sometimes it’s telling me to indulge in coffee-flavored cookies for breakfast and other times it’s telling me that love is its own special ingredient.

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In the past few days I have baked Whole Wheat Bread from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (delicious fresh from the oven and slathered with butter); “Chicken Limon” from Seasoned with Love (another community cookbook from my aunt in Georgia – the recipe was fairly bland and unlikely to be repeated); and Cranberry Breakfast Biscotti from Maxwell House Coffee Drinks and Desserts Cookbook (crunchy Italian cookies with a slight coffee flavor. Sam enjoyed them, though I wasn’t a big fan, so he took them to work to share).

IMG_1356Unfortunately none of these recipes felt very much like me. But then again who am I?

Since writing this blog, I have oscillated between gourmande and ascetic, baking elaborate desserts just for the joy of making them and giving up whole categories of food just to feel better. I have spent so much time trying to define who I am and trying to show you who I am through my food and yet I still go back and forth in deciding what kind of cook I want to be and the food I want to make.

I love food. I love the tactile feel of it beneath my fingers and the magic of transformation on the stove and in the oven. I love connection. I love sharing a good meal with someone, sharing the experience of eating that first delicious bite, or seeing someone enjoy food that I’ve made. But how do I translate this love for food and love for feeding people into something real? Into something that reflects me? I want to taste all of the flavors, try all the recipes that seduce me with their perfected photographs, and in the end still feel vibrant and healthy and fulfilled. Is that so much to ask?

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In the end, perhaps it is better not to define ourselves by the food that we eat or cook. Anyway, who says we can only be one type of person? More and more lately I have realized the importance of being yourself and accepting yourself as you are (as cliche and unexciting as it sounds). Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project puts it nicely in this article. In it she says that ultimately we must acknowledge who we are, the very essence that makes me Erin, the you-ness that makes you you, and in recognizing ourselves we must also recognize the things that are not us. Maybe I’m not the health guru I want to be or the gourmet baker, but that is okay. I am more than the food that I cook or the food that I eat.

When we try new things (recipes, hobbies, habits) we discover other possibilities for ourselves (or rule them out) and there is no one perfect answer for anyone. It takes time to figure ourselves out and to answer the many questions in our lives. If nothing else, we are asking the questions.

More recipes to come (hopefully ones worth sharing!)

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