On cooking

I do not like to be wrong. But, cooking, I was wrong about you. I thought you and I were not made for each other. You took time, where I thought I had none, and I couldn’t see what you offered in return. For years, I actually told people (myself included) that I hated cooking. I have two roommates who have a gift for reading recipes and finding flavor and all-around winging it. I have a gift for opening the wine and doing the dishes. They make great food, I make things fun and clean.

Then, the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen and Alison Roman entered my life. I became attached to this family of happy food people, spending hours watching every minute of instruction they offered (and, later, listening to each podcast episode and reading every page of the magazine). I thought I was there for the bright personalities and the colorful dishes. I thought my relationship with the kitchen remained rocky. Little did I know, I was learning.

My first true foray into the world of cooking was an insane swan dive into the deep end: this year, I demanded to be in charge of the Thanksgiving turkey. I am pausing here to give you, dear reader, space to gasp or to giggle at me. It was a wild idea that I clearly did not think through because WHAT KIND OF PLACE is that to begin. I am not at all sure why my mother trusted me with what could have been an expensive disaster, but thank goodness she did.

Despite my former disinclination towards spending time in the kitchen, Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the entire year. 24 hours devoted to food, family, quality time, cases of wine, and music. In my mind, there is truly nothing better. My Thanksgiving is big: 30-40 people, dozens of pies, and four turkeys. I have trouble sleeping the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, because I am so excited for Thanksgiving Eve-Eve.

This year, fortified by multiple viewings of Alison Roman’s Small Kitchen, Big Thanksgiving and BA’s Best: Thanksgiving, I decided I was going to make the turkey, cooking homemade stuffing for the first time, and serve Alison’s (yes, we are on a first name basis now) Crushed Sour Cream Potatoes. I was woefully unprepared and frighteningly determined to make it all work.

I did not burn the kitchen to the ground, but it wasn’t my youtube prep that got me through. It was the help of my brother and cousins, including my best friend, Ari (the daughter of a chef and a great cook in her own right), keeping things on track when there were so many balls in the air. Everyone had a hand in something, from crushing the potatoes to chopping the herbs. I learned oh so many lessons (we don’t have an automated pepper grinder so I spent far too many minutes grinding pepper by hand. Alison would never use pre ground pepper, and neither shall I). I danced with a meat thermometer for the first time. I made notes, of things I’ll change for next year, of recipes we are definitely bringing back (to say the stuffing and potatoes were a hit would be an understatement). We drank mimosas and played card games and never wanted to leave. It was my perfect Thanksgiving day.

Back to life in NYC, I dare to get a bit more involved in the kitchen, with the supervision of Ellen and Kyle. I throw a party that is dip themed, and we make all of the dips from scratch. It is a great party. I recreate the homemade stuffing for Christmas, even though I am too sick to eat much of it (The Great Parasite of 2019).

And now, it’s pandemic cooking. As we hurl ourselves into lockdown, I’ve comfortably become a fixture in the kitchen. I’ve tried new things. I made potato kugel for Passover. I cooked meat! Multiple times! I’ve baked using the ingredients we happened to have on hand. I even bought a cookbook.

I’ve learned that cooking is not as hard as I made it out to be. I’ve learned that olive oil, salt, and pepper can make just about anything taste good. I’ve learned that recipes are guidelines, not the end all be all, and that it’s ok to get something wrong (except in baking. Follow the recipes in baking). I’ve learned how to make tomato sauce taste like it didn’t come out of a jar. I’ve learned that it’s ok to spend the time. That sometimes the best things need to simmer. That it’s better with a glass of wine in your hand and a good playlist on the speaker.

Food is best shared. I like cooking when it brings me together with other people. I’m happy (now) to steer the ship in the kitchen, but I don’t want to eat it alone. I love that cooking dinner has become the moment where Dylan and I come together in the kitchen, even if we’ve been sitting on opposite sides of the room from one another all day, silently working.

I like that recipes are like books. You can pick up something new, even something you never thought you’d want to dive into. You can try something because someone you trust recommended it. Or you can revisit the ones you love, and they might bring out something new.

& of course, a book list:

Cookbooks, Culinary Memoirs, & Delicious Novels

*Click here for the recipe for the lemony turmeric cake in the first photo.

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