Late last week, Shauna from Gluten Free Girl and the Chef started the discussion (on Twitter) about a community project for Monday, June 14 (Yes, I realize today is Tuesday, June 15. I couldn't get it done yesterday and really wanted to participate!) challenging whoever was interested to describe the first food we ever cooked and how it made us feel.
I'm big on nostalgia. So much so that I was just looking through my junior high yearbook this morning (true story). This challenge immediately called my name.
Here's the thing: I have two pivotal cooking firsts. And because I like to be different (not difficult, as The Hubby has been known to describe me), I decided to write about both of them.
Ironically (given my now-gluten-free dietary situation), the very first thing I cooked on my own was a full batch of chocolate chip cookies, using the classic Nestle Toll House recipe that is still found on the back of every memory-inducing, crinkling yellow bag of chips. For years I had quietly taken my seat at the breakfast bar while curiously observing my Mom making everything from cookies to Christmas dinner, but for whatever reason (which quite possibly could have been my mother's exhaustion and/or her lack of will to argue my insistence) it was time for me to learn the ways of the kitchen.
I don't remember how old I was, but I know I still needed our pink folding stepladder to reach the ingredients in the pantry (always at the top, the same place I keep the baking stuff to this day) and the spot on the counter always used for prep. Mom cautiously took my seat at the bar while I assumed her role in the kitchen, armed with an electric hand mixer from the early 70s, a big shiny metal mixing bowl, a spatula, a cookie sheet, all my ingredients, and a soup spoon (for testing my dough to make sure it wasn't poisonous for the rest of the family, of course).
Mom let me do most everything completely by myself. She showed me how to preheat the oven, but everything else I did by myself. Even dealing with the oven. (Dangerous for a child? Maybe. But I remember her saying some form of "If you're old enough to cook, you're old enough to get used to the oven.")
I remember feeling incredibly independent while putting each ingredient into the bowl. Even more so when my little brother and sister marched in to find out what I was doing, only to be told that they weren't allowed to help but could sit next to her in the remaining bar stools and watch.
I remember turning purple with embarrassment after learning the valuable lesson about having the beaters down in the bowl before turning them on, not turning them on and then putting them in the bowl.
I remember falling in love with the sound of chocolate chips being poured into a metal bowl. Feeling proud as I put big scoops of dough on the cookie sheet, one by one. Feeling scared as I opened the hot oven and slid the cookies inside, and again when I carefully reached in and took them out. Feeling anxious and excited as I watched the balls of dough puff up and brown perfectly, just as I'd known they would do.
And then feeling disappointed when my cookies weren't perfect once they'd cooled.
A roller coaster of feelings, all from making some cookies.
That didn't stop me from falling in love with baking. I baked cookies, breads, and muffins for my family and friends consistently through school, then baked cookie bars and cakes and all kinds of goodies for my college roommates. It was soothing - both the process of preparing and baking and the act of consuming something straight out of the oven that I made myself.
Then came the Celiac diagnosis.
An entirely new food-related roller coaster of emotion followed. At first, relief that someone finally found what had been making me ill for years. Then came panic. As soon as the realization came that I wouldn't be able to bake (or cook) some of my favorite recipes, I felt as if the floor had dropped out from underneath me. For a while, I ate nothing but frozen gluten-free meals, salads, and sandwiches on horrifically bad rice bread, terrified to start over.
And then I got sick of eating cardboard-flavored bread and burning my hands on microwave meals.
I remember going to Central Market for the millionth time, only this time looking for gluten-free bread mix (playing it safe and easy) rather than frozen loaves. I remember feeling completely and utterly overwhelmed staring at the numerous mixes, trying to decide which one I wanted to take a chance on. Feeling excited once I made my purchase (Bob's Red Mill Hearty Whole Grain Bread Mix) and feeling thrilled when I pulled out the bread machine we registered for and finding out that it had a gluten-free cycle. Feeling exhilarated as the bread baked, and as I took the loaf out of the machine to find that it looked, smelled, and tasted like real bread. A feeling of hope.
That feeling still carries me through gluten-free baking experiments that turn out inedible and the frustration of undercooked pasta and entirely-too-crumbly-to-the-point-of-dissolving muffins. To keep trying new things until I figure out what I like the best and what works the best for me. It's what gets me through non-food-related frustrations. It's what made me start this blog.
Life lessons through cooking. A novel idea. I like it.