Welcome to Karma in the Kitchen! My name is Rachel and I am one of the two fabulous contributors to this brand new cooking blog. Tracy, my cohort, and I have decided to use our first posts to introduce ourselves, talk about our philosophy of cooking and how discuss how that relates to the name and purpose of this blog.
I guess you could say that I’ve always been a bit of a foodie. Growing up, I would eat pretty much anything placed before me, and as the daughter of a college professor in the Chicagoland area, I was exposed to dozens of different types of cuisines and a vast variety of foods. We had traveled to Europe twice before I was eleven. I experienced Russian caviar for the first (and it looks like only) time at the tender age of seven. I regarded this exposure to different ethnic foods as the norm. I wasn’t aware that some people only ate certain types of food and did not experiment with things foreign to them. I was also always a prodigious veggie eater. My mother tells me that once I started eating solid foods fulltime, I was always asking for raw vegetables. I would grab whole carrots from the icebox and gnaw on them while watching cartoons. My favorite snack at my aunt’s house was pickled okra.
The summer before I started 9th grade, we moved to a house in a new neighborhood. Being in this new neighborhood gave us access to cable channels we hadn’t had before, namely, the Food network. Now this sounds crazy, but that summer I did watched nothing but the Food network, and through this watching I learned to cook. My mother was a decent cook, but her mother had trained her that anyone who could read could cook, and so basically anything my mother wanted to cook, she needed to find a recipe for. I found this sort of blasé, and really wasn’t interested in following detailed instructions to produce food. But a couple of the programs on Food Network, “Ready, Set, Cook” and “Cooking Live with Sara Moulton”, provided me with the confidence that I needed to get free of recipes, learn to experiment, and really understand the basics of cooking. I would sauté, marinade, and grill to my heart’s content, and to rave reviews from my family. By the end of my 9th grade year, I was half convinced I should go to culinary school.
I tell people that I learned to cook from the Food Network, and they kind of roll their eyes, but it’s the cold hard truth. “Ready, Set, Cook” was like a scaled down Iron Chef or Chopped, with two professional, but not famous, chefs competing with the oddly collected contents of a basket, and did so with the help of an audience member. Audience members would also judge the cooking. This inspired me to use whatever we had sitting around to create an interesting and tasty meal. “Cooking live with Sara Moulton” was a live cooking show with viewers calling in with their cooking questions. So Sara would be cooking something awesome and then answering totally unrelated questions from viewers. I learned a lot from what she cooked as part of the show and also many of the callers questions were my own. I tried for a while to come up with a good question, but never thought of anything fabulous enough to merit actually calling Sara. She’s still the coolest (http://saramoulton.com/home/).
In college, I didn’t really live with a kitchen until I was a senior, so by that time, I was pretty excited about being able to make things for myself again. I stumbled upon a new technique. I no longer felt the need to cook from instinct for every meal, but I did occasionally have the desire for a certain type of food (gumbo, pad thai, red beans and rice, corn chowder, etc). I didn’t want to follow one recipe (how mundane), so I would search the internet for several recipes, and break it down to the basic ingredients and then make additions that made the most sense to me. This lead to a lot of brilliant meals, and I would save my scribbled slap-dash recipes, but looking back at them, I sometimes have to concentrate to figure out exactly what I was trying to cook with it.
I think it was around this time I realized that cooking was lots more fun if you had lots of people to share it with. I had always cooked for my parents in high school, I cooked for my roommate and friends in college, and when I headed off to grad school the trend continued. I loved making good food period. And sometimes I knew I was the only one who was going to want a buffalo chicken turkey burger or eggplant potato pancakes, but most of the time, I wanted to share what I was cooking. And this love of cooking and bonding together while chopping and sauteing is where Tracy and I became excellent friends. Naturally, since we live in different states now, this blog is partially our way of continuing that spirit of cooking together and for others. The central ethic of our cooking together was to use what we had around first, add the necessary ingredients, and end up with a delicious meal. And when others stumbled upon our cooking community, we were sure to include them and often were reassured of what we already knew: it was good.
Of course it’s always nice to be complemented on your work in the kitchen, however I think this where I call forth the concept of karma in relation to cooking. The good I present to you from the fires of my kitchen should inspire you to return the favor. Or at least enjoy yourself and look forward to committing more acts of community with me in the future. I only dabble lightly in Eastern religions and have a very basic understanding of karma: essentially what you send out, be it good or bad, will come back to you in some way. Truth be told, I do not find the world to always be this fair, but I think when it comes to cooking and sharing meals, there can’t possibly be a downside. Furthermore, if you extend the art of cooking to your whole relationship with food (i.e. the sustainability of your food choices), it extends the reach of your karma. Karma in the Kitchen is intended to speak to all of this; of course the recipes, but also the food choices, the need to keep extending the table, and the centrality of food and eating in a healthy society.
It is telling that our society is record-breakingly fat and yet individuals are increasingly lonely and isolated. Cathy Erway, noted food blogger and author of The Art of Eating In, reflects on how human civilization is rooted in the shared meal. She goes as far to say that, “When you sit at your desk eating alone, or eat as you drive alone in your car, you’re chipping away at eons of development in human civilization.” Which leads me to say, that I hope you, our yet undiscovered reader, find inspiration here to keep civilization together, that our words and experiences (and painstakingly taken pictures) move you to host a dinner party, join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, try new recipes, start up a dinner club, organize a potluck at work, and, all in all, find ways to enrich your own karma in the kitchen.
More from me soon, cheers.