How I Learned To Cook- The Early Years

posted in: Cooking, Experience, Savory, Seattle-ing, Sweet | 57
oh lookie at me cookie

Pim Techamuanvivit of the blog Chez Pim made a resonant point on her facebook page recently. She said:

“It annoys me every time I hear someone say “I’m a self-taught cook/chef/whatever”. There is no such thing. You learn from SOMEONE, via books or eating or other experiences. Be grateful to those who came before you and acknowledge that lineage.”

Often I hear that cooks, food-lovers, even food-writers are “self-taught”. In fact, I am guilty of claiming autodidacticism in my own culinary trajectory. I have come to realize that it is important to acknowledge what made me who I am so that I can build a better future-me. This is the age-old dilemma with history repeating itself. If we don’t look back and appreciate what made us learn, leap and fail, we’ll never succeed to our fullest.

Here are some of my decisive kitchen moments in the early years.

with mom and dad

It starts with one story that some of you have heard before. It involves me, my best friend Slobber, and his untimely demise. As you may know, when I was little, my father moved our biracial family to an extremely small town in Idaho from the suburb of LA, California where we had been living. My dad is white, but my mom and her two children from a previous marriage are black. I am not adopted, in case you were wondering, I just happened to get most of my dad’s coloring. I like to think that I inherited nice lips and supple nipples from my mom’s side, but that’s about it.

aww, mom in curlers

The town my dad chose to live out his farmer/rancher fantasy is called Mountain Home, and as the cow tips, it’s mere bleating distance from another populous with the best name in all of America, Dickshooter, Idaho. I won’t go so far as to call the people residing in Mountain Home in the early 1980’s prejudiced, I just think they had no idea what to make of such a strange family.  Consequently, we were largely left alone.

with siblings and mom

My brother and sister returned to their father in California within a few years, but not before my brother endured a brief stint as a Boy Scout. One of my favorite things to show people who haven’t met my family is a photo of my brother with his Boy Scout troop. I always ask them to pick him out, and inevitably they point to the blond boys, then the redheads, increasingly-growing agitated, until I put them out of their misery and show them Ernie. Then they become very, very confused. And I explain, but it still does not compute. Sometimes I have to lift my shirt and show them my nipples before they realize I am serious. And crazy.

As the girl who wore pants under her dresses and had a technicolor family, I didn’t have many friends. I conjured an imaginary one called Sally, but when she pushed me into the gravel while I was riding my BMX and trying to balance a make-believe ice cream cone with 31 scoops, I kicked her to the curb. I still have the scar on my knee to prove it.

One spring, we got a baby cow and I named him Slobber. I bottle-fed him and we became fast friends. When the ducks would pick on him, I’d puff up my little naked chest (I thought I was a boy until I was about 10, so I always went shirtless) and run at them until they backed off. The ducks ruled the ranch, but Slobber and I were a close second, at least when we were together. I snuck him food off my dinner plate and we went on long walks at dusk plotting our futures. I yearned to bring him to show-and-tell at preschool each week, but my evil parents wouldn’t let me make the five-mile walk to school with a cow in tow.

Slobber and Linda

Toward the end of summer, I went to visit family in California for a few weeks. On the evening of my return, my dad said we were having hamburgers to celebrate my homecoming.

“But Linda,” he said, “it’s important that you understand where these burgers came from. Do you know?”

After a moment of hesitation, I answered confidently, “McDonalds”. He shook his head.

“The store?” I ventured, timid and perplexed.

“No, Linda, the hamburgers we’re eating tonight came from Slobber. We butchered him while you were away.”  And with that the air escaped my little body and tears pooled in my eyes.

I did not eat dinner that night. I cried in my room and tried to make sense of it. No one had ever explained why we kept all the animals. I had never seen anything killed, didn’t understand the connection between growing it and eating it. It was a missed opportunity for a very good lesson.

Instead, I became vegetarian, which I maintained until my early 20’s. During that time, eating wasn’t easy. My parents rebelled against my rebellion, refusing to alter the split pea soup and ham hocks or meat loaf that were a part of our weekly rotation in hopes that they could coax me out of my “silly” fad. I’m not sure how they viewed it as a fad, given the fact that we lived in BFE and I’d never even heard of vegetarianism before, but they persisted in their adult-onset rebellion and so did I.

The truth is, my accomplished PhD of a mother can’t even make macaroni and cheese from a box. I learned that a few months ago when I was busy with an unfinished modernist cooking extravaganza and I knew it wouldn’t be done in time to feed to Bentley. I asked her to make him a box of organic mac and cheese, and she hesitated, but soldiered on. I didn’t think to keep my eye on her, but before long, she asked me why it wasn’t thickening. She said, “I added the macaroni, cheese packet, butter and milk to the boiling water, but it doesn’t look right. I think you bought a bad box”.

Indeed, all of the ingredients were swirling around in a dervish of boiling water and it became hilariously-clear how I’d learned my way around the kitchen. It was a matter of cook or starve. Sure, I’d gleaned the art of noodle-making from my German grandfather and learned to poke holes in pound cake so that the lemon glaze seeps in from Great-Aunt Ruth, but the hard and fast cooking was a study in failures during the early years.

basement dance routine to Madonna's Lucky Star

In fourth grade, my parents left the house for a few hours and I took it upon myself to make pancakes. I’d done it before, but someone always fetched the frying pan off the high shelf. This time, I opted for the glass pie pan in the lower cabinet because it was light and reachable. All the while I was smugly praising my own cleverness- “why would they grab such a heavy pan, anyway? Dummies.” I thought.

I learned the answer, and a valuable cooking lesson.

The pie pan splintered into batter-soaked shards and I was left with a dangerous mess to clean up and a quickly-ticking clock. They were due home soon. I’d been grounded the week before for spending my entire allowance on candy to give to non-existent homeless people should I find them, and I wasn’t going to add to my sentence.

I moved swiftly. The proper way to clean up a literal hot mess is by shovel. While the blackened, cakey stalactites of glass cooled from the pahoehoe stage to the magma stage, I thrust my shovel into the dewy dirt in the backyard. I made a pie pan tomb and tossed the shards in one-by-one. I said a burial prayer wishing for tutelage in the great arts of safe pancake-making, and I hastily shrouded the unmarked grave in autumn leaves.

I got away with my crime.

Mollie's author photo on The Moosewood Cookbook

Shortly thereafter, Mollie Katzen came into my life. Well, her book, The Moosewood Cookbook did, anyway. The Moosewood, with its quaint illustrations and hand-lettered recipes, became an anthem of my early teen years. How many kids do you know who hosted dinner parties in junior high? Well I did, and the recipes came from The Moosewood. Mollie championed me with her encouraging notes about “accessible and nonmysterious” sauces, and so I cooked for my friends and they rarely noticed the food was vegetarian.

I learned the basics from that book and it inspired me to get back to my true love in the kitchen, which was experimentation. If Mollie suggested peanuts in sauce, I’d use cashews. I started by changing one ingredient, and if that worked, I’d change two, three, then four. Soon, I was springboarding from The Moosewood into my own bona fide recipes.

my first recipe

They weren’t sophisticated, but they were mine. And Mollie Katzen gave me the nudge I needed to be able to do it. I pulled out my utterly-battered copy of The Moosewood for the sake of this post, and I found one of my own Mollie-inspired early recipes tucked inside. It’s for “Super Deluxe Good Yummy Amazing Dynamic Cookies”. Can you believe those terrible layered adjectives? I even illustrated it with little brown and orange blobs which I’m sure I meant to be cookies but in fact look like vomit-speckled chef’s hats.

I had to make the cookies, just to see what a day in the life of Linda was like back in the early 90’s. You know what? They aren’t half bad; maybe a little H.I.T. (hippie-in-training) for my current taste, but pretty good. Note how I suggested “optional ingredients” but stipulated that “you must use some”.  And the brackets? Good call. I also admitted to short-cutting- bad, bad Linda. I said “chill dough in refrigerator for several hours, or freeze for 15 minutes, realistically”. I’ve since discovered that cheating on a recipe only weakens the final product.

One thing I learned from being a vegetarian for many years is the art of experimentation. When you don’t have basics like meat stock-driven mother sauces to anchor your recipes, you are forced to get creative. You must extract flavor from things omnivores sometimes overlook. In order to balance your compositions, you stretch, skew, and learn a wholly different set of fundamentals. When I added meat to my repertoire, I had a lot of catching up to do, but at least I did it with some outlying tricks already up my sleeve.

I’d love to hear who or what has inspired you to take up your spatulas and turn on your immersion circulators. It’s probably been a long journey, but do you have a particularly enigmatic moment or teacher who catapulted you into the kitchen? Drop a comment and let me know.

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57 Responses

  1. What a great read! You’re such a good storyteller!

  2. What an interesting post :-) I laughed at loud at the Mac and Cheese story!

  3. Steve Frombach

    My Mom was an outstanding cook. Having been raised as the eldest daughter of a wheat farming family in Sasketchwan Canada where work on the farm was never ending nor was the work in the kitchen to serve 3 or 4 squares a day. All cooked on a woodstove with no running water or indoor plumbing. Because of all of this she could make many killer recipes including Mamaliga and Hahne Sous (Stewed Chicken over polenta) homemade Apple Strudel and all sorts of game meat. Mom loved to decorate food and present it in a stylish way as well.
    I always had an interest in watching her cook and shopping at the store for ingredients. When I was about 7 years old she included me in the cooking of dinner. By 10, I had several of my own cookbooks and could cook a meal pretty much alone and by 12 I cooked 3 dinners a week. As Mom used a certain set of spices, my cooking style turned toward other spices and ethnic foods. Today, I cook, can veggies, smoke salmon and have about 8 feet of cookbooks cluttering my shelves. I continously learn new techniques by reading blogs like this, from TV and from my foodie friends.

  4. I love this post. I love that dramatic turn of the story when we discover what happened to slobber. What a moment! No wonder you turned vegetarian. I had a similar moment (though, I didn’t know the cow personally that made me realize that the burger I was eating was an ANIMAL!) which had me vegetarian until I was 30.

    I slowly found my way into the kitchen, but didn’t get any real guidance until I discovered the New Basics Cookbook (Lukins and Rosso). That simple, red and white book opened my eyes to baking (scones!), homemade pasta sauce, pesto, and the art of a pureed soup.

    Thank you for the great story telling and inspiring words. Which is why I’m voting for you as best overall blog and cooking blog at the Food Buzz awards! Yipeeee!

  5. just makes me love you more, reading this;). And your cow. We would have been fast friends, you and I: because I knew how to make pancakes on the top of an upside down santa coffee can.

  6. John V. Phipps

    I was taught to cook by a 3 x 5 card (or I guess a pile of 3 x 5 cards). To explain, being the third child of five, I had two older sisters that took on the job of starting supper when my mother went back to work when I was around 8 or 9. But once they started working at after school jobs, that responsibility was passed down to me. When I got home from school a typical 3 x 5 card on the kitchen counter would read….. “Heat the even to 375 degrees. The roast is defrosting in the sink. Sprinkle it with salt and pepper, put it in the roasting pan that I put on the table. Peel the potatoes and leave them in a pot of cold water. I’ll finish when I get home”. I think that being able to create dinner and share it with my family made me feel like I was doing my part even when I didn’t do my other chores.

    In 1970 I went into the Navy and got to travel around. I would always try to learn to cook a dish from the places I visited so I could take them home and share. Exotic things like artichokes from California, tacos from Texas, lumpia from the P.I. Things that were difficult to find in Ohio then. Once my wife and I spent a whole day flitting around Cleveland looking for corn tortillas for the tacos. Eventually found canned ones in a Jewish deli. All because of a stack of 3 x 5 cards. Thanks, Mom.

  7. Thank you so much for such a sweet story. What made me take up a spatula is my ex-boyfriend, who was vegetarian with special health conditions,because I wanted to show him how vegetarians can indulge in a variety of flavour, texture and nutrition. I constantly read and watched cookbooks and cooking shows and created new healthy dishes for us. Seeing smiles on people’s face when they eat my food encouraged me to keep bringing out yummies.
    I may have been born with cooking genes from my mum, who always loved to cook for people and ran a restaurant for over 20 years but used to say to us girls, “When you meet a guy, never say you’re a good cook, and never learn to be one.” After all those years, she still potters around in the vegetable garden and also in the kitchen all day long cooking and making delicious chutney and pickles for family and other people.
    Her face still lights up every night she lays out a feast of dishes on the table, and talks about the ingredients and process of making them, and we all feel like the happiest people on earth. It’s at that moment that I get intense feelings about why I can never separate myself from food.
    Nothing is better than home-cooked meals that has love in them, so I can’t stop cooking. It’s all because of my mum!

  8. The only things I ever cooked when I was a youngling were pancakes (it was a Sunday tradition to help dad stir the batter with the metal eggbeater contraption that we had) and grilled cheese sandwiches. But aside from that, I neither learned nor had any interest in cooking until I was in my sophomore year of college and moved into my first apartment… at which time there were many emails starting with, “Hi Mom, Can you send me the recipe for [some dish she would make that I wanted to try]?” I think I tend to call myself “self-taught” because no one ever showed me how to make any of these dishes… but everything, at least at the beginning, came from recipes – either from my family, from (I LOVED that site when I was starting to cook!), or from the Betty Crocker Cookbook that my mother gifted me one year.

    I think the same applies to most things – very few people are ever *truly* self-taught, however we tend to refer to ourselves as self-taught when there isn’t a specific person/place that we were taught by. I love Rob’s term, “self-directed” – I think that’s a much better and more accurate term for it. :)

  9. Look at you and your gorgeous family. I love this post Linda, maybe my favourite one ever from you! I *especially* like the basement dance routine :) And clearly you were born to cook, look at you now! Wherever it came from was a good place. Plus, you named your cow “Slobber” :) I think we would have been friends back then too… I have no idea how I learned to cook, prob just boringly from watching my mum when I was little but I *do* know that I used to run a pretend café when I was in the kindergarten playground…. I was, of course, the manager.

  10. Thanks for sharing your story! One of the reasons it’s probably easy for a person to call themselves “self-taught” is that he/she hasn’t paid $/apprenticed for what they’ve learned. Perhaps a more accurate term for the experience is “self-motivated,” because picking up a cookbook/exploring cooking blogs/experimenting in the kitchen all require some degree of inspiration that stems from within. However, just because you didn’t paid for something shouldn’t discount the “teacher” or the act of being educated.

    My interest in cooking really exploded when I was in graduate school, learning about nutrition and food systems. I came to the conclusion that knowing how to prepare food is a crucial part of being healthy. My culinary adventures started with really basic recipes from farmers market information booths (what in the world was I supposed to do with swiss chard?), and now I benefit from the immensely useful resource that is the food blogging world. So, thanks to my graduate school professors for the inspiration and farmers market staff & food bloggers for the practical skills. I should point out that I loved watching Graham Kerr’s shows on public television growing up, so maybe he deserves a shoutout too for planting the cooking seed.

    Linda Reply:

    @Sheila, Interesting point on the paying for education vs not- I suppose you’d find that in more traditional careers too.

  11. Loved this post. I also chose vegetarianism (as a teenager) and kept it up for 10 years, despite meat-eating parents that both came from families of professional butchers. I was following in my older sisters’ footsteps (who were huge culinary inspirations to me). Molly Katzen’s books were my bibles! A boyfriend’s mother gave me a Marcella Hazan cookbook in my mid-twenties, that expanded things a bit, though obviously I was skipping entire chapters.
    I was a devout recipe follower through my 20s and 30s. Late to the party, but I’m finally figuring out how to cook more freely. My husband George has taught me that, and it blows me away how casually our daughter Adela will make up a cake recipe and bake it off, at the tender age of 8. No fear. Bentley will do (or already does!) the same, I’m sure!

    Linda Reply:

    @Kris Thompson, They are so off-the-cuff at that age, it’s tempting to harness it into something definable, but part of the wonder of youth is the entire journey, so…

  12. I learned to cook from my mother, but I learned to love to cook from my father. I was doubly fortunate.

    Linda Reply:

    @amy, What a boon to grow up with two parents who had skill in the kitchen.

  13. What struck me most about your story is how experiencing a soul-wrenching loss at a young age can have such a profound affect. Mine slobber was realizing at a much too early age that I had lost a family to alcohol and was better off spending as much time as possible out of the house and fending for myself. On the northern Oregon Coast I learned to fish with a hand line in lakes, rivers and the surf, catch flounders by stepping on the small ones with bare feet in hallow water, learning to find spawning crab burrowed in the sand on a minus tide, wild strawberries in the dunes and all of the other berries that would be so important later in life.

    I got into camping probably at the age of 10 or 11 and found many places within a five or six mile walk where my dog Sparky and I could could happily spend three or four days away from “home”. The first camping trips involved such things as cans of spaghetti. I somehow acquired and leaned to use a Coleman stove and with a skillet brought from home I learned to cook razor clams and the the freshwater and saltwater fish I caught. I became somewhat of a survivalist, taking great pride in being able to eat well on a four day camping trip taking only a skillet, salt and pepper and a cube of butter. There may have been flour. While I had a grandmother close by who taught me how to clean and prep fish and crab and razor clams, as I remember it, the cooking was pretty much self taught. I found early on that life is much better when a razor clam or a fish was cooked well and I enjoyed developing a sense of what that was.

    Thanks for sparking the recollection.

    Linda Reply:

    @@oysterwine, Wow- your past needs to be documented, Jon.

  14. What a thought provoking post! I grew up not really caring about what I ate – what mom cooked (however weird or different it may be – I come from a half-Filipino home), we ate, and we never asked how she made it or helped her with it. I regret that now, and as I enter Culinary School in 2 weeks, I hope to visit her more to learn a little about my heritage because I’d think it would prove beneficial. But I’d say my climactic moment in culinary learning was a failed Paula Deen recipe. I learned to not trust recipes – and that just because someone is famous – that doesn’t mean their food is always good =)

    Linda Reply:

    @Peggy, This makes me laugh for many reasons. Probably a double-edged sword of the celeb chef culture is that they develop their recipes under crazy time constraints and make them to look good on tv. Doesn’t always make for delicious.

  15. Wow, as if I didn’t already love you – now I’m enthralled! A tidbit of my story: I grew up on a dirt road in NC between 2 sets of grandparents. One owned a survival farm and made everything from scratch including moonshine, the other a Pentacostal Baptist that had at least 100 things she could make from canned biscuits. The farmer Grandma paid me 1.00 for every cake a baked and decorated for her (later I learned it was just to keep me out of trouble) at 9 years old. I learned jamming, sausage making and baking just by hanging around. LOVE your pics and your stories!

    Linda Reply:

    @Cathy/ShowFoodChef, 100 things she could make from canned biscuits? Serious feat!

  16. Out of the entirety of that great post, what I keep getting caught up on is the idea of being self-taught. I’ve (proudly) worn that moniker for years, saying that I am a self-taught photographer.

    And you’re absolutely right, it takes away from the efforts and the collegiality of those willing to share what they’ve learned (be it cooking, art, photography, auto mechanics…). But to simply dismiss the label is just as problematic since it doesn’t account for the effort we put into learning.

    So, I think I am going to start saying that my training and education (in both photography and cooking) is *self-directed*. Without a structured curriculum or having to complete one requisite program before starting the next, being self-directed allows me to lay claim to the successes – and failures – while still being able to pay homage to those I’ve learned from.


    Linda Reply:

    @Rob, I’m glad that’s what resonated with you. That was the point of the post, of course I got long-winded with it as I tend to do. I just wanted all of us to recognize that we came from somewhere, dig?

  17. I was the only black-haired kid among my family and extended family. All of my cousins and aunt/uncles are blonde or redheads. So I was (and still am) the black sheep. ;-) (Although my hair is much lighter, and grayer, now.) Heh.

    I knew some of these stories already, but hadn’t seen photos, and didn’t know that your mom was *not* a cook. Laughed out loud at the packaged mac ‘n’ cheese. HAH!

    I once did the same thing, making chocolate pudding on the stove in a glass bowl instead of a pot. I think kids should learn these kinds of lessons, actually. :-D

    I learned to cook by having my hand forced by the family I was nannying for in Germany asking me to cook for their entire family. She showed me about a dozen of their favorite meals and I wrote the recipes down, and my repertoire branched out from there. I instantly loved it.

    Fantastic blog, as always. xox

    Linda Reply:

    @Jackie Baisa, that glass bowl thing needs to be mandatory kindergarten education!!!

  18. So sweet! And delightful. Food is just a means of telling a story, definitely the most meaningful ones. I’m glad you learned about glass pie pans early on; you are a smart cookie. I learned much later in life and almost turned my face into hamburger. Whoopsie. I think the first thing my mom let me “cook” was Top Ramen. Boiling water was all she would trust me with when I was little. It’s like she could predict me and the pyrex dish many years later. But baking was always a big thing. She’d let me roll the dough, use cookie cutters, add sprinkles and make some hideous cookies guaranteed to scare Santa from ever coming back to the house. Good times.

    Linda Reply:

    @wasabi prime, Well you’ve certainly come a long way, baby. I think it’s interesting how many of us came from not-so-talented in the kitchen parents. Goes to show things won’t die just because a generation temporarily loses interest.

  19. LInda, I so floored by this story I can’t tell you yet how I learned to cook. I know a few biracial couples and the kids have always turned out black. Look at the president, for chrissakes! Just shows how ignorant I am about the whole thing. And I loved seeing the photos. You were a show-stopper even back then.

    I learned to cook from newspaper clippings, once I left home. My mother, an excellent self-taught cook, said I couldn’t help her cook because I might ruin the food. I was self-taught until I took some cooking classes.

    When she came to town, she stayed with her brother and his son, and taught the son to cook. I never knew until a few years ago, when the son corrected me when we were talking about how my mom made a particular dish.

    I also inherited my mother’s nipples. I think that’s TMI, but there it is.

    Linda Reply:

    @Dianne Jacob, Interesting how pockets develop within families and you wind up with knowledge about a family member that even a sibling might not have. And no, it’s definitely not TMI.

  20. Great post. I’d like to see in your post how you learned to sass.

    My parents weren’t very interested in cooking. I grew up eating leftovers every night of the week (to this day when I go home, dinner is seeded from something I’m sure they started when they got married in 1973). Growing up, they always feared I would burn down the house so I was never allowed in the kitchen. Plus, I think they thought I was meant for a higher calling, one in which someone else would cook and otherwise wait on me hand and foot. So they dropped me off at college with a crate of ramen, which I was supposed to cook in the rice cooker they also left me with. I learned to cook out of necessity and rebellion.

    Charmaine @ Speakeasy Kitchen Reply:

    @Charmaine @ Speakeasy Kitchen, P.S. I think this warrants a post of my own. Thanks for the inspiration darlin’!

    Linda Reply:

    @Charmaine @ Speakeasy Kitchen, I would LOVE to see you develop a post around this question. It helped me so much to define where I am now in terms of my culinary perspective. (it also reminded me a little bit of the questionnaire from MC)

  21. When I was younger, my mom used to drag me in the kitchen, but I was bored to tears. But growing up in my household, I had no choice. You chop those peppers or I’lll put my foot up your ass, I don’t care if you wanna watch Doug. Me, I hate being made to do anything so I didn’t really care that much for it, but I kinda did (waaaaaaaay back in my mind). Then I got older joined the military and always heard, you ain’t gonna keep no man if you can’t cook! So I gave even more less of a shit, because you don’t make me do anything. Of course, my military career was short because of that. Then I did meet a man, and thought, oh shit, I better learn to cook! So my first love in the kitchen was Betty Crocker and Pampered Chef crockery. It’s history since then. I love it and hopefully my children will, too. If they want.

    Linda Reply:

    @Sommer J, It’s funny, once you finally lock in, there’s no turning back.

  22. This might be the best post you’ve ever written. Thanks for sharing. This is going to sound ridiculous but when I was growing up in Quilted Giraffe land, I taught myself how to cook because I did not want to have to eat the restaurant food. I wanted to eat what “normal” families ate. Stuff like tacos. Yeah.

    Linda Reply:

    @Winnie, Funny how we want what we don’t have!

  23. I grew up with a mother who hated to cook, so I thought everyone ate inventions of meat and Campbell’s soup on a regular basis. Truly, my mother rejoiced to high heaven when Hamburger Helper appeared in the market!

    I don’t remember my teacher’s name, but it was Home Economics in Junior High School that opened my eyes to preparing food like most people do.

    Linda Reply:

    @Cyndy, No wonder you became vegetarian.

  24. There is definitely a dish tomb at the house we lived in as kids too. I remember being sure I was going to be reamed for whatever I did and burying it! Love that story. I think I had tried to microwave something…to a similar result.

    Linda Reply:

    @the gastrognome, Be fun to go back and unearth. Tho the new occupants would think we were crazy.

  25. I loved your post, loved, loved, loved it. It made me want to re-write “About Me” on my blog and tell the WHOLE story! I just found your blog today (lucky me) on Seattle Food Blog Feed.

    My Mom taught us (me & 3 sisters) to cook, not so much by instruction, but by the sheer breadth of what she made for us every day. I keep crabbin’ at her and saying “you could have been Martha Stewart, had you only went for IT”. She created things that everyone else had never heard of in Mukilteo, WA. She read a bunch of Yuell Gibbons, so we ate nettle soup (yeah, in the 70’s!) and sauteed day lily buds from our “organic” garden. I was so embarassed by that compost pile…
    She read constantly, mostly cook books, so you could tell what continent we’d be eating from, from the book she held in front of her face that day. I almost never ate the same dish twice, so I’ll blame her for my constantly pudgy state.

    I remember her telling me I could NOT have “Mini tamales, potstickers and gnocchi” for my 12th birthday. She made them anyways… OXO Mom

    Linda Reply:

    @Piper @ GotItCookIt, What an awesome mom, especially for the birthday.

  26. What a wonderful post!

  27. I think I’ll put a longer answer in a blog post, if you don’t mind, but just wanted to throw out that I learned to poke holes in cake from my Nana, who has a special tool just for that purpose. I think it’s actually a four-pronged turkey lifter (the other half of the set must have been lost over the years), but works perfectly for her famous Lemon Jello Cake, which is covered in a tart lemon glaze and was always my favorite.

    Linda Reply:

    @Nicole, As strange as it sounds, I bet that Jello Cake was actually very good. And pretty.

  28. “the art of experimentation”…AMEN! Food can be fun :)

    I have pictures of my mom in curlers too when I was younger. Classics!

    Linda Reply:

    @Sandi, It’s a good thing you saw that curler pic when you did- I’m sure my mom will insist on its removal the second she discovers this post.

  29. I heart this post. I had a similar experience growing up on a farm, with a pig named Garfunkel that threw me into years of vegetarianism (I am, however, doing very well in my vegetarian recovery). When people ask me how I learn to cook I always say, “My mom’s idea of international cuisine was Costco lasagna and Taco Bell. I rebelled by cooking.”

    Linda Reply:

    @Jackie, Oh Garfunkel, poor, poor baby.

  30. You’re fun to read. (-:

    For me it was Head Chef Mark Supplee who salvaged my wasting mind from the dish room at Iron Hill Brewery in Lancaster, PA, took me under his wing, and changed my life forever. Also, a few choice moments with a few choice people at the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, NY have done their part. But the single greatest contributor, the one who has fostered the most dramatic and varied growth is Nicole. She’s amazing and so naturally talented, and I am so fortunate that she tolerates my incredible ignorance. The end.

    Linda Reply:

    @Phillip, This comment made me cry. I’m going to make sure she sees it. <3

  31. What a great post. I too loved to have dance routines to Lucky Star. My mom was the one who taught me to cook. I loved watching her in the kitchen. The first thing I ever made was for her one time when she was sick, it was a cucumber ginger sandwich. She loved it. I made it at the begining of the summer to see if it really was good or if she was being kind, and it really was good! Gotta love those moments.

    Linda Reply:

    @Amanda, You see, we were budding babes of brilliance even back in the day. I still remember my Lucky Star routine- at least part of it. I think it may be time for a revival.

  32. Oh sweetie pie, what a great story. What a great post.

    Linda Reply:

    @Janis, I want to hear yours too!

  33. Loved reading this. Makes me wonder how/why I learned to cook and think back to days that I haven’t thought of in a long time. Going to have to ponder this and I’ll let you know if I have any breakthroughs…

    Linda Reply:

    @Adrienne, I would love to hear your stories.

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