Posted by: susanideus | October 6, 2010

Cooking and Life

Cooking is like love.  It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.  ~Harriet van Horne

I am not a trained chef, but I do know about cooking. I’ve done it since I was a child, first because I had to, and then because I found I loved it. Cooking is a creative outlet for me, and a tangible way of expressing love and care.

I’ve always loved trying new recipes. At first, as a novice cook, I used them for instruction. As a new bride, I used them for inspiration and a way to show my always hungry hubby how much I loved him—and to impress him, of course. I gathered quite a collection of cookbooks, which I hauled along on our many moves.

Early on, I followed recipes almost to the letter but that phase didn’t last long—not my style. I found, by trial and error, (and with some spectacular successes and equally spectacular failures) that some dishes could be improvised and tinkered with endlessly. Others, like baked goods, could have substitutions made, but basic formulas and proportions were more vitally important for triumphal cooking feats. Still, even with baking, I began to learn when and where I could change things up, getting to know the “feel” of a good bread dough, the way a biscuit dough should look. In cooking, nothing beats on the job training.

Now, as I find myself with heretofore unavailable blocks of time for cooking and experimenting in the kitchen,  I still love finding new recipes to try. In fact, it’s become somewhat of an obsession—I aim for at least one new recipe a day, Several if I have time. More on that later. I don’t use cookbooks as much in this digital age since I can troll the web for any dish I might want to try—a few keywords in Google and I’m off on a delightful adventure. I’ve discovered favorite food blogs and websites, made friends with the chefs on Food TV Network, and I even get recipes via my phone.

Some things I’ve learned along the way:

♥ Use the best and freshest ingredients and the best tools you can afford at the time. Even if they are not your ideal (all organic, local, grade A, homegrown, brand name, designer label, whatever), the love that goes into cooking makes up for a lot.

♥ Label things. Nothing is worse than thinking it’s sugar and finding out too late that it’s kosher salt.

♥ Check what’s on hand before beginning. Sometimes substitutions can be made but not always. Be willing to be flexible and creative, if the recipe allows. If not, try another dish for now. Knowing the difference is important.

♥ Clean up as you go. This is important, especially if working in a small space. Otherwise messes pile up, stuff hardens and sticks, and it’s not pretty. Actually, a large space is as bad or worse—more surfaces to stack on. Yuk!

♥ Have fun! No martyr complexes in the kitchen. Cooking should be a love affair—stimulating, exciting, passionate, creative, energetic. No matter if the menu is soup and sandwiches–otherwise do fast food.

♥ And, as trite as it sounds, cooking is a lot like life…

For instance, no matter what I do, it turns out best if I have what I need at my disposal, bring my best to the situation, and check to make sure I’m prepared. Sometimes that means making the best of what I have available to me at the time. It’s most efficient if I have my files labeled and I know ahead of time that everything is in place. I don’t want to reach for something I need to find it’s not there, or worse, that it’s not what it says it is. I get my best results if I follow through and finish up what I start, cleaning up all the details as I go along. If I don’t, stuff piles up or falls through the cracks and things aren’t pretty. I need to bring a positive attitude with me. Now life happens, and it’s not always pleasant, but I can control my reaction to even the bad things. Perspective and balance and the willingness to be flexible can ease almost any situation.

You’ll be hearing more from me on the subjects of food and cooking—and life. If I come up with something I particularly like in all of my experimentation, I may even share a recipe or two. As I said, I’m trying something new every day. It’s fun and creative and quite often therapeutic. See you in the kitchen!



  1. I don’t use recipes either as anything but inspiration — or on the rare occasions I make sweet baked things. Enjoy your new cooking freedom.

    • Following the inspiration is the fun & adventure of cooking–otherwise it could be so much drudgery. Not that I always feel like cooking, but when I do, I want to enjoy it!

  2. I love the quotation. Something similar appear in Jane Roberts Wood’s Grace, when a man paints the sentence on his new wife’s kitchen ceiling. (Lovely book, by the way.)

    My own cooking skill (and interest) peaked when I was about sixteen. In recent years I’ve been guilty of baking the little plastic lining that’s between the salmon and the styrofoam. Twice. So I sincerely admire people who throw themselves into cooking. I look forward to more essays on the topic. I might even try a recipe or two. (I’m still thinking about the spaghetti in the last post.)

    • I’m definitely going to read that book–looks great! I guess I’ve always liked to cook. With my hubby, it was that or be miserable since he has a voracious appetite. I’m lucky in that he’ll try anything I cook, so I can make it an adventure.

  3. Susan, I loved this. I, too, love cooking, but I am a much less organised cook. I have a hippy “be the food” attitude.
    I make shortbread when I’m upset, quiche when I’m elated, curry when I feel passionate, pie for Sunday lunch. I think it might even be a language, this cooking thing. I loved your lessons learned, and I’m going back to remind myself of each one when I make cakes tomorrow.
    Thank you for this lovely post.

  4. Ah, foods for moods…sometimes I need sweet, sometime salty, sometimes both. Finding something that fills the bill is part of the adventure. And I do believe cooking is the language of love. I bake favorite dishes for family members’ and friends’ birthdays and for our anniversary, Valentine’s Day–and Christmas & Thanksgiving include several “must have” dishes for tradition’s sake. I love it all!

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