Writing a blog for my dissertation field work was a rather enjoyable experience (perhaps the best part of the field work itself!), and I decided I wanted to keep writing. There was only one thing I could think of that I would enjoy writing about and may be of interest to people…baking and cooking. As many of you know, I LOVE to bake and to cook and I love to analyze what does and does not work with various recipes or my own personal food experiments. It is combining science and cooking which satisfies both my inner nerd (though it may be more outer than I am willing to admit) and my outer foodie. It is that combination of science and cooking that lead Aaron (boyfriend) to the brilliant name of my one day dream bakery, Sweet Science, which I decided should also be the name of this blog. So, thank you, Aaron.
Since making the decision to write Sweet Science, I have thought a lot about the roots of my passion. My earliest memories in the kitchen are probably similar to most children – sitting at the table with my mother or grandmother who gave me the prestigious responsibility of using a wooden spoon to stir already well mixed ingredients. And then of course licking said spoon all the while wearing a rather triumphant smile on my face. I remember thinking of my mother as s great cook, descended from another great cook, my grandmother. I looked up to them and wanted so badly to be as good as them in the kitchen. My grandma still tells me stories how my grandfather would tell her at 3pm he was bringing over four dinner guests who would be expecting dinner at 5pm. She would manage to pull off at least a three course meal in that short notice and was always highly praised by her dinner guests. To this day she still makes sure to have cookies, cake, or pie on hand in case guests arrive.
I followed all of the same recipes they used from oatmeal lids and the back of chocolate chip bags, used all the same types and brands of ingredients, and tried as hard as I could to follow exactly in their foot-steps. I lived happily for the first 23 years of my life thinking that my mother’s and grandmother’s cooking was the end all be all of gourmet, and that by knowing what they know I would know it all. When my mother passed away, I lost my number one resource for cooking and baking knowledge. Perhaps it was living truly alone for the first time, or wanting to find a distraction from grad school, or an outlet for stress, when I started grad school I felt the need to expand my cooking and baking knowledge. I dived right into cooking and baking websites and started rapidly expanding my cookbook collection. I quickly learned that I knew only slightly more than nothing about cooking and baking. I was amazed at the wide range of ingredients both exotic and ordinary. I also never realized how the different qualities of common ingredients like butter and vanilla extract truly make a difference in recipe outcomes. I learned that there is so much room for creativity in cooking and baking and that recipes in many cases (not all but many) are really just guidelines and that there is so much room to infuse your one personality and flavor into a dish. There is room for experimenting and playing with different dishes and a failed dish is never truly a failure, it is a learning experience. The biggest realization, however, was that my mother’s and grandmother’s cooking was nowhere near as good as I thought.
My mother and grandmother were working women and did what they best knew how to do – make quick albeit bland meals with easy to use, readily available ingredients to feed their families. But this does not detract from the lessons they both taught over the years, lessons that I apply to each and every time I cook and bake such as always crack eggs in a separate bowl before adding them to other ingredients. Or my mother’s favorite saying, “You can always add, but you can’t take away.” The most important thing I learned from my mother and grandmother is to cook and bake with love…put love in everything you do. I know this sounds cliché and corny, but it is true, they may have baked out of a box and cooked out of a can, but they did so with out of love for their families.
I like to think of this blog as kind of a baking and cooking lab notebook where I can apply all those old lessons from my mother and grandmother to new forays into my culinary education. This will be a place for me to openly document my baking and cooking journey to discuss what works, what doesn’t, and why. Finally, I want to share both my experiences and recipes with you in hopes that it will encourage you, my readers, to either begin or further continue your own culinary journey.