I Cook from My Heart: The Gift I Give
Ever wake up in the morning and wonder, “What food am I going to make today?” Ever go to bed wondering the same thing? How about waking up in the middle of the night wondering about it? Maybe even in the middle of the day…Well, I do.
I cook for a living, for my family, and for fun. I blog about food, am writing a cookbook, and post pictures of food on social media. I read about food, watch food-related shows, am a cooking instructor, and am a guest chef on local television programs. (I even made my own cooking video.) I think about food and I even dream about food. I grow only edible plants in my garden, and I shop for groceries when I travel so I can bring food home from different places to share with family and friends. I think it’s safe to say I’m a little food obsessed. But why? Why am I so enthralled with an activity – cooking – that so many people are either afraid or scared of, or even repulsed by?
Cooking is in my blood. Both sets of maternal great grandparents immigrated from Greece and opened restaurants in San Francisco, California. I grew up hearing stories of the island and village they immigrated from, and I always dreamed of seeing my family’s homeland. I wanted to walk the streets they walked and taste the foods they tasted. I longed to feel the same breezes on my face and wet my toes in the same sea they did growing up. I can’t ever remember a time not wanting to have been part of the family gatherings and celebrations of my grandparents’ home life and mother’s youth. Whenever I heard a story about how my grandparents grew up, there were three main elements; respect, hard work and good food.
Emigrating to the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century was no easy feat. My great grandparents must have been so scared yet so brave and hopeful. They had to leave behind places and people they loved to begin a safer and better life in a strange place, armed with nothing more than what they could carry; skill, determination and pure grit. They left their homelands knowing they would never see their beloved Greece or family again.
Lucky for me, the skill all four of my great grandparents carried with them from Greece was cooking. Boy oh boy, could these people cook! I grew up hearing stories about them and their food from my grandparents and my mother. I learned about how my mother’s Yayitza (my grandfather’s mother) rolled homemade phyllo dough on the kitchen table with a long skinny stick. My mother said it was the same table that seemed to grow in size and capacity each time the doorbell brought another surprise guest. Like all Greek homes, all were welcome, always! She told me about her favorite food called dolmades which her Yaya (my grandmother’s mother) made for her. Dolmades are grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs and sometimes meat. She was so addicted to dolmades she even ate them raw once and became ill from the uncooked rice. Her poor stomach bloated up like a balloon! She had to drink water and milk and tea slowly so her stomach would not expand too much. (If you don’t know, raw rice expands in the stomach just like in the pot.) My mother blushes and giggles when she tells the story from the memory of her silliness.
I ate some sort of Greek food, savory or sweet, almost every day of my life. My grandmother’s home was never without Greek cookies and my family’s refrigerator was always stocked with at least one Greek delicacy.
Each treat had a story too. Stories always centered about one main theme, love. My family loves to cook for people. We love the act of cooking and the reaction of the people who eat our food! We love that the act of cooking is giving and nurturing. We have great respect for food. We honor the ingredients and despise waste.
For me, cooking is my way of both showing and giving love to the special people in my life. To be the best cook I can be, I cook with an open mind and an open heart. I let the ingredients “speak” to me and try not to interfere with the conversation.
My love of cooking and of food goes deeper. Cooking and food connect us. An aroma can stop someone in their tracks and bring them to their knees with uncontrollable longing.
Often memories are wrapped about the thoughts and aromas of food. Maybe you ate a “sexy” chocolate strawberry on a special night, like your anniversary or Valentine’s Day, and smile whenever you see a strawberry. The sound of sizzling might remind you of your favorite breakfast, or the smell of an almond bundt cake may make you think of your 30th birthday celebration.
Aromas of food can trigger memories so vividly you begin to crave — or hate — a taste or place. Caramel corn always makes me think about going to the beach. After a day spent in the sun and the sea, my family and I would walk the boardwalk from one end to the other and buy a box of fresh caramel corn to snack on while we strolled. Happy times. The flipside? I hate cream of carrot soup. It makes me think of the stomach flu. Cream of carrot soup was the last thing I ate before becoming extremely ill while backpacking through Europe. I was in Vienna, Austria. There I was, retching my guts out in a public restroom, too weak and ill to even have the strength to ride the train back to my nice clean room. Now, just the “thought” of cream of carrot soup makes my stomach flip-flop! Food is powerful stuff.
I never planned to cook professionally. It wasn’t a goal but eventually became a dream. I like to keep busy and I like to be in control. Like all cooks, I am a “control freak.” How much more controlling could any situation get than cooking? A cook stands in the kitchen, surrounded by sharp things and hot surfaces and clothes naked, raw food in flavor, creativity and love. “Love” is always the invisible ingredient in good food. A cook pours heart and soul into food and offers it with pride and abandon.
What does the cook get from all of this giving? A little bit of a cook’s heart is shared in every meal. Cooks create bridges that unite us. Good memories or bad. Delicious meals or terrible meals. That is why I am obsessed with food. That is why I cook.