Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Musing on Cooking, Baking,and this Blog

I officially now have less than a month left of college. In August I will start medical school. It is a daunting thought and I can't say that I'm looking forward to it. I am excited, but also anxious and nervous. August is when the rest of my life begins.  I don't know if I'm ready.

And what is funny about that is that after August I don't know what will become of this blog.  Will I have the time for it?  Of course I will still be cooking—I need to feed myself!—but I don’t know if I will be able to post up recipes and pictures here.  I certainly won’t be doing as many restaurant reviews (though speaking of reviews, I promise that my next post will be on a great restaurant in Philly!).  But I don't want to stop doing this.  I really enjoy writing on this food blog, and it is always exciting to see how many readers my posts attract.  I used to text or email my boyfriend whenever my visitor count was particularly high or whenever I saw a lot of people reading my blog from their iPhones or Blackberries (the stats collected by this site allow me to see such things) because it made me so happy.

I never intended on this project becoming something into which I would invest so much time and love.  I started this on a whim. It was just a fun little summer project after a birthday lunch with my cousin. I didn't even do an introductory post.  When the thought occurred to me to share a good recipe with an audience I would never meet, I posted.  And then this past summer I went to France and I collected all these great food stories that I felt that I ought to share.  So I came back to this and I earnestly wrote down everything.  And you read it.  It was so exciting to see my visitor count jump, to know that it wasn't just my mom reading it, or my sister or my dad.  I'd never had anyone to really talk to about food and recipes before, but this gave me an outlet.  And I've really liked sharing my stories and recipes with you.

Knowing that I have this blog to maintain has made me try new recipes just so I could report about them here.  It made me pay attention to what I was doing in the kitchen.  I was never a recipe follower and never a measurer before this blog, but once I knew that I would have to write about my food for someone, I began to pay attention.

They say you can tell the difference between a baker and a cook because a cook never measures while a baker is precise about amounts.  I suppose that would put me in the cooking camp, but I am a dessert girl.  When I think about coming into the kitchen, I think about baking, or about making a mousse or a tart, or throwing together a fruit cobbler.  (I still dream about getting an ice cream maker so I can start experimenting with that part of the food world)  Yet, even though I consider myself a baker, I defy the typical stereotype of serious bakers because I am not fastidious about my measurements.  In my eyes, all recipes can be altered.  In fact, I really don't think I've ever left a recipe alone before.  I always like to throw in a little extra salt, maybe some spices, a dash of rum.  I'll use what I have on hand to replace ingredients that I don't want to buy.  I decrease fat and sugar content while upping the sodium level.  And even when measuring things like flour or baking soda, I don't use precision.  I "eyeball" measurements for teaspoons and tablespoons, and with my flour, instead of leveling off the amounts, I use the "scoop and shake" measure.  And yet, rarely have my recipes ever failed me.

Perhaps that's because I've never made a soufflé or or macaroons and while I read about it, I have yet to dip my toes into the ever expanding river of molecular gastronomy.  Or perhaps it is because at its heart, making food is about being able to feel what is right.  That's why, I suppose, I always write my recipes so loosely and that's actually why I fell so in love with food.

My little forays into the kitchen started out small.  Like many kids, when I was growing up, I sometimes made cupcakes and cake from packaged mixes with my mom.  But we didn't follow the instructions.  It was from my mom that I learned that trick of replacing some of the water with rum (no worries folks, the alcohol bakes off in the oven) and throwing in raisins or dried fruit or sliced almonds.  And when my parents cooked up Vietnamese dishes--soups and curries and stir fries--nothing was ever in exact amounts.  I watched them mix and taste and call each other into the kitchen for opinions on more nuoc mam (fish sauce) or bot cari (curry powder).  When I got older, I began to help them season.  My dad taught me the trick of cooking meat with a little bit a sweetness--pineapple juice in curries and sugar with pork for caramelization--and my mom explained to me the importance of putting salt in desserts.

In high school the one savory thing I prided myself on being able to cook was omelets.  They were simple, yes, but perfectly seasoned (the secret ingredient was Maggi) and perfectly cooked.  I was a pro at flipping them as well.  My high school boyfriend liked them so much, sometimes I actually packed his lunch to school.  From that small beginning, I've graduated to making my own chicken broth from scratch.  I'm so comfortable making risotto, I even leave my pot unattended and wash dishes while I cook.  It's amazing how these things come with practice.  I've cooked my own steak, made my own chicken, and poached my own eggs so many times now I no longer feel the need to take a thousand pictures when the results are perfect.

I'd still love the satisfaction of making my own yogurt, my own pasta, and my own ice cream, and someday I'd like to tell someone I know how to carve up a pineapple the right way (I tell my mother all the time that she will have to be the one that feeds my kids pineapple, or they won't eat any), but for now, this is wonderful.  This learning process has been fulfilling and filling, and I have enjoyed being able to share a little bit of it with you.  I hope that doesn't stop when the next chapter of my life begins.


  1. Take care of yourself in med school!! I do hope you manage to still cook and eat well, and I'll be totally impressed if you manage to post during that time. I'll be thinking of you :-)

  2. Good chefs provide pleasure of the senses. Good physicians save lives or provide relief from pain. Without the work of good physicians the work of good chefs would go for naught. In fact, some chefs enjoy their own cooking so much, they need good doctors to keep them from dying of diabetes or clogged arteries. So go on being a great physician and save some chefs, please.

  3. On second thought, I need good doctors to save me from the work of the great chefs in whose tables I have partaken over the years.

  4. This is very touching. One can feel the loves in you (love of food, love of your family, love of life) and your generosity (in sharing the things you love).