I have never been the kind of person you would call ‘domestic.’ Put it this way – at age 21, I called home to get specific instructions on how to boil carrots.
Despite my shortcomings in the kitchen, my mother cooks like a professional. My friends have joked that while their parents would serve us chicken fingers and fries, my mom would whip us up a mediterranean feast from scratch. She doesn’t use recipes and she’s never owned measuring spoons. I’ve always hoped my mother’s cooking skills would somehow manifest themselves in me, preferably in a dream, with little to no work. The dream has yet to come true.
My husband is also incredibly talented in the kitchen. He is the kind of person who understands concepts like ‘marinading.’ He can just smell a dish and say, “it needs more paprika.” When I try and help him in the kitchen, I mostly hover around, accidentally closing cupboards that he’s just opened, and putting away ingredients that he hasn’t finished with yet. My role is most directly comparable to that of a pesky (yet well-meaning) mosquito. Given his skills (and my significant challenges), it was tempting to simply ride his coattails, but this all changed when I spent a holiday with my in-laws.
My mother-in-law was a high school Family Studies teacher and is not only a pro in the kitchen, but knows how to teach to clueless youngsters like me. I took to her lessons and directions like a fish to water. All of a sudden I was exposed to the precision of recipes, and the tools and techniques that exist to take the guess-work out of baking. (I also learned that you can pretty much make all things delicious if you have butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour, and chocolate on hand.) For Christmas, she bought me baking pans, parchment paper, a cooling rack and a spatula. I was in business (see my ‘starter set’ below).
For the next year or so, I pretty much only made chocolate chip cookies. In doing so, I discovered two life-changing facts: 1) baking = praise, 2) baking = friends. Coincidentally, I love both praise AND friends!
Once I was confident with the cookies, I began to experiment with tried and true family recipes. My mom felt I was ready to take a stab at her famous banana chocolate chip muffins (see below). I then spent a weekend visiting my Aunt Donna, and she taught me how to make some of my favorite Switzer family meals. She would demonstrate each step, and then have me actually DO everything. I took pictures to document each phase of the cooking process, and took notes so I would be able to replicate the meals. I practiced the recipes I learned frequently when I got home, and found that knowing how things were ‘supposed’ to taste (since they were family recipes), served my A-type personality, and helped to increase my confidence.
It’s been a journey, but I’m slowly getting more adventurous and taking more risks. Recently, I’ve discovered cookbooks (see my favorites below) and OH MAN – I’m now able to host brunches and dinner parties!
Baking and cooking are skills. I thought about how I’ve learned other skills (i.e. with clear instructions, immediate feedback etc.), and tried to apply what I know about my learning style to my efforts in the kitchen.
Even though I’m entering into my baking efforts with somewhat A-type rigidity (i.e. adherence to recipes, measurements, etc.), I also know that success experiences help to build confidence, which leads to risk taking. I never thought I would feel at ease in the kitchen, but I’m slowly gaining the confidence to explore and create. Someday, I trust I will be able to go “off book” like my mom, and know whether something is calling for a touch of paprika.
BAKING STARTER SET
- Measuring cups and spoons – $19.99
- Mixing bowls – $24.99
- Hand mixer – $49.99
- Baking sheets – $9.99 (*get 2!)
- Muffin tin – $29.99
- Cooling rack – $15.99
- Cookie turner – $5.99
- Mixing spoons – $4.99
- Parchment paper – $7.99
- Oh She Glows – $15 (This book is amazing! She is also an east coast Canadian, and she gives detailed instructions that beginners can follow. My goal is to work my way through this entire book – I’ve made over half of the recipes as of now. She also has a website with free recipes.)
- Trader Joe’s – $16 (This is great if you are a frequent Trader Joe’s shopper!)
- Company’s Coming – $13 (This is the cookbook my mother-in-law and I baked with over the holidays. It’s full of delicious and classic holiday treats!)
Mary Lea’s Famous Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
Preheat over to 350 degrees. Use baking spray on muffin pan.
In mixing bowl, put:
- 3 overripe bananas
- 1/2 cup softened butter or margarine (*you can use the microwave)
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 2 large eggs
Mix ingredients (using a mixer if you have one, if not, mash the bananas with a big spoon and then add the other ingredients listed above).
In a separate small bowl, dissolve 1 teaspoon of baking soda into 1 tablespoon of warm water (mix with spoon). Add mixture to bowl with other ingredients.
Fold in (meaning, ‘gently hand mix with big spoon’):
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Bake for 12-15 minutes.