Welcome to bread & butter
I am not a chef. I am not a recipe tester or a restaurant critic. I have no experience cooking anywhere other than my own kitchen (and occasionally my parents’). I grew up eating the foods my mom cooked for us, preferring, like most children, chocolate chip cookies and Fruity Pebbles to savory stews and spicy noodles. I wanted my macaroni and cheese out of a box, my chocolate extra-sweet and wrapped in colorful foil, and that’s the way things went for a while.
In middle school and high school things shifted a bit. I did classical ballet 6 days a week at a studio that preferred the dancers to be long-legged and willowy, both of which I was not. And in a series of misguided attempts to impress them with my dedication, I began counting calories, cutting carbs, following along with whatever diet promised lasting weight loss in just 2 weeks. Meals were marked by feelings of guilt if I ate too much and pride if I ate too little. I sat down to holiday meals and birthday celebrations with a sense of anxiety, a tension between my desire to enjoy the moment and eat the cake, and my determination to look a way that my body would never allow. And it wasn’t until after college, in my mid-20s, that I was finally able to wrangle myself from the negative associations with food that still lingered well after I stopped dancing.
At the time I was living in a studio apartment in New York City. There were no kitchen drawers, a fact that went unnoticed until I began to unpack my silverware, and a small gas stove that may or may not have worked at any given moment. All of this was an upgrade from my first New York apartment, a bed bug-infested 4-bed, 1-bath unit I shared with three others. Our windows swung open like doors, preventing the use of a window air conditioner, and sat at the same level as a part of the 1 train that ran above ground, a relatively frequent train that rattled our apartment and swirled warm, summer air through our living room and down the spindly hallway.
I couldn’t cook much more than pasta or roasted vegetables. I made a decent grilled cheese sandwich, and relied on bowls of cereal to fill the gaps in my meals. Eating take out every night was too expensive, and after 10 years of watching what I ate, I still preferred the idea of eating nutritious, healthy food, but didn’t want to sacrifice on flavor. I had to learn how to cook.
After doing a bit of research, I hopped on the subway and headed to Strand where I picked up, without any sense of its significance, Alice Waters’s The Art of Simple Food, a book that I’m sure has convinced many a young reader that eating salad with your hands, a practice she whole-heartedly recommends, is a reasonable way to go about your first course. I quickly became enamored by her approach to food: taking the time to find good-quality, local, seasonal ingredients and preparing them in a way that honors their inherent qualities. And though, in upper Manhattan, I was far from the abundant local vegetation of her Northern California, I was inspired by her sense of simplicity, and how she made cooking well for yourself seem very possible.
And thus began my descent into the rabbit hole that is cooking and eating and reading about food. I stumbled upon the work of Michael Pollan, and latched onto his now ubiquitous mantra: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I devoured (pun sort of intended) Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat, jotting down notes as though I were preparing to be tested on the material. And eventually, through time, I was able to refocus my relationship with food to one of excitement and pleasure, rather than anxiety and dread.
And now here we are, at bread & butter, where I’m excited to continue learning about food and cooking, to share my food stories, and to be a resource for anyone else who, like me, finds comfort in the kitchen and around the table.
Thanks for stopping by.
Originally published at https://breadbutter.blog on January 21, 2022.