Our Eating Lives

The Kitchen Analog: Plugging Back In

Our Eating Lives features stories about how food, cooking, and eating have shaped who we are and how we live.

I made it through my month of cooking unplugged from the Internet, and with the exception of one minor technical fail, I held to my resolution of learning to cook without the help of the Interwebs. Whew.

When I started this experiment, I thought I’d have funny tales to share of my epic kitchen fails, of moments of agony where I held my phone in my hands, the screen blank, daring me to search Google for the answers. But overall, the month went by without incident. It became, rather, a chance for me to consider my kitchen life. It became a bit of a meditation on my progress as a cook, and a way of seeing how much I still have to learn.

Along the way, two truths stood out to me, and I want to share them with you now:  one is to have at least one authoritative cookbook on hand, and the other is to seek out the personal in cooking.

keep-calm-and-open-a-cookbook

It’s important to have at least one good “reference” cookbook. I highly recommend The Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook, The Joy of Cooking, How to Cook Everything, and The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. Each of these books have varying degrees of age to them, and all of the recipes have been tried and tested and edited and perfected. Even if you don’t want to follow the recipes, these books are great reference material.

When I first began the Kitchen Analog experiment, a friend was staying at my house for a few days, and I got up in the morning to make blueberry muffins for us, only to discover I was out of baking powder. My first instinct was to check the Internet for a substitution, but instead, I pulled out my go-to reference, The Joy of Cooking (I just call it The Joy – we’re on that sort of familiar level), located emergency substitutions, and was on my way in no time. That’s what those books are best for:  quick, simple, no-nonsense information that has been tested time and again.

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My Granny and I write letters to each other, and when I started all this, I wrote to her and asked her how she learned to cook. My Granny, in my estimation, is a marvelous cook. When I remember trips to her house, I remember food:  from mixing together different breakfast cereals in the morning, to eating her goulash at night, no memory of her home is complete without a taste profile to accompany it. My Granny told me that no one really taught her to cook, but she watched her mother, and she read her mother’s cookbooks, and right after she and my Grandad married, they lived with his parents, and her mother-in-law would help her cook if she needed it.

She got a Betty Crocker cookbook as a gift and that helped; she was drawn in by cake recipes, and my grandfather gained forty pounds in a year from her cooking.

She recounted names like Betty Crocker and Fannie Farmer; she mentioned a particular recipe she clipped out for macaroni salad.

I tried to imagine how I would answer the same question:  how did I learn to cook? I would mention cooking in my dad’s kitchen when he had us for the weekend. I would mention Emeril Lagasse and Betty Crocker and the Mrs. Fields Cookie Cookbook. I would talk about The Pioneer Woman and smitten kitchen; I would talk about my blog friends, movita beaucoup and Shannon from a periodic table.

I mentioned in my last post that the Internet is not the villain here. But in the age of the Internet, we have to actively seek out the personal. It’s easy to blindly skim over a Facebook feed and move on. We move so fast, our minds move fast, our eyes, our hands. We have to slow down and stop for the personal, but it’s important that we do so because at the end of the day, food is personal. We are fueling our bodies; we are comforting and nourishing our families. We are carrying on religious and family traditions. We are participating in an ever-evolving culture in which we play an active role.

If I ever have a grand-daughter who asks me how I learned to cook, I want to be able to say it was personal. I want to mention my Granny’s goulash. I want to remember the chocolate crescent moon cookies from the Mrs. Fields Cookbook, the first recipe I ever mastered, the one I almost had memorized. I want to tell that grand-daughter my cooking legacy, and I want it to be personal, to be intimate, because food and eating is personal and intimate.

And so as I’ve plugged back in this week and consulted websites and read through blogs I missed, I’ve tried to keep that in mind. I have an authoritative reference text (okay, I actually have four, don’t judge me), I know pizza can be delivered in under an hour, and I know that what I do doesn’t have to be perfect. But it does have to be personal. I have learned, through the Kitchen Analog, to strive for that.

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About Dana Staves

Dana Staves writes about food, books, and the writing life. To keep up with her antics and see gratuitous Instagrams of her cat and her food, follow her on Twitter @DanaStaves.

  • JillGuccini

    Dana, so many things I LOVED about this post. First, the “I just call it The Joy” comment made me laugh, a lot. Then, it is so amazing and wonderful and adorable that you and your grandma write letters to each other and I am kind of jealous?!

    Lastly, your reflections on cooking being personal were just really fantastic (and true). As I’ve downloaded a bunch of food apps over the month that you went analog (for a post I am going to write soon, I swear), I’ve been in a sort of frenzy of clicking and wiping through endless recipes and favoriting and heart-ing things left and right, and this post made me want to step back and think about things a little more, well, personally. So thanks for that.

    • Dana Staves

      Oh, thanks so much, Jill!! It can get a little overwhelming, but I feel like you were correcting the balance of the universe, downloading all those apps while I was fasting from them. I can’t wait to read your post on it. Thanks again!

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