My mom is an excellent cook, as is her mother. My brother and I grew up in a household where food was important, but not fancy. Flavors were comforting and inviting, though not always challenging. We avoided fast food whenever possible, tried to eat local (before that was really a thing), and favored small, family-owned restaurants over big chains, especially when we traveled. I don’t know if this was a conscious effort by my parents to support local companies and families, but we just always had better food by seeking out something away from the interstate or the mall.
At home, my brother and I started cooking our own meals in middle school. A favorite after school snack was salami and colby cheese on a bagel, then microwaved until it was so hot that it popped. You had about thirty seconds to eat it before it became so stiff so as to break your jaw. Middle schoolers don’t always have the most sophisticated palate. We learned. My brother now makes a killer stuffed pork loin, and I love hauling out my 12″ cast-iron skillet to make spicy shakshuka for brunch on the weekends.
My own daughter seems to have equal parts of kid- and adult-palate. She destroys chicken tenders and macaroni & cheese, but also insists on getting briny kalamata olives whenever we pass by an olive bar at a grocery store. She devoured deviled eggs with lots of vinegar and mustard yesterday, but insisted on Cheerios for breakfast today (not my polenta with berries and goat cheese). I love watching her try new food, testing with just the very tip of her tongue before deciding to eat the whole thing, but I also love when she eagerly proclaims something to be her “favorite favorite favorite” with hands clutched together in front of her chest. She is also getting quite handy in the kitchen herself, her specialty being veggie chili. She loves adding the spices, and all of the stirring.
And this is what I love most about cooking and baking: it’s about family. Recipes come from tradition; techniques and shortcuts come from parents. I’ll never forget the look on a roommate’s face when I chopped veggies for a salad in my hands with a paring knife, over the sink, no cutting board required. I just thought that’s how you cut veggies; after all, that’s what Mom and Gramma did. My Strobel Gooey Chocolate Cake, available to order here, is a family recipe without an origin story. It’s just the way we made chocolate cake, and it was so easy and forgiving that we never needed a special occasion to bring out the mixing bowl and square cake pan.
I hope to instill in my daughter this love of food, of cooking, and of family. We’ll see how her first chocolate cake comes out.