I’d like to say I invented the word “kitcheneer” to describe someone exploring and adventuring into the world of food creation. However, it seems other people have also invented the word from their separate kitchens and that I am one of many kitcheneers who lays claim to the title. I hope they don’t mind if we share it.
My name is Melanie, and my journey into the world of cooking has been slow and halting over my lifetime until the last three years, when it has exploded into an all-encompassing fervor.
My mom, besides being a strong, independent thinker; a fun-loving woman with a laugh that makes you laugh too; and a lover of Masterpiece Theatre (especially Poldark), is also an amazing cook. Growing up, I was privileged to enjoy some of the best dishes: green chile chicken enchilada casserole, cozy chicken and dumpling soup, hearty stromboli, her mom’s recipe for fried chicken, the one true spaghetti sauce, buttery nut-free banana bread, and the world’s best rhubarb pie (and her grandma’s piecrust which no one can ever beat.) Occasionally she would let me join her in the kitchen– one of the first meals she let me make was meatloaf, and my sisters and I would help her can and freeze too: late summers consisted of peaches oozing all over hospital blankets we’d laid out on the floor to keep the tile from becoming a sticky mess; corn husks falling all over the ground while I told my sisters all about my story ideas; the kitchen smelling of apples being made into applesauce which doubled for dessert when it was taken fresh out of the freezer.
After I left home for college, I borrowed some of my mom’s recipes whenever I missed home. But my diet during those years I shared apartments with so many other girls, not all of whom left behind a clean kitchen when they were done with it, normally consisted of chips and salsa or bean dip, cereal with milk, Chinese takeout, and mac and cheese.
And then I met Julian. I met him on a cold March day outside of a little gallery at the Cedar Lee district in Cleveland. All the dates I’d ventured on with people I’d met online had been underwhelming. But this time I found myself falling in love within the very first hour of having met in person. His curly hair, his green-blue eyes, his intelligent mind, and the way we just “clicked” on every level– it was the first date that I desperately didn’t want to end. We went from the gallery to dinner to a bookstore to the Winking Lizard which no longer exists at Coventry, and after that we reluctantly parted ways. Later that night he texted and asked if I’d like to come over for dinner sometime.
That first dinner consisted of grilled salmon, sauteed and seasoned kale, and brown rice, accompanied by some light jazz (he’s a true romantic) and followed by a viewing of Midnight in Paris, and our first kiss. Needless to say, that dinner made a huge impression, because never in my life had I known a man who could make such delicious, high-quality food. Soon I learned that his late father had been a chef, and he had gleaned a wealth of knowledge about food preparation, seasonings, and cuisines, by osmosis, growing up in a restaurant family.
Cooking together became one of our favorite things to do. For a while, we would order meal boxes such as Home Chef, Blue Apron, and Marley Spoon (until we ran out of introductory discounts.) That was enough to kick me into full gear in the kitchen. I never knew you could do so many exciting and delicious things with vegetables! I tried my hand at foods I had never heard of before: fattoush salad, chilaquiles, bolognese (my computer is telling me that all three of those are not real words– it doesn’t appreciate adventurous foods apparently.) I made things I had never tried before: beurre blanc, grits, risotto, beef Wellington.
We also took to exploring the ever-growing food scene of his hometown and my new home, Cleveland. We ate delicious bananas foster french toast at Graffiti: A Social Kitchen, cozy homemade Japanese food at Flying Crane Cafe, and the world’s best lobster bisque at Pier W, on whose balcony we would eventually get married. Whenever we have had the chance to get out of town for a bit, we always fit food into our adventures: oysters in Cape Cod, the best breakfast in the world at Paul in DC, seasoned crab at the Crab Shack in Annapolis, Baked Alaska at Cafe Boulud in Toronto.
Inspiration was everywhere. In Parts Unknown, the late Anthony Bourdain took us on a journey to the heart and soul of people around the world through their food: Vietnam, Senegal, even Houston, TX. On a more frivolous note, we fell into a strong addiction which hasn’t stopped– the Great British Baking Show, or, the Great British Bake-off (Lord knows why we Americans felt we had to change it.) There are few things more inspiring than to see a dozen complete amateurs take on such a huge challenge and create the most amazing dishes (Nadia, you are forever my hero– never say never.)
All of this is to say that in the last almost-three years, I have fallen in love with food in a way I never could have imagined. With my muse and my love at my side to support me with his love and his wealth of knowledge (“how hot should chicken be in the center?” and “would these spices go okay together?”), I have taken to the kitchen like a madwoman and am determined to learn everything I possibly can to become an accomplished baker and chef– even if the only people to ever enjoy it are Hubby, my family, and my small circle of friends.
My latest decision is to work my way through a book Julian found for me at a booksale and is one of my favorite things he’s ever brought home to me: The Joy of Cooking. This book is an absolute encyclopedia of almost everything one would want to know about cooking or baking. Eventually, I would like to try my hand at every recipe in the 1997 edition, with the belief that if I can understand these basic recipes (sauces, soups, etc.) I can begin to create my own with a technical knowledge that would make Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry proud. On the side, I am turning weekly to the King Arthur Flour Company for inspiration and help, thanks to their hotline, and have raised my own little sourdough starter to create everything from sourdough bread to waffles to dessert flatbreads.
The purpose of this blog is to document my kitcheneering adventures, my successes, my failures, the things I am learning, and the things I love. If you’ve made it through this lengthy memoir, I commend you, and welcome. Let’s bake!