Story by Ashley Van Buren

Hi everyone. I thought for this first post, I’d give you a little background on, what I call, my “culinarification.” I come from an Italian family, but not necessarily a family of cooks. My grandmother owned an Italian restaurant in a little town in upstate New York. However, once the first pizza chain restaurants moved in, she was forced to close her restaurant.

My mother, having spent a good part of her childhood and young adulthood cleaning up after my grandmother’s culinary adventures in the kitchen, hated cooking. When she grew up, she never cooked. Instead, she married my father, who, as luck would have it, learned to cook a little from his mother. Shortly after I was born, however, my parents discovered macrobiotics. Long before Gwyneth Paltrow even knew what tempeh was, my family was macrobiotic. My breakfasts consisted of millet and miso soup. My sister snacked on nori (seaweed) and raw kale. Our grains and veggies were eaten when in season, we never drank with meals (and when we did drink, it was water or a natural black cherry spritzer), and, when we went to birthday parties, we arrived armed with our own soy pizza (organic, whole wheat crust, tomatoes and soy cheese) and something called a magic brownie, (not what you’d think) a chocolate-less, dairy-less, sugar-less, and flour-less square of carob with walnuts. My sister and I didn’t eat red meat until we were ages seven and 11, respectively. After eight years of eating Amy’s soy pizzas, tofu, miso, veggies, and bulgur burgers and whatever food the local health food store cooked up that day, my parents saw that macro was still too micro in the mainstream food world for us to continue to function without them attempting to cook on daily basis. Little by little, skim milk began to replace soymilk, turkey replaced tempeh, and cheese, the chard. I also ate my first hot dog (and promptly threw it up). Things only got worse from there.

Take-out menus replaced the Macrobiotic Living cookbook and candy suddenly appeared. Our waistlines also grew and so did the battle to keep them down without having to resort back to the granola-crunching lifestyle. Cooking a meal was only something we did when company came. Any other time, we went out to eat or ordered take-out. When I went off to college — ironically situated in the same town as the famed vegetarian restaurant, Moosewood — I thought such things were normal, only to discover in my first month away that people would reminisce about what foods their parents (mainly their moms) cooked. “Her tuna casserole,” “My dad’s fish tacos,” “My mother’s steak and pomme frites.” They turned to me. “My mom’s take-out menus,” I said, only half kidding.

While in college, I had a housemate who cooked and baked everything from scratch. One day she told me she was going to make a chocolate cake. “But we don’t have cake mix,” I informed her. She looked at me like I was crazy. “I don’t need cake mix,” she said. I quietly wondered just how she was going to accomplish this without a mix. It never occurred to me that one could make a cake with flour, sugar, milk and eggs. I sheepishly watched as she measured, poured, whisked, and baked. All she had to do was follow the recipe and liquids became solids (and vise versa). It felt a bit like watching a magician perform an illusion that you know has a logical answer, but you just can’t wrap your mind around it.
Fascinated by this whole process, I discovered cooking shows like Jamie’s The Naked Chef and Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Bites. Until then, I never realized that the act of cooking itself could be so full of pleasure. A type of creation, better yet, a creation that can be celebrated and nourish family & friends.

I began to buy Jamie’s cookbooks, and those of Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers and then branched out to The Silver Spoon, Molecular Gastronomy and even back to my old organic roots and on American soil, with recipes from both Alice Waters and The Moosewood Restaurant. I made every recipe and read the cookbooks like they were novels, until I realized there was a whole genre of books about food and cooking like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. All of these books became my teachers, and their authors, my culinary mentors. Each one of them taught me to embrace cooking and food in a way I never witnessed growing up: with conviction, love, joy, and absolute fearlessness.

About the author: Ashley Van Buren is a New York based writer and blogger. Ashley is our new US web editor – she will ensuring that our site is relevant for our US audience and members.