Forgive me for the cliché, but food, specifically eating and cooking it, has been an integral part of my life. Not just because it has sustained me, but because I truly think that it’s made me who I am today. My family revolves around food. Vacations, holidays, afternoons together, they’re all planned around what and where we’ll be eating. On birthdays, the most special part is getting to plan out your dream day of food, from breakfast to dessert and everything in between. I’m much younger than my siblings, and because of this, I was spoiled by fancy restaurants that my more mature family members brought me along to. I used to go to the nicest restaurant in town with my dad for lunch some days, dressed in a bright pink tutu and tiara. I always ordered the hamburger.
My family definitely ate out a lot, but there was plenty of cooking going on, too. I started baking, usually with my grandmother, when I was young. She’s not much of a cook (and readily admits to that) so we’d typically make things from a box. I liked dessert, but I mostly loved baking for the batter. I used to say that when I grew up, I wanted to be a human dishwasher at a bakery so that I could clean the bowls and eat all of the batters. Eventually, I became interested in cooking savory foods, too. I realized that the best way to have a say in what we ate for dinner was to offer to help make it.
Eating in my life can be divided into two periods: before I became a vegetarian, and after (which was in 2015). My motivations for doing this are disappointingly dull; I was bored and didn’t particularly like turkey, so the day before Thanksgiving I decided to give up meat. I’ve since educated myself on the subject and now continue to abstain from meat for environmental reasons. However, I now occasionally eat fish when I am eating out.
Because of this change in my diet, a lot of meals from my childhood are no longer readily available to me. However, instead of giving up all hope of ever feeling nostalgia ever again, I’ve learned to adapt the recipes. I’ve found that it’s usually easy to make even the most seemingly meat-dependent recipes vegetarian-friendly, partly in thanks to all of the meat substitutes on the market now. From a cooking standpoint, it makes the process more adventurous and more rewarding, especially when a carnivore approves of your revamped dish. This is why a lot of the savory recipes in this cookbook appear meat-based but include ways to be made vegetarian.
Sweets, however, have been a staple throughout my life, transcending both periods. As I said, I got my start in the kitchen making dessert, but I’ve graduated from boxed mixes to from-scratch creations. In a savory-focused family, I am to point person for all things sweet. I make all the birthday cakes (including my own), and I’m always in charge of dessert for any family gathering. If I find a recipe that I like, I tend to stick with it, so most of the dessert recipes in this cookbook are ones that I’ve made countless times. I love that desserts are meant to be enjoyed – they’re not consumed for health or satiety, they’re consumed just because they taste delicious. They’re also usually batch-cooked and therefore meant to be shared. To me, baking is a way of showing others that you love them.
I chose these 15 recipes very carefully. I knew I wanted to choose things that I’d eaten before and that had strong, happy memories attached to them. I’ve eaten lot of different foods in my lifetime, so it was hard nailing down staples from my childhood, but looking at the list I feel like I’ve captured the full spectrum of my eating and how it’s changed over the years. There are carefree childhood meals like mac and cheese and pancakes, as well as recipes that have more functionality, either for health or for a budget, from when I got older. They capture the story of me growing up, expanding my palate and my cooking skills, and learning what it’s like to live on your own and cook for yourself and a loved one. They capture my shift to a more conscientious form of eating by way of vegetarianism, and they also show that I really haven’t grown out of my sweet tooth. The recipes are ordered roughly by when I first remember them, or when I came to enjoy them in the form they’re described in the cookbook.
I think that the most important connective thread between these recipes is quite simple. If I had to eat just 15 foods for the rest of my life, these would be it. In doing so, I wouldn’t just get by, but I truly think I’d be happy waking up every day knowing I was going to eat foods that would take me back to some of the happiest times of my life.
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