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I'm a California girl who has been transplanted in rainy Washington state since about 2005. Though I'm one of those "over-educated" academics, I've been a stay-at-home wife for the last few years - working at remodeling our fixer-upper house, creating a garden in the unkempt surrounding property and supporting my partner's demanding IT job.
I've loved cooking since I was a child, spending time with my grandmothers, aunties and sometimes my own mother (she was a businesswoman, not a domestic bone in her body!) in the kitchen, over the stove or cutting boards, learning through observation and experience. Even now, when I'm in my small kitchen alone, I feel like I'm a part of that tradition, preparing some of the same foods, using skill and love to try to transform mere sustenance into something nourishing and enjoyable for my family.
Speaking of family and those for whom I cook, right now I live with my partner and my parents, who moved up here onto our property after being laid off (which, yeah, I guess it makes sense for a company's bottom line to "let go" of employees with seniority who are close to retirement, but I can't imagine how soulless you'd have to be to sign off on that). I guess I'm sort of lucky in that I don't have kids' finicky eating preferences to take into account, but having four full-fledged adults with their own quirks and dietary restrictions makes for a challenge regardless. We also share our property with five (!) indoor cats, and a few more outdoors that wander through our gardens and try to avoid catching our attention (especially once we've got the hose in hand). We all have our own strengths and interests: my mother is a social butterfly and passionate about socio-political justice; my father is a musician and at his happiest either playing piano or digging in the dirt. My partner is a technological whiz, can type a million words a minute but whose handwriting is illegible; I'm artsy, I guess, and I like being creative and risky with my writing, painting, drawing, decorating, and yes, cooking.
I think it'd be easier for me to list foods I don't like, instead of ones I do! I'm willing (and excited!) to try almost anything, and I've been this way for a long, long, long time. I was one of those kids who would have olives, not chips, or extra sharp cheddar cheese instead of bland string cheese in her lunchbox... you can guess how wildly unpopular I was!
In terms of dislikes, I've only got one big one: eggs. They're fine mixed well into things (e.g. cake, latkes), and I'm sometimes okay with small quantities of them in strongly flavored food (e.g. hot and sour soup), but something in my tastebuds just can't get over the sulfur-like aura or texture of egg dishes... I wish I liked them, or could at least tolerate them, because I know I'm a pain (and hungry!) at brunches and breakfasts.
I'm not good at really bragging, but I will say that I've gotten to be pretty capable in the kitchen, producing more hits than misses. (Though I figure if I'm not missing every once in a while, I'm not trying enough new things!) My absolute favorite compliment (overheard, like the best ones are!) was from an old old family friend who's known me since before I was even a twinkle in my parents' eyes. "Damn," he said to my mom after eating off the huge spread I'd made for a party, "How'd the girl learn to burn!?!" Not overly descriptive, maybe, but enthusiastic and honest... still makes me a little proud to think of it.
If you asked my family/friends what dishes of mine they like best, the answers are all over the place. I "mastered" desserts first: a french apple tart, upside-down nectarine cake, brownies, traditional chocolate truffles (excellent for winning over your in-laws!), fruit pies/cobblers/sauces all summer. In the long, rainy winters, I bake like it's going out of style, and though I'm personally more fond of yeasty, herb-filled breads, I get a lot of requests for sweet breads, sticky buns, scones, etc. I do soup a lot, especially a tomato-veggie, clean-out-the-fridge sort of deal, and I've also gotten down a couple of good cold-weather crock-pot meals - a cider-onion pork chop in gravy, and beef stew with a splash of red wine.
In the interest of full disclosure, I can't fry to save my life, which I blame on being raised in the Bay Area (read: sprouts and tofu) rather than with my cousins in the deep south. Nonetheless, I'm unashamed of using shortcuts (condensed cream of whatever and a couple boxes of ms. betty crocker's finest are always in my pantry). I'll also confess that I'm somewhat incapable of following a recipe exactly... I'm always adding an extra pinch of something or eyeballing instead of measuring (on the plus side, it means I almost never give negative reviews, since I'm willing to assume something I don't like was my own fault... on the down side, it means that when I do stumble onto something great, I hardly ever know exactly what I did). Somewhat surprisingly, particularly given my partner is a gadget geek, I don't use/have a food processor, electric or stand mixer... I've got good solid spoons, sharp knives and pioneer-woman arm muscles instead.