The kitchen has always been an important part of life, and family; family gathered in the kitchen, good things came from the kitchen. I grew up in the kitchen- and started in it at a young age.
I remember when we were little, my mother always had my sister and I in the kitchen.- sometimes begrudgingly, but usually intentionally. At least for a while, anyways. Once we got older she’d routinely kick us out of it… But before she finally started kicking us out, she imparted a lot of recipes to us. And it’s these memories that are still some of the best from my childhood- and I even have many of the cookbooks I cooked out of as a kid, too- given to me as gifts when I got my first house.
She taught us to make the perfect Thanksgiving turkey and the most delicious Christmas hams. She baked cookies and cakes with us. We learned simple things like Ramen Noodles, Pork Chops, Grilled Cheese, and more. And we learned the more complex stuff, too; even if we’re no longer on good terms after years of abuse, I can’t deny that it’s from her that I got my passion for cooking- and my need to seek out recipes, and try new things.
That hasn’t changed as an adult, either, despite dealing with a severe case of Gastritis that feels like it’ll never go away; today my kitchen is a holy place for me, and cooking is sacred.
Every entrance into the kitchen, every cup of tea poured, stew made, or bread loaf baked is something that is worthy of pomp and celebration… Every act of cooking is, in itself, an entire ritual from start to finish- beginning with the laying of ingredients, and ending when our bellies are good and stuffed, the leftovers have been placed away, and the dishes done.
I am, at the very core of my nature, a woman whose place is in that room; my language of love is service, but I like to joke that it’s really food because the kitchen (any kitchen really) is the root of who I am. I am tied to it as much as I am tied to myself.
I wouldn’t have it any other way, either; As Susan of Wild Yeast writes:
It’s about a process that engages and satisfies every single one of my senses […] And if I’m being honest, it’s about being able to look at something well-crafted, delicious, just plain necessary, and be proud that I made it […] To create a place to park my thoughts and observations, successes and failures, to clarify and organize them for myself.
Food, in general, forms an undeniable cornerstone of nearly every culture on the planet. It’s one of the major ways in which we as a species connect to one another- and for good reason.
It can bring people together- be it family, friends, or complete strangers; it can heal heartache. It can bring happiness and joy. It can comfort the sad, and nourish (and even heal) the sick. It can bridge cultural divides and language barriers… And perhaps most importantly: No matter who you are, or what your skill level is, there’s always a place for you there- and usually it’s where I am.
On most days you can find me in the kitchen making Tea, at the very least. It’s a relaxing and near meditative process for me to bring the water to temperature, season a teapot, and put together a full service- little Tea Sandwiches occasionally included… But this post isn’t about Tea. That bit comes later.
No, this post is about something else… It’s about the true spotlight of my kitchen: Fresh Bread… And bread, perhaps a bit like Bacon (in my opinion at least), is arguably the most fundamental staple of foodstuff the world over; an unequivocal cornerstone of life.
My adopted mother, a Seminole woman I love dearly, made frybread occasionally for holidays and get togethers- like when a High School friend went off to Acting College in New York… Hell, even my biological mother made bread occasionally, whenever she could remember she even owned a bread machine in the first place.
It was always a highlight when they did, but it was more a special treat. As a result, I didn’t have fresh bread very often growing up… So, like a lot of people, as an adult I thought breadmaking was just too difficult and time consuming to bother learning.
Living in Tulsa with my abusive ex-boyfriend, however, I got into breadmaking; I had to find something to fill my time home alone all day, and was making a concentrated daily effort to eat healthier and work out often. Breadmaking fit into that nicely… In doing so, I discovered it’s actually quite easy- and since then it’s become a staple in several areas.
Indian Tacos on Fresh Frybread. Pan cooked flatbread with Curry. The occasional Bacon and Cheddar Round Loaf. Indian Meat pies- also made with fresh Frybread. Rosemary bread. Fruit breads. Frybread with Butter and Honey. A good white loaf. Occasionally even Sourdough when I remember to start (and feed) a culture. Garlic and Herb rolls for Thanksgiving… Now these things are all common staples at my table.
The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight.
I may not be the best breadmaker… Hell, I might not even be a good one. But I make it a lot in my house; like with Tea, it’s is a meditative process for me.
Whether it’s a modern recipe, or one from thousands of years ago, it feels good to get my hands dirty… To make something with such a long and intriguing, but ever changing history- one which stretches back to the dawn of human culture, predating both agriculture and sedentary human civilization entirely.