Are our life interests pre-determined or do we seek them out? When I think about my strong passion for food, I feel like it was meant to be. It’s just me. Growing up in the household that I have, I’d be extremely surprised if I found myself gravitating towards any other hobby quite as strongly. I have a long history of (home) cooks in the family, boxes and folders stuffed with faded, handwritten recipes to show for it. I can’t get enough of it.
I’ve always held a curiosity for my ancestry and often find myself asking my mom or dad questions about relatives, sparked by miscellaneous thoughts. While I’m always looking to learn more about my international identity or how my family came to be, I find myself far more interested in hearing about family members I never had the chance to meet or even my interactions with them at a young age. It should come as no surprise that a majority of stories that surface involve the kitchen, culinary favorites or disasters, or both.
I suppose it all starts with my grandmothers. My paternal grandma could always be found in the kitchen baking something, most notably the traditional Lawson family Christmas cookies. She loved trying out new recipes, as well as cooking the comforting meals and treats she knew her family and friends loved the most. Grandma Vivian’s recipes were passed around all over the place, until finally compiled into a spiral-bound, personalized cookbook for all to enjoy. Viv’s Recipes features a number of classics and all-time favorites people remember her by, including Nancy Robinson Casserole -a must-share recipe- (in due time my friends), Canlis Salad and He-Man Chocolate Cookies. Every time I’m cooking, baking or eating one of her recipes and realize the influence it’s had across so many generations, I desperately wish I was able to remember the time I spent with her, however brief it was. Unfortunately she died when I was two-years-old and to this day, I think her recipes and my family’s stories serve as the strongest and most loving ties I have to her. Do I plan to cook and bake all of her recipes we have? I hope I can make it a mission one day.
Similarly, my maternal grandma died well before my time and it saddens me to think of everything I missed out on not knowing her. My mom tells stories of growing up on a farm in rural Klamath Falls, Oregon. Rustic home cooked meals complete with whole milk fresh from the cows, loaves of bread made from scratch and butter made directly from cream separated from the cow’s milk. They always had some variety of produce on hand, whether it was a stock of canned green beans stored in the cupboard or fresh corn and berries picked straight from the garden in their backyard. To top it off, home grown beef and chicken usually held a permanent position in the freezer. You might say the Reppe clan was on to the organic cooking theme before it became a fad.
It goes without saying that my maternal grandmother and her culinary tendencies had a tremendous impact on my mom as she grew up. I’m grateful for it each and every day, quite possibly more so as I grow older and realize how big of a role it’s played in shaping who I am. I’ve grown up with a home cooked meal on the table every night, carefully thought out birthday cakes made from scratch every year and holiday or special occasion-driven menus transformed into delicious, memory-filled feasts to cherish forever. I have vivid memories of my dad baking his mom’s German Pancakes (an all-time favorite) for many breakfasts, meticulously following each step of the recipe so as to ensure they turned out just like grandma’s. Today it’s clear this special touch has rubbed off not only on me, but my siblings as well. Whether it be cooking, baking, decorating or recipe hunting/testing, we all enjoy our time spent in the kitchen and sharing our concoctions with each other. In fact, the trend started early, as I’m told all four of us kids eagerly pulled up a chair next to mom to help her cook, overjoyed with any task she gave us.
[spoiler alert] …. Things could get cheesy.
I love the creativity involved with cooking and baking: an empty pan is like a blank canvas awaiting a masterpiece…or something like that. I love looking at a pile of carefully sought out ingredients, only to realize that in just a short while their combination will produce an entirely new and unique product. While I enjoy the freedom and peace involved with food, I find greater joy in the love it holds and all that it represents.
Baking a batch of your best chocolate chip cookie recipe for a friend, will always be a strong reminder of the love you have for them and the special part they play in your life. Both my grandmothers’ and mother’s memorable kitchen ways and recipes are the strongest of loves that get passed down for years and years. I like to think that my adorable two-and-a-half-year-old nephew, Jack, (did I mention he’s as cute as can be?) has caught the food bug – no … not a bad one – early as he now pulls a chair up to the counter in the kitchen to help cook, following in his daddy’s footsteps.
People often say food brings people together. It does. It also helps spread the love.
Well now that I’ve written a chapter, I think it best to wrap up. So, in short: food is love. I am food.