“I really wanna know…who are you?”

When I was a kid, cooking involved a lot of convenience foods. I’ve alluded to using Jiffy mixes for cakes or brownies, mostly, and the occasional dish of cornbread. I also made a lot of baked potatoes in the toaster oven (I don’t recall what that bun was for in the above picture, as that was my sister’s doing). I vaguely remember the first time my mom let me help bake with her. It was over Easter break when I was in 3rd grade, and lucky me & my sister, we had chicken pox. I do believe my mom has pictures of the event, and it was either brownies or chocolate chip cookies we made. I don’t fully remember. Either way, it ignited my love for baking. I also still remember the first time I made a cake & frosting from scratch using recipes in my mom’s Better Homes & Gardens cookbook–A hot-milk sponge cake with some sort of chocolate frosting. I remember it because my mom occasionally still brings up how good it tasted, because it was the first time I scoured the cookbook looking for something I could make with ingredients we actually had in the house, and because I wanted to do something beyond the boxed Jiffy mixes. Nowadays, Jay likes it when I start grumbling about wanting cake or cookies… Usually it means I rummage around the pantry until I come up with enough ingredients for something sweet (it almost always ends up being cake for some reason), and then he & the bambino get to enjoy a homemade baked good while I satisfy my sweet tooth.

I know Jay will disagree with me, but I think I am a better baker than I am a cook. For years, I used to blame our stoves for my inability to fry a burger or pork chop without charring the outside & leaving the inside blood-red. When we moved into a house with a gas stove (I was a freshman in college), I flipped, because I already didn’t know how to cook–We’d grown up with electric stoves, and my mom had to reassure me that gas stoves were better. I now agree. When my sister Kendra & I got our first apartment, we made sure we had a gas stove. Maybe it’s due to electric ranges being a little better-made these days, or maybe I actually know what I’m doing (for the most part) in the kitchen, but I can now fry pork chops with just a little carbon-scoring on the outside, and plenty of non-blood-red juice on the inside.

The hardest thing for me about cooking is pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I was and still am an incredibly picky eater. I’ve said many times that there are about 4 vegetables I’ll eat without complaint–Tomatoes, zucchini, salad greens, and squash. Throw in corn & potatoes (which, I know, potatoes are a starch, and corn is technically a grain), and that’s 6. My mom would always try to get us to eat canned peas, which I loathe, and no matter how many times he tries to convince me otherwise, I do not believe my father-in-law when he says frozen peas are MUCH better. But I have tried. I made some green beans, I ate a few, and I did not hate them. I’ve tried yucca (which was gross & pasty), and plantains (they were okay). I add carrots to my pot roasts because Jay & the bambino like them. I add carrots, onions, & celery to my tomato soup, because as long as they are puréed into oblivion, I don’t know they’re in there, and therefore I will eat them.

I’m the same way when it comes to meat–The only meat other than pork, chicken or beef that I would willingly bring into my house is buffalo, something I first tried when I came to South Dakota. I’m not big on seafood or fish, although when Jay & I went to South Padre Island a few years ago, I ate it almost every night we were there. There’s a huge difference when you eat things close to the source. I have tried fried calamari (I think it tastes like crispy rubber bands), lamb (which I don’t particularly care for, although maybe I’ve just never had good lamb), and goose (too gamey).

And while I feel I’ve come a long way from the picture above, I know I’ve got a long way to go. I’ve demonstrated that I am more than capable of making homemade French fries:

But more often than not, my shortcut involves Ore-Ida:

Most of my successes in the kitchen are things I’ve made hundreds of times, and my failures come from things I’ve tried for the first time. But at least I’m trying. And with some tweaking, maybe I can turn those failures around. It’s the same with my photography. I got my first camera for my 6th birthday. I’ve come a long way since then, too (and since most of those photos involve family and are either packed away or lost, we’ll just pretend they no longer exist)! Photography has been an extension of my self-expression for so long, it’s impossible to give up. Writing is as much a part of me as eating, cooking or taking pictures. I wrote my first story around age 4, and I’ve kept a paper journal since I was 8. I’ve had an online journal or blog in some form or another since 1996.  In a way, food blogging is a natural progression for me, although I started photographing food as sort of a joke between my mom, sister & I.

My entrance into the Project Food Blog Challenge is stepping outside my comfort zone, in a big way. I’m not a competitive person by any means, but I am prepared to dig deep and push myself to the end! Hard work doesn’t scare me, even if a lot of foods do!