Cooking Lessons as Life Lessons

Yesterday I had the chance to attend the DC Metropolitan Cooking Show with my friend Julia. She loves being in the kitchen and cooking beloved family Italian recipes as much as I love my Cajun food.

As we sat and listened to Giada De Laurentiis and then Gail Simmons and Tom Colicchio, we noticed that their tips for the kitchen could also be applied as life lessons…and we both were waxing nostalgic about our years growing up at the stove hanging on every word of our parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. As traditional family cooking goes, Julia and I have it covered. So many of my best memories are of watching my grandfather make pralines, my uncle cook a big pot of gumbo, or my mom making her shrimp and corn soup.

I was just in Louisiana for a family wedding, and I loved sitting around hearing stories (again) from my aunts and uncles about growing up on a farm, and how my grandfather would make sure that any guy that wanted to date his daughters had to also show up at the crack of dawn to pick peppers and corn. And then there was the story about my grandmother, who cooked so many things so well, had no idea how to do a pot roast right until she visited one of her daughters’ homes years later.

For me, one of the very first things I learned was how to make a roux. Equal parts flour and oil go into the pot, and the cardinal rule is to keep stirring, and to never, ever walk away. If you turn your back for a second, you could burn it and you have to start over. The golden brown roux is a foundation for a great Cajun meal, whether it’s gumbo or red beans and rice. I’ve written before about how making a gumbo can be like making your life — you have the foundation (family, work, friends), then you add the Holy Trinity (hobbies, activities), and then you add in meat and seasoning and all the other elements to make a delicious meal…or the life that tastes just right. I wanted to know what other pieces of wisdom and advice people heard in the kitchen over the years — some were strictly about cooking, some were funny, and others could be applied to life if you think about it in a certain way. Have others? Add them in the comments.

When cooking meat, take it off the heat few minutes early to let it rest and finish cooking. – Giada De Laurentiis

When I travel, I go to the local grocery stores. Travel is the best way to get out of yourself. – Gail Simmons

A pint’s a pound the world around. 

How to tell when oil is ready – tilt/rock the pan gently back and forth so the light reflects off the oil…it should start to shimmer when it’s the right temperature.

Always wear an apron. Especially if you’re not wearing clothes. 

A recipe is just a suggestion.

Per my Grandma: Baking is like chemistry. Don’t fudge the measurements.

Don’t cook with wine/liqueur/beer you wouldn’t want to drink on it’s own.

The more you spill, the less cookies they’re gonna be.

The safest knife is the one that’s most comfortable in your hand, not necessarily the most expensive.

Wrap cake pans with damp towel.. It will help it rise. And don’t play with matches.

One potato for each person, and an extra for the pot.

Clean as you go.

It’s not a diet…it’s a lifestyle.

Photo credit: Nickshell.com

In 26 years, I’ve never done a diet, until the last two weeks. I never tried Slim Fast, Weight Watchers, Atkins, fasting, you name it. Although at times I’ve wanted to lose a few pounds or tone up to fit some pants more comfortably, dieting hasn’t just been my style — I prefer eating more healthfully and working out.

But when a friend on my Costa Rica trip told me about how South Beach had worked for her, another friend and I decided to test it out when we got home. No carbs, no sweets, no fruit, no alcohol…how hard could it be? Again for me, it wasn’t about the weight. I set a 5 lb. loss goal, but the real goal was to get me out of the rut I had gotten into before my vacation, eating too much bar food, drinking too many beers in a week. Those who know me know that I cook healthy food at home, and work out several times a week. But we all get into a rut, and I’ve been in mine. So the overall goal was to kickstart me getting back into a good routine, and to make me more aware of what I was eating. Not as many “real things” as DC health and fitness guru Chad Hamilton might say.

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