Accidental Cook

avocadosaladI’ve always had a weird relationship with cooking. When I was a kid, there wasn’t much of a fuss about meals; the only thing I can really remember my mom spending much time preparing for us was pinto beans. These were a staple in my house, and I remember sitting with her while she sorted through the bags of cheap beans she bought because they’d be full of teeny little rocks that we needed to clean out so they wouldn’t break our teeth. Sadly, I hated pinto beans as a kid, so I hated the process of cleaning the beans.

The rest of our meals were made fast and cheap, with my mom – who was usually either working full time or going to school full time – choosing the meals that were easy to make and fast.

My grandmother cooked, but I didn’t see her very often and with the exception of Christmas dinner I can’t remember anything about what she cooked, which is odd. I can picture the kitchen clear as day, and I remember how she made my grandfather liverwurst sandwiches for lunch with the carefully arranged single leaf of lettuce with a pickle on it.

But I’ve always liked cooking. In my very early twenties, I cooked for my roommate and myself pretty regularly, until the urge to go to the bar was stronger than the urge to cook (then my dinners descended into eating a bag of pretzels at the bar). Once I got sober I had a brief phase where we did all our shopping at Whole Foods (at the time it was our local store and we had what felt like a ton of money since we didn’t spend it all on booze and drugs) and I cooked all the time. But then I started seeing a nutritionist and I wasn’t eating the same stuff that Charlie wanted to eat, and that coupled with the fact that I was working odd hours and didn’t eat dinner until 10pm most days meant that cooking virtually disappeared from our lives.

Remember last fall when I announced we were giving up family dinner? Yeah, about that. That totally didn’t work out for our family. Silly me. :) Instead, as part of my continued emphasis on healthy eating and living, I’ve gone the totally opposite direction and am now full on cooking at least four nights a week (the rest of the nights Charlie and my mom each take turns cooking unless we break down and get something from the Chipolte that opened up nearby), and making a meal plan and doing careful grocery shopping. You know, like a boss. Heh.

So I’ve been exploring some new recipes and getting brave. I even finally invested in a real iron skillet and I won a good knife that really works (how much easier is cooking when you have a good knife, am I right?) from a friend’s blog. I’ve successfully made what Charlie calls “restaurant quality” meals such as Chicken Tikka Masala (kind of a pain, but delish), shrimp curry, chicken stuffed with goat cheese and sun dried tomatoes (in that recipe I replaced the basil with the tomatoes). There were a bunch of less successful dinners too, but I’m learning as I go. We have some issues that I haven’t quite figured out how to resolve; my mother and I love salmon and steak, for instance, but Charlie doesn’t, so we have to find a workaround without me cooking two dinners.

I remember hearing Michael Pollan being interviewed on NPR and saying how important it is to do most of your grocery shopping on the outside aisles of the grocery store, from the produce section, eggs and dairy, and meat. I’ve become that person, for the most part (Tori still loves the crappy mac and cheese, so we go into the center aisles sometimes, plus the taco shells are there). I’m not sure we follow his main suggestion (“eat food, not too much, mostly plants”), but we’re getting there.

I will say this: one of the reasons cooking and grocery shopping has become easier is because I’ve gotten better at managing my time. I’ve been spending far, far less time on social media lately. I’ve found myself shutting down Twitter during the day while I work, and I have an alert that tells me when I spend more than an hour on Facebook each day (yes, I need an alert, heh). This means that I’m getting my work done more quickly (and frankly, it’s better work) so I’ve had time to do that cooking – and even better, I’m not working in the evenings any more. In fact, I haven’t even unhooked my laptop from my dual monitor system at my desk in the evenings; if I want to get online I just my phone or the iPad mini my friends bought me for my birthday. More and more, I’m doing just one thing at a time. It’s lovely.

It’s funny, isn’t it, how this stuff dominoes? You start making the decision to take care of yourself in one area, and then it spreads throughout your life. I don’t know if this phase will last forever, but hey: I’m happy now, and our family is working.

This post is a long, long road to saying this: I might start sharing my attempts at cooking here when I try new recipes. I hope you’ll find them enjoyable and I’ll attempt to make it entertaining. Don’t expect anything like those other cooking blogs; my photos will suck and there will probably be cursing. Because it’s still me.

Anyway, thanks for reading. And I’m off to start cleaning up the yard. Hell yeah.



Comments Closed


  1. says

    I think that sounds wonderful. We try to cook at home as often as possible, and the highest compliment I can get from my kids is, “That tastes like something grandma would make!” This summer my goal is to get all of my kids feeling more competent and comfortable making things in the kitchen. The 11 year old can make dinner, but the 9 and 6 year olds need some lessons. They like using new vegetables from the farm share (who knew they would eat turnips?) and cooking together is real quality time.

    • Cecily Kellogg says

      Ha! Nope. The holly tree has been shedding old leaves and they needed raking. Nice of you to keep track of my yard, though!

  2. says

    Definitely like a boss!!!

    I once made my daughter mac and cheese from scratch and apparently I did it wrong because it didn’t come from a blue box – henceforth, she only got mac’n’cheese wherever people were willing to indulge her blue box issue (and that wasn’t me).

    Oh – and we would love to cook Pinto Beans over here but can’t find the beggars for love nor money.

    • Cecily Kellogg says

      Ha! Tori is the same way, although she does like the mac and cheese Whole Foods makes. LOL.

      Really weird you can’t get pinto beans! Huh.

  3. Ebby Thatcher says

    Why not feed your daughter real food instead of junk? I’m genuinely curious. As someone whose parents raised her on boxed crap, fast food, and whatever was cheap and required no effort from them, I have often wondered why they thought it was acceptable to feed me like that, setting me up for a lifetime of food issues. I certainly needed parents to teach me how to eat well.

    • Cecily Kellogg says

      It’s a good question. We actually work hard to have Tori enjoy a variety of foods, but we also try to strike a balance with what she likes. I try hard to let her choose what she eats without too much pressure from us in any direction, but we make sure she gets plenty of good stuff too. My goal is to just prevent her from having any particular emotional attachments to food, good or bad.

      • Ebby Thatcher says

        How does that play out in practice? I’m sure the moms here could use some tips from what works for you.

        Also, do you think she has picked up on how you and your husband choose to eat?


      • Shandra says

        “My goal is to just prevent her from having any particular emotional attachments to food, good or bad.”

        I grew up in a home with a lot of disordered eating, waffling wildly between years of toasted soy nuts and carob, and years of Hamburger Helper and McD’s, and where every emotional crisis came with reams of ice cream and chocolate. So I totally get that.

        Personally though I do think it is just plain human to have attachments to food. We remember meals, we have food traditions and rituals, sharing food is the basis of hospitality.

        Part of what I have tried to do as a parent is give my kids opportunity to have those cool attached moments to foods I consider wholesome. I’m not into banning carbs so that can be fresh bread with pea soup, or whatever. Otherwise I figure their “significant moments” will mostly be out of the house with parties and other families’ traditions.

        Just a bit of a response to your statement there Cecily. I do get what you mean.

        We do a lot of good food stuff – organic farm veggie delivery; we make the majority of our food from scratch. And then occasionally we have the blue box. No biggie.

        • Cecily Kellogg says

          Good point; Tori does love certain foods (like mashed potatoes) that I make from scratch, and while I might be slowing down the carbs Tori is under no such restriction, of course. And boy, she LOVES fresh bread. Which reminds me: time to look for some good carrot/banana/zucchini bread recipes that are gluten free!

  4. Kandi says

    Delurking to suggest you check out a blog I follow called Smitten Kitchen. Lots of awesome recipes, and even a randomizer if you want to be surprised with recipes. I don’t usually cook strictly by recipes, but I’ve gotten some great ideas there. Good luck with your adventures in culinary experimentation. ;-)

  5. Jane says

    My children love homemade mac & cheese. They have never had the blue box–what is so special about the blue box version?

  6. alyssa says

    oh, the self righteous… their kids don’t eat junk, ever, they’re all good eaters. yadda yadda yadda. i call bullshit. i’ve yet to find a child who hasn’t loved “packaged” something or other unless his/her parents never let them eat from anything from their own kitchen. i know one mother whose son ask for brown rice, loves brown rice, because she never taught him about other rice… how long will that last? i can’t stand it when people need to feel taller by stepping on you.

    also, salmon… does charlie like other fish? because you can do fish in aluminum packets in the oven, and eat packet has its own seasonings. i’m the only non-meat eating person in a family of carnivores; they got chicken in a packet, i got fish. win/win.

    • Kelly says

      My kids don’t eat junk because I don’t buy it–too expensive, I don’t know what the ingredients are, and I’d rather not. The brown rice kid can eat the white stuff when he grows up. I don’t understand why someone choosing to not eat Hamburger Helper or whatever makes them self-righteous.

      • Cecily Kellogg says

        It’s funny; some of the things Tori likes best are healthy – such as seaweed snacks (I know, right?) but those kinds of treats are whoppingly expensive. So frustrating. And Kelly, I personally don’t do hamburger helper but not because I think it’s evil, I just don’t like it. At all.

  7. SarahF-T says

    Why so smug? It was your husband who posted a few weeks ago about the citation you got for your unkempt lawn. You and Charlie — not I — choose to reveal these unsavory details about yourselves, so why are you bitchy when I asked a question?

    • pindy4176 says

      If your question was not asked in good-natured humor, there is no noble motive for your having asked it.

      As such, one wonders what sort of answer you would have found appropriate.

    • Cecily Kellogg says

      I was smug? I guess joking about getting a notice to cut our lawn doesn’t seem to be particularly “unsavory” to me. Make of that what you will, I guess.

      • SarahF-T says

        Whatever, Cecily. You’re the one who, a while back, posted photos of your house looking like a pigsty and said your side yard was full of garbage. If you think that your neighbors complaining about the sight of your house to the point of you getting a citation is not unsavory, that’s sad. I know you & Charlie think you are radical, nonconformist badasses, but if I was your fellow tax-paying neighbor, I would call you a slob.

        • Cecily Kellogg says

          What’s interesting to me, Sarah, is that you aren’t my neighbor so you are not forced to live next to the horror you think my house is (based on a few photos showing typical kid mess, for the record) – yet for some reason you choose to come here and be my digital neighbor, even though it clearly makes you upset and miserable. Why is that, you think?

          I suffer from no delusions of being badass. I’m an overweight middle aged woman living in the suburbs, living with my mom, and driving a minivan. But I also don’t think that the condition of a person’s lawn reflects on their morality. Amusingly enough, btw, the neighbors in the twin next to us got the same citation. We just both hadn’t started mowing for the season yet. That doesn’t make us assholes.

    • Aina says

      Sarah F-T, I didn’t find Cecily’s answer smug or prickly at all – just a jovial response to your initial question, which sounded jovial to me. And also, in these days, citations for lawns can mean many things. For example, in Michigan, where we live, growing native plants on your lawn was considered unkempt just a few years ago, whereas now, city council recognizes the value of growing these kinds of plants, since they require less water and are able to more easily survive – i.e. stay green! – in times of drought.

  8. says

    That’s awesome! In my experience, the more you cook, the more you cook ;) It gets easier and faster too. I have a master grocery list with a weekly menu on it that makes the shopping less stressful.

    My husband is a picky eater too, so if I plan a meal he’s not going to like, he grills up some chicken for himself so I don’t have to make two dinners.

    Good luck with it!

    • Cecily Kellogg says

      Oh, interesting. We are finding our work arounds, and yes, that master list is very helpful.

  9. Tine says

    I love it when real people talk real food. Can’t stand the unachievable foodie-type food blogs. So go for it! If you share your ideas, I’ll share mine too. :)

    Have you ever read the blog BrokeAss Gourmet? It’s an excellent source for really tasty but inexpensive cooking ideas. The author, Gabi, seems to be taking a bit of a break right now, but her archives are crammed with recipes. Take a stroll through them; I bet you’ll find a lot of things you’ll want to try.

  10. pindy4176 says

    Start with the recipe for the beautiful salad in the photo! Only leave out the soap–I mean, cilantro. ;-)

    (Am I the only person who thinks cilantro tastes soapy?)

    • Cecily Kellogg says

      Nope! Dresden often says that. It’s apparently an allergy – if cilantro tastes like soap to you, you’re allergic. :)

      It’s just avocados, tomatoes, onion, lime juice, salt, and cilantro. :D Like unmashed guacamole. :)

      • Kristin says

        Yep — apparently people are either wired to like cilantro, or it tastes like soap to them. (I like it; my mom can’t eat it.) There’s not much of a middle ground there. I hadn’t heard it was an allergy (I’d thought it was more of a genetic tasting/non-tasting thing), but whatever the cause, it’s definitely a Real Thing. =)

    • Dresden says

      Pindy! YOU ARE NOT ALONE!!!!!

      If I eat cilantro the insides of my mouth begin to itch and I get a total upset gut. Plus there’s that dish soap taste. Ugh!!!

  11. says

    In our house, our version of the work-around is to tell whomever is complaining, “This is supper. There is the fridge. Feel free to find something else, if you’d like.”

  12. says

    Cecily, my husband loves steak but I frequently am not in the mood for it, he solves this by keeping a supply of grilled chicken breast in the freezer. The chicken is also great for whipping up quick salads & sandwiches on busy evenings.

  13. says

    Grocery shopping is what kills my diet and cooking. With four kids trucking along, I grab at the shelves like we’re on a game show. The only reason I am able to hang around the outside aisles and avoid the snacks, is because I now have them shipped to my house monthly. Lazy masked as health conscious ;)

    • Cecily Kellogg says

      SMART! I have done the grocery delivery thing in the past, but now I like getting out of the house since I work from home. :)

  14. Jb says

    Lovely, lovely post to read. Thanks for sharing such good! At the next round of yard sales in your ‘hood buy all the copies of Martha Stewarts mini sized food magazine ‘Everyday Food’ – it rocks! Some issues have 5 meals and your grocery list and an order – so you use parts of each meal on successive days. Highly reccomend the publication. Continue to enjoy this great moment you’ve got going on.

  15. Auburn says

    I don’t eat chicken but man, now I want mashed potatoes. I have to replace my skillet. I lost it in a move and I’ve been missing it for years.

    Since I know how hard it is to get healthy food into kids thought I would share one our staple healthy dinners around here if you don’t mind dinner for breakfast. It also happens to be fast, and gluten free if you get gluten free oats (bobs red mill are gluten free I know) and my kids both love it.

    OMG, so good. I use whole eggs though and I have made them with zucchini added before too and that came out great also.

    I have to second the not thawing chicken at room temp though. Usually not a problem until one day it’s a problem and a very, very unpleasant one at that. It’s a really, really bad idea. Food poisoning is so miserable and the thawing it in running water method is just as easy and much, much less likely to land you or a loved one in the hospital or on the toilet for days! I had food poisoning last year and ended up in the ER to get rehydrated. Misery. I’m so glad at least my kids didn’t get it too. Only time I was thankful they are picky eaters.

  16. Auburn says

    ha, obviously that was supposed to be breakfast for dinner, not the other way around.

  17. Auburn says

    also, thought I was commenting on your chicken post. Clearly I didn’t get enough sleep last night. lol. ;-)

  18. Sarah says

    Wow, what positive changes! I was saddened when you mentioned not eating with your family. So glad you’re enjoying cooking again and taking care of yourself. Keep it up and I enjoyed yur first cooking post. I could really do without all the fucking this and that…but it’s your blog so I’ll shut up now.