Monday, 24 January 2011

Welcome welcome! Come in!

Welcome to the inaugural post of Cooking with Auntie Megan. As stated at the top of the page, this blog has been started to help my niece and nephews learn about eating a balanced diet, and to help my dear sisters come up with new and exciting things to feed their families.

My niece, for any non-family in attendance, is nearly six, and my nephews are 4, 3 and 2 at the moment. And though this blog is for you young dearhearts, it is most emphatically not going to be written in a childish way. And that is because I would never talk down to you, my little darlings! You are too smart for that. If you are unsure what something is, of course you must ask me! It's the only way to learn.

Who is this Megan? And what is in her kitchen?
I am Megan. I live in Yorkshire with Uncle James. I have a job that doesn't really have much to do directly with food, but I do cook at home in my smallish, very non-American kitchen. I have a very small refrigerator (something only slightly bigger than what the average US college student has in their dorm room), a freezer of similar size (both fit under the counters), a well-loved food processor, a hand-held mixer, and a very small oven and stovetop (no 30lb Thanksgiving turkeys for us!). I do not have a microwave, a garbage disposal, a blender, a toaster, or standing mixer. I do have 6 silicone spatulas and three chopping boards. And a very hefty chef's knife. And a few other non-electric things that help me out.

Why does Megan cook?
I cook a lot: nearly every night. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I and Uncle James have gone out for dinner in a year.

I learned to cook twice: once from my mother, and once from necessity. From my mother, I learned the emotional and nutritional importance of food, how it can make you feel good (or bad), and how certain foods are for special occasions and should stay with special occasions. I learned how to cook intuitively. I learned especially how to cook like a Sicilian Mama. Now, Auntie Megan's mother is Mimi. Mimi is not Sicilian. But Auntie Megan's father (Pa) is Sicilian. And when they were married, Mimi rolled up her sleeves and got to work. She mastered all the greats of Italian-American food: red sauce (plain, with meat, with meatballs, with sausages, with tuna, with squid, with whatever else she had on hand that night), clam sauce, lasagna (without ground beef and bechamel--sorry England!), eggplant parm, chicken and veal parm, veal piccata, chicken and veal cacciatore, linguine with summer squash, etc, etc, etc. The children took turns grating the block of pecorino, until the day we mercifully were able to buy it already grated. To say we ate well is something of an understatement. We did eat non-Italian things as well, most memorably boiled dinner every St. Patrick's Day to assuage Mimi's Irish Catholic soul. (I never met someone who loves turnips as much as Mimi. She's a bit of a turnip herself--wholesome and unexpectedly spicy!)

After I finished college, I moved to New York City, where I then learned to cook from necessity. I was on my own in a food-lover's jungle, but I didn't make nearly enough money to eat out very often. I had a vast collection of cookbooks, which I read and re-read. Perhaps most importantly, I read Harold McGee's On Food & Cooking which gave me the foundation in food chemistry I needed to be a confident experimental home cook. Most people do not need a chemistry primer to be a good home cook, but I did. My brain likes to start at the very beginning of everything and go from there. Anyway, in New York, in addition to food science and nutrition, I also discovered seasonal and local food. I should say I re-discovered it. After all, I have Pa as a father, and he was (and is again recently) an avid grower of tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, green beans, and chives. I spent loads of time in that garden, mostly digging up pails of worms to Mimi's horror, but I also tended a single row of radishes and one strawberry plant that never yielded enough fruit for both me and the local rabbit. This knowledge was lost during my college days, when local food meant the dining hall across the street and a balanced meal was adding diced carrot to my ramen. In Brooklyn then, I exulted in farmer's markets and I got interested in nose-to-tail butchery. I also was introduced to the most amazing cheeses courtesy of the Bedford Cheese Shop.

And the blog?
And then the blog. It was called Treats & Chortles. I started it in order to participate in online food events. Pretty quickly I was completely sucked into the online foodie community. And then I went to grad school, and somehow telling people about my grilled cheese sandwiches didn't seem worth the effort, especially when I was also reporting on things like digging up a fourteenth-century manor house in the east of England. Which would you rather hear about? So Treats & Chortles slowly faded away, and in its place came Oh the Humanities! Which was fun but no one read it, so I stopped bothering.

So then I became a real grown-up with a husband and a job and a dinner to cook every night, and I remembered that I love cooking! I really do. And I love eating, which is really very important. And I want very much to pass my love of food and cooking on to my niece and nephews. Since they live very far away in America, I thought this would be the best way. So I'm back in action!

Coming soon: soups, breads, roasted veggies!


  1. Dear Sister-
    I just read your blog aloud to your niece and nephew. Your nephew did not really stay in one place very long to hear it all, but your niece was intrigued!! She especially loved the comparison of Mimi to a turnip! We are hotly anticipating your next installment!

  2. I'm glad I'm influencing not just her view of food, but also her use of metaphor.