01/26/2012 09:40 am ET Updated Mar 27, 2012

My Love Affair With Cooking

My love affair with cooking actually started with baking. When I was 10 years old, I learned how to make pancakes and it was the first recipe of many that changed my life. On a neighborhood camping trip, I connected with a woman who lived up the street from our house, and she told me she had the best pancake recipe around. I told her how much I wanted to learn how to make things for myself, so she gave me the recipe. I probably still have the exact recipe somewhere in my childhood house, buried deep in a box with my pottery sculptures and homemade Christmas tree ornaments, and I may someday need to go and dig it out. But for the most part it was a typical pancake recipe with flour and eggs and milk and a ton of vanilla. And this was long before I went gluten and dairy free, and long before I had any awareness about food or where it came from. It tasted good so I made it. Every Saturday. For probably eight years.

After I mastered the pancakes, I ventured into the world of boiling pasta, baking chocolate chip cookies "from scratch" and even taking a few risks in the muffin world. Then, in high school, I started baking birthday cakes for my friends and their families and soon I was known for my cakes. I would receive calls about birthdays and parties and so I would get to work, baking, sifting, and measuring -- never even thinking to charge these people a fee for my work. I loved it. I loved the look on their face when I presented the cake. I loved the way the cake looked homemade. I loved the way the frosting dripped off the sides in fluffy, delicious clouds of sugar and stuck to my hands with it's gooey goodness. But most of all I loved the time in the kitchen. It didn't matter what else was going on in my life, or what sort of day I had. As soon as I entered the kitchen, my meditative mode took over and nothing else mattered.

But then life happened. I put my energy into other things, like pretending that studying to be an English or Psychology teacher was my true calling. I spent year after year trying to stuff myself into a little box that just didn't exist. I wanted to forget about my creativity and my quirks. I wanted to want what everyone else wanted -- but deep down inside, I just didn't; I wanted more. I wanted to experience and share my creativity and heal the world and have fun doing it. I've blogged about this before, but it's true. I have spent much of the past 27 years of my life trying to be someone else. Sometime between the ages of 18 and 27, I lost my passion for cooking. I still had it, and sometimes it would come around in spurts or waves and I would remember the feeling and fall in love for a split second before something else would come along and I would forget. Once again.

And then one day, about a year ago, it hit me. I love to cook. I love to bake. I still have the fondest memories of those pancakes and can still smell the sweet aroma of vanilla and milk being whisked together by my tiny 10-year-old hands to make something so familiar and comforting that it zeroed my heart right into the center of my soul and left an impression. And it's that same impression that rounded me up again and brought me right back to where I need to be. The kitchen is my office, and it isn't just a place where I keep my tools and ingredients, but it's also where I keep my memories. Every recipe is a small piece of my golden past tucked away in a special place, only to be revealed when the time is right. Every so often I will find an old recipe and make it again, only to be brought right back to that time period. To this day I can't make brownies (of course, now they're gluten and dairy free, with minimal refined sugar and no icing) without being reminded of third grade. And it's not the type of thing that makes me sad (most of the time), but something that invokes some of the deepest and sweetest parts of my tender soul. Cooking is that one thing that reminds me of who I am and who I want to be and how everything that has happened in my life up until now has all been pieced perfectly
together to create this very moment where I am standing in my kitchen at 11:30 at night in my knee-high striped socks baking gluten-free pumpkin cake and writing in my blog. This is the feeling I have been missing the past 10 years -- the feeling of soul alignment, and the feeling of home. All of my creativity and quirks and silliness and talents -- all have a place when I am in the kitchen. I no longer have the desire to be someone else, but instead I have an even stronger desire to get to know myself even better. I want my creativity to shine through everything that I create, but more importantly, I want it to shine through my soul and into my food in a way that I can share it with the world.

My journey is in full swing. It's not the beginning, but merely a continuation of where I left off years ago, when I put down my cookbook for a textbook and forgot to look inward at my eager little girl inside who has a heart bigger than the sky.