Why I Cook

Vintage Yasmeen | Wandering Spice

Tomorrow I’ll be appearing on a food writing panel at Emerging Writers Festival, with three friends and talented wordsmiths, talking about niches, motivation, and how to turn last night’s dinner into a story.

Had you asked me three years ago when I started this blog, or certainly five or 10 years ago, if I’d be appearing on a panel at a much-loved literary festival (let alone about food), I’d have asked if you’d mistaken me for someone else. I also wouldn’t have known then that while much if this is about the writing, it’s really – at its core – about the cooking.

The photo above is me – Vintage Yasmeen – probably around 1989. That exact place, standing on a chair next to my mother, is where I learned to cook. It’s the place I reference in my bio on this blog, the place where she asked me to cut the cookies or stir the toasting pine nuts, and the place where I’d carefully add the oil or salt to the pan until she gave the signal to stop. There was a kitchen island to the right of where I’m standing. Occasionally I’d position the dining chairs in front of the island and run ‘cooking demonstrations’ for my nanny, stuffed animals, or imaginary guests. I remember being especially proud of my egg-cracking skills.

Later on, my cousin Mona and I became known for our specialty apple pies at Thanksgiving and Christmas. In college, my Lebanese, Ethiopian and Indian roommates and I occupied an apartment we dubbed “The Third World,” in which we each cooked and shared dishes from our respective cultures. Years later in Chicago I cooked anything that would keep me warm during the frigid winters (did you know your hair can actually freeze and break? The things you learn). In Amsterdam, I was fortunate to have a great Saturday market in my neighborhood, where I picked up budget buys to stew up in my small studio (praying for my next visit to my sister’s, where she fed me spinach pie).

And then came Australia, this vast and mysterious place with bulging summer fruits like I’d never seen. I was officially the furthest I’d been from my first home in Virginia, from my parents’ kitchen, from that chair. Prior inspirations were tucked thousands of miles away. It wasn’t quite as easy to pick up the phone for a freak out with mom about why my mujaddara was mushy. And yet I kept cooking. Furiously! I have cooked more in this country than I have anywhere in my life.

I cooked when I couldn’t find a job, or when my visa was taking far too long to process. I cooked the first bundles of fruit we’d picked from the family farm. I cooked when my beloved auntie Nabila died – one of the most distraught stages of my life. I cooked before our wedding. I cooked FOR our wedding (crazy), anniversaries, birthdays, any celebration that warranted food and maybe some situations that didn’t but I self-warranted them.

I cook because, for whatever reason, it is an inexorable part of who I am. I can’t separate food from identity, joy, pain, coping, love. They are all things that go hand-in-hand, and require hands to make.

So, after wondering for weeks how to best prepare for the event tomorrow – how to talk about writing food – it hit me. I’d already been preparing. Ever since I first stepped onto that chair.

  • Rosa

    Congrats and good luck for tomorrow!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  • http://www.foodpleasureandhealth.com/ Dixya Bhattarai RD

    good luck for tomorrow dear – you are amazing :)

  • LashesandDashes.com

    Cooking has always been close to me heart, I love reading about others who love cooking just as much as I do! I have just started writing about cooking, I am learning to love cooking even more then I ever have! Blessings on your speaking engagement!

  • http://www.nooralqahtani.com/ Noor

    Look how cute you are. You know how to cook duh you’re Arab and Lebanese. You all are born throwing down in the kitchen YUM lol. I never cooked at all growing up, but I wish I would have listened better bc I know more Saudi food then my own and it’s sad. Good luck tomorrow sweets :)

  • http://www.nooralqahtani.com/ Noor

    By the way I had no idea you lived in Chicago. So did I :)

  • Heidi Apples

    Yas, this is just so so beautiful. I so love your words. And your cooking. You are one talented lady. Wish I could have heard you talk. Press record & do a sneaky for me, will you? Can’t wait for our next catch/cook up x

  • Fatboo

    Beautiful Post, Yasmeen. It’s amazing that you cooked FOR your wedding. All the best for tomorrow’s event!

  • http://darjeelingdreams.com/ Joyti

    Such a wonderful, thoughtful post. LOVE.

    I used to do “cooking demonstrations” when I was small too :)

  • Bianca

    I wish I could attend, when I went to book it was sold out. Good luck and have so much fun!

  • saucy gander

    Yasmeen, I hope your talk went well! I loved the line in this post about self-warranting that food is needed for an occasion, I do that too – people haven’t complained yet (phew). This was a lovely post to read, thank you for sharing these memories. I’d love to have seen one of your cooking demonstrations! :-)

  • http://laurasmess.me/ Laura @laurasmess.me

    This is such a beautiful post Yasmeen. Amazing words, sentiment and reflection. Love the photo… haha, I used to do the same thing in my mother’s kitchen! I do hope that your festival attendance went well, I would’ve loved to have heard you speak. You super talented thing xxx

  • http://cocoaandlavender.blogspot.com/ David

    I love this post, Yasmeen – I especially love knowing more about how you came to love food; I grew up on a very similar chair, and even had a tiny set of cooking utensils that my mother kept hung on the cabinet door for me. Thanks so much for sharing, and good luck!

  • adrianfoodrehab

    So glad to have finally met the person behind these amazing recipes, stories and photos and am so happy we have such a passion for both food and hip hop :) Please keep writing about these nostalgic moments Yas. I totally agree with you on how cooking is a part of you you are. There are certain types of dishes that evoke certain types of moments in your life and with that, whatever emotion you were feeling at that time, goes smackbam right into it. To more Love, Food and Hip Hop…Atlanta style.

  • beachkitchen.com.au

    Beautifully written and love the blog