I feed people. It’s what I do.
One of my greatest joys is making the bellies of those I love very, very happy. Preparing and serving comforting meals and desserts is one of the core ways in which I express my affection. And I gotta say, nobody has ever complained.
It tickles me to death when friends and family compliment my cooking. (And the fact that I just said “tickles me to death” should tell you that there’s a direct line between my culinary prowess and my Southern roots.) I'm pretty proud of the fact that there are people in this world who refer to me as "a good cook."
I especially love it when I get requests. One friend expects me to bring my broccoli casserole to her Derby party every year. Another always asks for my homemade mac and cheese at her potlucks. I’ve got three cakes (carrot, buckeye and strawberry) that my family asks me to bake again and again. Oh, and my barbecue ribs are practically legendary in this town.
All of these recipes were handed down to me; I didn’t make them up out of thin air. (Well, except for the mac and cheese; that one is all me.) I have modified and perfected each one over the years, making them distinctly my own. After 20+ years of cooking, I’ve prepared each of those dishes so often that I don’t even look at the recipes. In some cases, I eyeball my ingredients with no need for measuring cups and spoons. To me, that’s the mark of a good cook ... when you really know your shit, so to speak.
I’ve been lucky to learn from some fantastic cooks, including my own mother. Grandmothers, aunts and an elderly neighbor who grew up on a farm taught me the art of using fresh ingredients and a gentle touch. (My grandmother’s dumpling recipe actually says not to “beat up” the dough or it will get “too tough.)
I have made jelly, canned tomatoes and “put up” corn for the winter. I know how to make homemade pie crust, and how to enhance nearly any dish with the flavor of bacon grease. It took years of practice, but I finally feel worthy to join the ranks of the other great female cooks on both sides of my family. I’m proud of my Southern heritage and feel blessed to carry on so many traditions.
But I will never forget my first foray behind the apron. I ambitiously decided to try my grandmother’s applesauce cake recipe, along with her homemade spiced icing. I think I was about 12 years old at the time, and I didn’t know the difference between baking soda and baking powder, let alone how to pull off a “scratch” cake. My mother supervised, but I measured, poured and stirred everything all by myself. And I vividly recall falling in love with the whole process.
When the cake came out of the oven, it was the most lopsided thing you’ve ever seen. It was doubled-layer round cake, and by the time I got it iced, it had a slope to it that would scare most extreme winter sports enthusiasts. I was so embarrassed! But as ugly as the damn thing was, it tasted fantastic.
And that has been true of my cooking career ever since – I’m not all that concerned with what it looks like, but by God, I am on a mission to make sure it tastes amazing. Sure, the food I turn out these days is a lot prettier than that first applesauce cake, but I never worry about dressing it up with garnish, and most of the time it’s served on plastic, everyday plates. If you care more about the plate than the food on it, you’re in the wrong house.
I do have to admit that I’ve branched out quite a bit from traditional Southern fare as of late. I still make a mean meatloaf, a hearty pot of beef stew and fluffy chicken and dumplings, but I also can whip up a delicious batch of Indian butter chicken with cilantro rice. One of my favorite, healthier dishes is a spinach salad with toasted pecans, pancetta and homemade orange vinaigrette.
Really though, if you’re looking for an epicurean meal, go down to The Oak Room. Pull up a chair at my table if you want plentiful amounts of flavorful fixins’ with no frills. I almost always have enough to share.
So, who’s hungry? I'd be happy to fix you a plate.
*Contact me if you'd like a copy of any of the recipes for the dishes shared in this blog.
About Amy Higgs
A former newspaper columnist, Amy takes her random, slice-of-life stories to the web. After nine years, she's still just saying.