Chapter 1: The Story Begins
(Photo: At Tomate Cafe, indulging my usual morning sweet tooth.)
Every blog begins with a story, and no two stories start the same way.
Well, a sizeable chunk do (case in point: I was tempted to start this page with “Once upon a time, there lived an absolutely gorgeous maiden…”), but most don’t, and if you ever find one that matches your own exactly, you may want to find a lawyer. And your credit card. Because chances are, it’s identity theft, and nothing more romantic than that.
My story begins in a cluttered, modest-sized graduate school dorm room. It’s summer. There are palm trees, but no mosquitoes. There’s air conditioning, but it hasn’t been switched on since the last (ostensibly more ell-to-do) occupant lived there. There’s Fun and Laughter floating in the air, but it hasn’t made its way up to my third-story window yet. Maybe it has something to do with my stubborn resistance against paying for artificial air flow, or maybe it’s the fact that I’m wearing the same disheveled sweater that I wore the day before, and Fun finds bad living habits offensive. Maybe Fun just senses high levels of distress really well and slinks away, unbidden and unnoticed.
Inside the room with one window, out of which you can glimpse the neat rows of grass springing up between gravestones, there is a girl. Let’s call her Ala, a.k.a. me.
She’s typing at the computer, as kids are wont to do. She’s standing while doing it, because she’s found that sitting too long during the workday tends to reverse all the effort she put into the glutes machine at the gym last week. She’s also muttering in a low voice to herself as she types, because people like writers and teachers are allowed to do that when they’re thinking very hard, and she is all of those things: a writer, a teacher, and thinking very, very hard.
Writing a lesson plan.
Teaching for the first time.
Thinking about the cute guy she met yesterday when her bike chain broke and he stopped his bike and came over and showed her how to fix it. Should’ve gotten his number.
The other part of her is thinking how on earth she’s going to come up with syllabi for dozens of high school New Media, Academic Writing, and Creative Writing students.
So that’s where this story begins.
Chapter 2: What Happened Next
(Photo: Showing off my Tigger paraphernalia at the happiest–and my personal favorite!–place on Earth.)
I don’t believe in chronologically accurate stories. Not purely, at least.
Let’s jump three weeks ahead.
It’s the first day of the summer session, and three girls are sitting at a table in a fairly large room. Looking at them from the outside, you wouldn’t be able to tell who’s the instructor and who are the students, or if they’re all just the same age and sitting in the middle of a makeshift classroom gossiping about the latest Justin Bieber album, because that has happened. See her? That’s me over there, the young-ish looking one in boy shorts who looks just like the other two.
It’s the first day of my New Media class, and we’re creating new blog domains for our ongoing project. I’m showing them my own “blog,” which consists of two posts, four overexposed photographs, and a shoddy banner in Comic Sans font.
Chapter 3: How it Started, Then
My blog started off as a sample class project. Nothing more, nothing less.
Chapter 4: The Development
(Photo: One of my favorite creations to date–Iced Old-fashioned Oatmeal Cookies)
Writing and storytelling have always been my passions. Cooking, food, baking, touching kitchen utensils without cutting someone’s finger (usually my own) off, boiling, braising, blanching, broiling, butchering—not my cup of tea. Not even my cup of smoothie, which I like a lot better than tea and am, in fact, obsessed with.
So how did this food blog—for that’s what this is—come to be?
Again, a word to chronology: Begone.
Three years earlier.
It came from an abyss. The summer before had been a pleasant one—I’d been working at an independent, non-profit 826 writing center as an intern that summer, and came into the new school year with a sprightly spring to my step.
Stress, tension, turmoil—all of these feed off of uncertain change. It was my junior year of college.
Suddenly, I found myself thrown into a semester teeming with anxiety about schoolwork, about chairing social committees that made me break down and cry because I was doing so much of it on my own that I couldn’t find time to rest, about a new living situation that made me want to keep myself locked up in my room instead of braving the passage through the common living room so I could eat. Whenever I did make it to the kitchen, I shut myself up there so that I didn’t have to face whatever was beyond those two flimsy wooden doors.
But out of every lightless cavern grows something awe-inspiring and beautiful…something that fades away like a glow-in-the-dark sticky star when you try to look at it in the light. The more I locked myself in the kitchen in a state of simmering despair, the more I began to look around me. I needed an escape, and I found that I had unknowingly walked right into it.
My first experiments—those first abysmal, pathetic, and at times hazardous experiments—were the most invigorating I have had, then or since. I learned to start timing my vegetables after the water boiled, not hasten to turn off the stove right before it did (in my defense, my mom hadn’t made this point very clear to my novice ears—she said ‘about two to three minutes’ in the vague way that mothers who assume everyone knows how to cook do). I learned that throwing 200 freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies immediately from oven to plastic containers meant one giant squished chocolate chip cookie when you took them out again. I nearly set my kitchen on fire by attempting to deep-fry ice cream in a two-inch deep saucepan. And I was the better for it, even though I nearly lost a finger or an eye (my sanity, I was convinced I had lost long ago) in the process. In short, I found a little pearl in the middle of the dark ocean floor, and it reassured me to think that there was still something left during that dismal time that I could cling to, an experience that could be mine alone, but also mine to share.
So when it came time to choose something I felt like I could really blog about, it wasn’t hard to choose.
Chapter 5: In the Interim (Or, What’s Happened Since)
(Photo: On the giant’s ladder challenge course–that’s me on the left being butt-bumped.)
Since then, I’ve earned a fair reputation among my friends and family as The Girl Who Once Couldn’t Boil Water But Can Now Make A Smashing Caramel Flan. It seems almost apocryphal, in a way, but it’s also true. And while I technically curdled the flan I made for the latest new year’s party, part of this blog is being able to share the mistakes I make in my own kitchen with the rest of you, because the kitchen really is the best place to start making those slip-ups and laugh about them afterwards. Plus, I ended up “inventing” a new dessert called “fludding” (flan bread pudding) that my relatives love, and one of my uncles asked if he could take the leftover dessert home with him. So really, mistake is a relative term in my cookbook.
graduate school studies (I’m in the middle of my second year in a literature doctoral program),
picking up swimming again,
learning to swing dance,
letting loose at Zumba class,
reading all of the children’s and young adult literature I can get my hands on (I happen to specialize in children’s lit, but that’s not why I love it so much—I do it because I love it, and can get paid for away with it),
fanatically obsessing over all things Disney,
writing in tribute to my humble roots of fanfiction,
participating in mentorship programs,
and staying connected with friends and family,
…I find myself, like all of you, I’m sure, strapped for time. Where did the morning go? Why is it dark already when I haven’t finished anything yet? Has the zombie apocalypse come already? And why couldn’t they wait until I’d finished this post?
(Photo: Having a whale of a time! In one of my many Pooh shirts, as usual.)
This isn’t an excuse. No, sir/ma’am/spirits/listening inanimate objects. By no stretch of the imagination would I include one of those here. This is a list of priorities. And that’s what blogging is to me now. At least in this particular time in my life, here and now, blogging’s a priority.
It’s always difficult for someone who’s just embarking on a new project to really sink in roots and keep them there. I love to branch out (pardon the extended metaphor—I am a lit girl, after all), and it’s one of the things that keeps me coming back to my blog, my kitchen creations, my writing, and most of all, to all you dear readers. I’ve experimented from all sorts of things already, like my Lit, Wit, and an Oven Mitt (loveingly dubbed LWOM) series, to varying degrees of success, but the big nagging mom-like part of my brain also knows that for every one thing I’ve tried, there are hundreds more I haven’t even dreamed up yet.
As for the tricky question of for whom I’m writing this, well—
Not you, not me. Us.
(Photo: Warming up at a swim meet.)
Because we’re part of the same family. I realized that the day I started this blog and was faced with the challenge of creating an “Inspirations” page (which you can check out!) of all the other wonderful food blogs that have inspired me to start my own. This doesn’t mean that I will leave out the bits and pieces of my personal life that make this blog a special part of my daily routine. Every effort I make will be to combine all those elements that make my life meaningful into a cohesive set of thoughts on the thing that brings all of it–and us–together: food.
So this is as much about my experiences as it is about yours. No blog would be complete without a fair, steady, and equal (if humble) exchange of experiences. My philosophy is, and always has been, to make every effort to make you feel welcome in our new shared place. And now, with a new year in the running and blogging bumped up yet another notch on the priority ladder, I want to share this next chapter of the adventure with you, too.
Chapter 6: And Now
And now I’m opening up my heart and my kitchen to all of you who have stumbled, clicked, trotted, strode, moseyed, strutted, or sashayed your way to this blog. This is the home where you’ll find me experimenting like a crazy witch day in and day out, whether it’s with recipes, writing, photographing, or simply loving to share.
Most of all, I hope you’ll join me in writing this story, too. Where it will go, I have as little of an idea as you do. But one thing is for certain: The plot (and pot) always thickens: just add cornstarch (and a little pinch of love).
(Photo: Playing with my brand new DSLR. Happy new year!)
All of your comments, thoughts, and suggestions are always welcome! Since it means so much to me that you take your time to stop by, I will also do my best to reply to all of your thoughts. You can also reach me by email about guest post requests and other related concerns at shihisthebest at gmail.com.