culinary therapy

In my inagural xobs post, I predicted most of the content here would be about sex and snacks. Save for the one directly below, that has not occurred. I promise some dirty talk at some point, but at the moment I am most motivated to talk about snacks.

Since I’ve moved into this palace of magic that is my new house, its functional kitchen appliances have been quite seductive to me. I choose to spend most of my house time in the kitchen. I know what the fuck’s going on in there, which is more than I can say about the rest of the house, and for that matter, much of my life. In the kitchen I am the most responsible for my own needs and I can create with only my own personal parameters and tastes in mind. The camera (my camera) was doing that before, but since it’s gone, I’m consuming way more calories and getting some of my tummy back. I can’t help it if Paula Deen loves butter, and if Paula Deen loves butter, so must I.

I’ve not really been breaking any new ground in the kitchen since I started hanging out in there – no soufflés, no tartiflette, no cornish hens stuffed with paté. I’ve been doing what’s comfortable and what’s been missed. I’m re-adapting some recipes that I’ve used in past lives for this whole new thing I’m doing now. I’m revisiting a lot of things that have been central in my life before – when I found cooking in Liverpool that’s how I survived (and got fatter). So it’s all a way of surviving in this moment, and the food I eat is a big part of what my survival looks (tastes) like, and the fact that I cook it looks to me as though I’m surviving on my own terms.

Most of the time I’m spending in the kitchen has been about baking. I guess I love the slow alchemy of baking, the way you turn something like mush into something like magic. It’s sort of a meditation in and of itself – it doesn’t have the high-speed intensity of a lot of stovetop cooking and it’s just something you have to pace and reserve a bit of time for. And it’s very photogenic.

The recipes I’ve been using are mostly ones that have been passed on to me. When I gloated about my baking prowess to my father recently, he remarked, ‘it’s in the Sheets genes’. I hadn’t really considered that before, and I’m not inclined to connect with my family in that ‘genetic personality’ stuff, mostly because I don’t know most of them. But then I look at my recipe book, and see how many of the things I like to bake for other people are Sheets family recipes. My grandad was the baker in my dad’s house, and though I remember very little about him, I do recall that he just made ginger snaps and snickerdoodles as just a daily recreational activity. My mom paid for so many of our Christmases by baking and selling cookies to her friends and their friends. And she could bake on a budget – we’d have a cookie backstock even when we were broke. When she and my dad split he pinched a lot of the recipes and is now making them Devo Dan-style and emailing the recipes to me. I wonder how much I would find out about a family I really know little about if I went through some recipe books.

So there’s also all of this history and these personal connections in baking, and I guess that’s what’s making it so useful to me now as a coping mechanism. Yesterday things were shit – my bike was damaged and I got a parking ticket and work was shit and I felt poor and cranky – so I baked for four hours using pumpkins I had grown myself. Today people will eat that stuff and tell me nice things about it and I’ll tell them that the cinnamon came all the way from Pittsburgh and from somewhere ever further away before that. And my mom’s recipe for pumpkin roll, which my dad calls ‘Guaranteed BEST Pumpkin Rolls by Sheets Family (puts other imitators to shame.)’ will have travelled to another continent and won the hearts of many and I’ll get rich and buy you a pony.

Of course it is making me insane not to photograph the things that are happening in my kitchen – I could do it with a shitty camera but it breaks my heart even more to see things like this not given their justice in imagery, so I just don’t do it to avoid that disappointment. But trust me, it’s pretty.

So, how do you do culinary therapy? How do you share it? Why does it work? Can I have a picture? I’d love to see what you’ve made. Take some photos of what you’ve created and email them to me – I’ll start a flickr set of the stuff we eat. It’ll be fun. And it’ll give me something to upload while the pie is in the oven.


Matiatia’s orange, almond meal, and chocolate ganache tiny cupcakes


bs rendition of Amory’s sweet potato pie



7 responses to “culinary therapy

  1. i just read my daughters ‘culinary therapy’ and thought i’d put my “two eggs” in. it’s easter here back home in da burgh and its all about ethnic food in this former milltown. i love all the traditional foods that get made for this holiday. a couple weeks ago my girlfriend lynn and her german mom anna made 12 dozen pierogies in preparation of the holiday. i was supposed to help but was sick. I was able to eat them though haha!

    i made pierogies as a kid. my polish neighbors showed me this simple recipe: drop a cup of flour on your counter and break an egg into the center of it, add a pinch of salt, and start kneading the mix into dough. roll it out when its a dense dough consistency about 3/16″ thick. (this actually is a good universal noodle/dumpling dough) cut 3″ rounds out using a glass. make some thick mashed potatoes for filling. and put a healthy teaspoon on the dough round. fold it in half and pinch the edge carefully together. boil the pierogies in a pot of water till they float. (if you don’t pinch the edge well enough the taters leak out in the boil), then toss them in sauteed butter and onions. some folks like to fry them a bit to get them crispy. i like them soft. you can enhance the taters with lots of ingredients, especially onion and cheese. lynn and anna used sharp cheddar and creme cheese, sautéed onions and butter, and salt and pepper to make a really rich n tasty filling. its yummy. saukraut in the taters is another version. some pollocks fill em with cottage cheese…not my favorite:O)

    the one cup flour recipe only makes about six pierogies and if you wanted them fast, good instant taters work ok. make a big recipe of the real deal when you have time. they freeze well after boiled and you can just reboil to thaw and add em to the butter and onions. a nice stock of these in the freezer makes for a quick yummy side to a breakfast, lunch, or dinner. another tasty version is lazy man pierogie casserole. just layer the tater mix with lasagna noodles and the butter and onions and bake it up! its good too!!

    i made a trip to da strip yesterday to get stuff for lynns easter basket. We love the strip cause we get our favorite foods and coffee there. it’s a strip of stores that line a street adjacent to a warehouse section of downtown pittsburgh where foods are shipped in via tractor trailers. lots of quaint restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops and wholesale food places. after I put together some chocolate and fudge treats from a fudge shop, i got her favorite coffees and some caramel corn from a new fresh popcorn place, called Pittsburgh Popcorn of course!
    when i was in Presto George getting coffee, i spied another easter treat…kielbassi!!! it’s a regional must at easter with fresh ground horseradish and hard boiled dyed easter eggs. speakin of which….every year an old ukranian guy i know brings me a jar of his horseradish on good friday. he’s getting pretty old so I always wonder when it’s my last jar. it’s mixed with beet juice which makes it a pretty pink, but the color will fool you…this shit is HOT! he taught me how to make sauerkraut and pickles which is a story for another blog entry. skills like this, i hope to pass to others cause the old hunkies made all this shit to survive. it’s kinda cool to think about how they all had root cellars where they stored their homemade canned goods, mostly from stuff they grew themselves.

    back to the kielbassi…. catholics don’t eat meat fridays during lent. a tradition when i was a kid was my folks had family friends over on good friday night. we dyed easter eggs, they drank and played cards and we stayed up till midnight when lent was officially over. they then broke out the easter kielbassi and cooked up a batch because we could now eat meat! i grabbed a nice link at presto george and it will go over big at todays feast. we are having ham and potato salad, pierogies, deviled eggs, and some sides. i’ll be making croissants which i have perfected over the last few years and my bird, breanna, will soon be whipping up in her kitchen cause she was born to bake! wish you all could be here today. if you are a friend of bird, you are a friend of mine. hoppy ‘eatser‘!

    ds (paw)

  2. Eatser? I barely even knows her!

  3. My mum’s side of the family are all insane Polacs, so I grew up on a steady diet of pirogie and gawumpki . To this day, pirogie is still one of my favourite comfort foods, along with a healthy shot or three of vodka or pálinka.

    Thanks for posting that recipe, I’m going to take over kitchen duties from Miss Bee Ess this weekend and whip up a feast, Polish style. Or possibly set the house on fire. Either way, I will be wearing an apron.

  4. thats funny my mums side are all insane scots (mckinley). my one loony uncle used to come around after his wife threw him out. he’d come cryin to my mom cause she was a saint of a listener and a saint in general. well the one day she ran feverishly around the house locking all the doors and windows and told us to all get down and pretend like we weren’t at home. i peeked out the window and there was my drunken uncle walking around the house, carrying a samurai sword, and calling my moms name and saying he knew she was in there. we kept our mouths shut and he went away but it was hours before mom let us out to play…lol! she had another crazy sister and brother and but she actually had some sane ones too. when my someone in my family does somthing a bit off the wall, i lake to say “uh oh!…looks like you got the defective mckinley gene!”

    i imagine most of the insanity, or appearnce thereof, resulted from excessive alcohol.

    that def was a problem on the sheets side. my dad was from german and american indian ancestry and whiskey was a staple in my household growing up. my grandad followed his shots of whiskey with a shot of water. never mixed. never ice. thats when men were men!!! haha!

    pierogie is def good comfort food. i was surprised though on easter cause lynns mum threw em all in a roaster and they soaked up all the butter and were too dry for my liking. yummy tatsing but i prefer them gently slipping around in butter and onions, they is just too much love put into them individually to lump em together. they desreve more respect.

    gtg now. send me the gawumpki recipe and keep the fire exstinguisher handy and wear a fire retardant apron:O)


  5. omg i have the munchies and I want that pie now!

  6. Well, I must say, i”m going to print off that recipe… I have a special history with your lovely daughter paw, I was the first Ossy who knew where Kennywood Park was and had actually been there! She’s a rocking chick and she bakes in a formidable fashion.. I’ll let you know how the pierogies go! I must say though, I am of Dutch descent, and a woman – but I like my whisky that way too – only way to drink it – but perhaps that’s what feminism did to the world!

    x tink

  7. oh, and bs, I want some of that pie too… the other recipe book my mum has is the Kentucky Kitchen, and it has one of the best pumpkin pies ever known to man in it – in fact I was tempted to steal both of those books from her when I was up at her place… but they have my name on them for some other time! The thing that I am getting the most pleasure out of cooking at the moment, due to proximity and price and sheer deliciousness, is FISH! I made some sweetlip cooked in tomatoes, fennel and about 5 cloves of garlic, a splash of french white wine, and I nearly had an orgasm when I first tucked in. You know when the meal not only tastes like someone else cooked it, but that they know how to cook! I think the love had something to do with it..

    But, finally, I have bench space in my kitchen again, and I am going to indulge in all sorts of home made pasta cookery using unusual flours and squid ink and the like.. and I think it’s time to cook a curry again. My problem with baking is that I am generally not good at two essential things – sugar, and copying a recipe verbatim. And I’m not knowledgable enough yet to attempt recipes according to my understanding of the science.

    But, we grew up baking bread – dad used to make it – and I just inherited his 30 year old baking tins. And I have a complete sourdough cook book, so there it is. That’s on the agenda for this winter. I will learn how to follow a recipe, and get my arms a working! I love to knead..

    So hopefully when you next visit you can have some organic sourdough spelt bread fresh from my kitchen! Love you xxx

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