On Cooking

For the better part of twenty five years, I’ve been in the kitchen.

What I’ve learned about myself, in all these years, is that I am not me without food. Without cooking. Since I was a tiny baby…scratch that, I was never a tiny baby. Since I was a venti-sized baby, I’ve been cooking. I know, impossible. A newborn with a whisk? Sometimes I wonder.

But it’s true. I find cooking when I scan my oldest memories. Flour dusting over third birthday parties, crumbly dough balls wedged in between that time the front tire popped off my Big Wheel and I learned that pesky cursive “Q,” a melted butter sheen on my first love letter.

How did my crib get in the kitchen?

steak and couscous dinner

I’ve always been an observer. Keen on watching people, things, and events like I was going to be tested on my recollection later. A shame I didn’t go the detective route. A wonder I didn’t do better on my SAT verbal. I’m intensely interested in how things are made and in the manner in which others go about doing things. Fitting that I’d sit for hours on the painted oak footstool in the kitchen and watch my mother put on a magic show with butter, flour, and eggs. What’s her trick? Though never a rabbit, what she pulled out of the oven was magnificent- different every time.

My whole life, I loved to watch her cook. I’m sure if we were to dig up her birth certificate, we’d find her middle name to be “From Scratch.” The woman was making homemade crackers, pies, stews, wellingtons, and pates, faster than Good Housekeeping could churn out a cookbook. It was marvelous. I’d look up at her dusting confectioner’s sugar on a pan of the most lusciously lemon squares. With family to arrive any minute, she’d still have her wet hair in a towel, basting a golden brown bird with buttery glaze. She wrote the book on entertaining. The whole enchilada- from table setting, to theme, to tettrazini followed by tiramisu.

By age 4 I was helping her frost a freshly baked layer cake. We were browsing the Silver Palate Cookbook like a bedtime story. I spent years at her side, asking questions, watching cupcakes dome through the oven door, learning to read almost exclusively by recipe cards. Most likely spelling ‘Andouille’ before ‘Andrea.’ I divided my time between Sesame Street and Julia Child. And somehow, without consciously realizing the transition, I became the cook. Funny how that happens.

I loved the layering of ingredients, the depth of flavor, the trust I gained in myself as a cook. The anticipation of taste and texture. The fact that the end game was always an exhibit of my own creativity. The way that careful plating fed my eyes first. I flowed with a natural ease, a sashay from stove top to sink to counter. From mince to mix to mascerate. I embraced the timing. The precision. The delicate nature of cooking and baking. The requisite taste testing. Because there’s value in wrapping your tongue around the beater’s wires to get every last lick of buttercream. What that value is, I’m not sure, but my belly is, and I’d say that’s enough. I leave most major decisions to that part of me- the wisdom of my waist.

I don’t just love food. It’s not the strands of linguine wrapped around the tines of a fork that I’m after. It’s knitting the velvet robe of bechamel. It’s not even the slice of dark chocolate torte. Ok, it is the slice of chocolate torte. What I mean to say, is that my passionate love affair with food does not begin and end with the food itself. I fell in love with the dish, the slice, the bowlful, through the learning… and the labor… and the loving memories born of them.

Perhaps especially in the past five years, after losing 135lbs, I have made even more of a life in my kitchen. Uncertain of how to reintroduce the foods I loved all my life, but had given up throughout weight loss, I began creating my own recipes. Healthier versions of the classics. I said to myself, “Anyone who throws caution to the wind and uses an unlimited amount of butter, cream, oil, and the like, will ultimately make a dish that tastes delicious. Because butter, in and of itself, takes taste to the next level. But the true challenge, the mark of a truly good cook, is the creation of flavor. Knowing the essence of good food, understanding flavor complements, how to use herbs and spices to cultivate that perfect palate pleaser, believing that food can be just as beautiful on its own without makeup and a ballgown.

I experimented. I failed. I may have cried once or fifty- two times. But making the dishes I had always loved, in a way that felt wholesome and somehow pure, felt so worthwhile. So satisfying. My mind jogged through memories of buffalo chicken pizza in my first college dorm, White paper boxes of Chinese food littered around my family’s table, and every celebration with thick wedges of buttercream-bathed fudge cake. There will be a life for these beloved eats, I promised myself.

I kept that promise. Five years later and I’m still cooking up classics with my own flair.

I sit here now in my own kitchen, a coast away from my mother, the one who breathed life into my cooking lungs. I recreate the confections we once made. The ones that drew me, nose first, into the kitchen, tied themselves to moments in my life, and tucked themselves away in the closet of my memory. Enough to fill a book. A bookcase.

I cook and I cook. And when I’m done cooking I bake. Then I bake again. Because I am not me without it. I’ve built a life here, in my kitchen. And even as an adult… the butter, the sugar, the flour and the eggs…they still feel like magic.




57 thoughts on “On Cooking

  1. leticia

    how come ALL the pictures are pictures that show humongus portions and lathered with butter and oils and fat? i think that it is a bit misleading to show pics that look like that.

    1. Can You Stay for Dinner

      Hi Leticia! I think the pictures may make it seem like it’s a huge portion or that it’s oily because of the way I zoom in, or the lighting, or the angle. I can honestly tell you that the recipes and photographs of my food are portions of what I eat- exactly as they are shown. They may be glossy from sauces and a zucchini muffin will certainly be warmed with a pat of butter- this is what I eat. I don’t believe that I’m misleading anyone. Hope you had a fantastic weekend! Best, Andrea

  2. Theresa

    I was wondering, in Woman’s World, I saw a diet plan based on your favorite foods, but I did not see how you sweetened things like oatmeal, did you use sugar, or sweetners, and what about coffee?

    1. Can You Stay for Dinner

      Hi Theresa! I do not sweeten things. With oatmeal, nowadays I cook it with sliced banana- which sweetens it nicely, or else I’ll add in dried cranberries/raisins for bites of sweetness. But in general I’ve come to love it on its own. And I’ve never been one to sweeten my coffee. If you’re looking to stop sweetening, I’d start slowly cutting back and over time you really will develop a taste for the food without sweetener.

  3. Mary Allan

    So are all these lovely looking recipes lower in calories or is it mainly portion control? If I follow the recipes will I in fact lose weight or is it a maintenance plan? I see the initial weight loss was due to Weight Watchers but if you don’t start with WW can one lose just by eating what we would cook from your recipes alone? Do you have a sight that would give more ideas for breakfast, lunch and supper?

    1. Can You Stay for Dinner

      Hi Mary Allan! Yes, the recipes here are almost all around 400 calories per serving. That’s the size of meal I ate in losing and at the beginning of maintenance, so I do believe you could lose weight making them and eating them. I really believe you don’t need to follow a set plan to get there yourself, but I do think that counting calories served a great purpose in my life for a long time and I’d recommend it to anyone. I stopped posting nutrition information a while back because I slowly got away from counting everything myself (I guess after four years of maintenance I felt like I knew what and how much I want to eat). But that being said, I’m always mindful of the ingredients and the amounts I use in my recipes, and do try to make meals that break down to roughly 400-500 calorie servings. I hope you try some of them and enjoy! Thank you for taking the time to comment!!

  4. Linda Erbele

    i recently picked up womens world magazine ,and i read ur article about ww.and i have been going 4 about 6 months .having a hard time right now 2 loose because,i did not know what 2 eat every day to satisfy my hungry. so i tried the menu in the magazine article n it was wonderful.can u send me more menu on what i can hve thanks so much, [email protected]

  5. Pingback: Weight Reflections of 2010 « Can You Stay for Dinner?

  6. Stephanie @ Stephanie Cooks

    This is beautifully written. I too lost weight on WW, although only 20-25 pounds, and I too believe in eating real food with real ingredients. I found your blog last week and have already made two of your recipes. I’m such a fan!

  7. Ellen Mayfield

    I found your blog a couple days ago and I am absolutely in awe! You’re story is amazing and has given me so much motivation. I’m a college student so unfortunately your blog is torture because I can’t get to a kitchen to make all these wonderful recipes. But soon I will!
    Thanks so much, keep it up! :)

  8. Lisa

    Thank you for your funny, smart and insightful posts. I read your blog like i would a book. Truly inspirational, and truly entertaining!!

  9. Megan McCartney

    You inspire me to make homemade food and….I am a terrible cook/baker. You are amazing! I am in love with your blog! I need to find the time to make your beautiful recipes. Thank you for sharing your pictures, recipes, and moving stories.

  10. Meg

    I am new to your blog, and already have it bookmarked as a favorite. Your weight loss story is inspiring, and your writing is engaging and witty. Can’t wait to continue to read, and to try your amazing recipes! Thanks!

  11. Heather

    Do you have a copy of the article in Woman’s World Magazine? I can’t find it anywhere and would really love to read it.


  12. Stacy

    I cannot tell you how your pages upon pages of words on heartache, struggle, food travels, and success have humbled and inspired me. We are around the same age and I have struggled with weight all my life, too – never knowing what it meant to be “thin,” not even as a child. My weight-loss journey is not as daunting as yours must have been, but it is still in progress and I am a long way from maintenance. Soon, though.

    Thank you for your words, and for sharing your gift of food and writing. I have been struggling so hard this past year since gaining 20 lbs back of 30 that I had lost. Amazing how your words have sparked a new light in me.

    Regarding the Silver Palate Cookbook: Are there any health-conscious recipes you recommend? I was gifted this cookbook by a friend’s mother 3 years ago, but have yet tackle its recipes in the kitchen.

    Again, thank you.

  13. Mercy

    That was absolutely poetic! I just found your blog today and believe me, I have been poring through your posts. May I say a few things? (I will anyways. I simply thought I’d be polite.)

    1) Your recipes sound absolutely delicious and I look forward to playing with them in my kitchen. It may take a bit, but I will and I’ll have to let you know how well they turn out.

    2) You have made me laugh no less than twenty times today. You made it a great day and I appreciate that more than you know.

    3) You seem like a beautiful person. Your story is inspiring and your writing charms me. You sparkle.

    I have to say these things. It’s in my coding. If I don’t say what’s on my mind, there may be an apocalypse.

    I hope you have lovely, lovely days. :)

  14. Lauren at Keep It Sweet

    My favorite posts of yours are just like this one. I love reading your writing because it just flows in an elegant way. I feel like I’m sitting next to you in conversation or watching you live through these experiences in your life.

  15. Beth

    I’m so glad I found your blog. I’ve enjoyed reading your story and I’m looking forward to trying some of the recipes too. :) Thanks for Sharing!

  16. dressler


  17. pamela

    I just have to tell you I can’t wait for your book! Not only do I enjoy getting your blog updates in my inbox for some great recipes. I love your writing and look forward to the story as much as the delicious pictures and food. I never struggled with weight until after having four kids but your advice on eating, your passion for food, your story – I find it all so inspiring. Thank you for sharing!

  18. JS


    Thank you for your story… it exudes strength and warmth. A tear crept up at the corner of my eye after reading your personal story. It sounds like it is do-able and that I’d like to try and achieve something for myself.

    You say to find something enjoyable and I’ll do the walking and see where that gets me. It’s the journey and not the end result that matters most.

    I hope you continue to feel at ease and content with yourself now and know that your words impact others that have had the opportunity to read it.

    Thanks again for the sharing. JS.

  19. Lydia

    I’m home sick and finding your blog has brightened my day! I love to cook with my mom and sister and reading your blog inspires me all the more. Reading you’re quote about how it takes real time and knowledge to make things taste good through their natural flavors (not always turning to butter and cream) made me smile, my sister and I say the same thing. Anyway, you’re now bookmarked on my computer and I look forward to reading more, you’re cooking and writing are sheer inspirational arts!

  20. cara

    I ran across your blog and have been very intrigued by your story. I have also lost about 130 lbs and am an avid foodie still! I have cooked since I was a child and love to cook even more now… and I’m raising a daughter just like me…
    I spent a week in Rome recently and wanted to spend a year, just cooking and eating and enjoying the wonderful food. thanks for sharing a wonderful story!!!

  21. Whitney Peavler

    You seem like such a truly sweet, humble, and down to earth girl! I’m so happy for you and your success, you don’t know how much of an inspiration you are to young girls! Keep up the wonderful work, I’ll be checking back for new recipes and updates! Have a fabulous Thanksgiving! :)

  22. Jess

    You are fabulous!! I love this website, just found it and I’ll be making some of your recipes for my family. I am trying to lose about 40 lbs… I’ve had two beautiful babies and they took a toll on my body. Well worth every single pound, but i did take the adage “eating for two” to heart with my first one… I was a lot more cautious with my second but I still hadn’t lost everything from my first. So its going to be a journey and i don’t expect it to happen over night, but real people like you give me inspiration! Have a wonderful day, and thank you for sharing your story with the world. <3

  23. Faith

    I have one very important question for you, where did you get the cloth napkin in the second photo?

    Please don’t tell me Rome. I’m really hoping you know where I can order that exact dinnerware set online. I have a couple stray matching pieces I brought home from some little shop in Piazza Navona, I’ve looked at ordering the plates and the only place I can find charges a small fortune.

    1. admin

      Hey Faith! Got that cloth napkin at Sur La Table, which has locations nationwide. I got the napkin ring at Crate and Barrel :)

  24. Vanessa

    I just found your blog through Pintrest and I have been reading for an hour now. Your writing is so clever and honest and you’ve clearly struck a nerve with a lot of women but I just had to comment to thank you. I am actually on my 9th day of running while pushing my daughters in a double jogging stroller. I have never been thin myself and after having two children have been what I am seeing is ridiculously hard on myself about my appearance. Your experience and the beautiful and humorous way in which you tell your story has really hit home. You have helped me to see that it is time to reevaluate what is important in my life. Thank you and best wishes on your continuing journey!

  25. Debbie

    How does everyone develop this love for cooking? I am good at both cooking and baking but I just do not love it. I need to learn to like it so that my family can eat healthy. Any suggestions?

    1. Erin

      Its largely a matter of perspective.

      I’ve always loved baking but cooking was a chore I did because I knew I couldn’t live on cookies and pie alone. Now that I have a family to feed I find a joy in cooking for them and knowing that I’m feeding them good food that they enjoy.

      I give myself permission to not cook if I really don’t want to. Sometimes that means we eat a meal I’ve prepped and frozen or soup from a can or fast food. By making cooking a choice I make to help take care of myself and my family I’ve removed the chore aspect and I have much more fun trying new things and perfecting our favorites.

      I recommend looking at it not do much that you Need to learn to live it as that you Want to learn to love it. Try new things and I hope you can find the joy in providing your family with healthy food!

  26. Ang

    I, too, found your blog through Pinterest. Amazing! I started losing weight in May of 2010. By March of 2011, I’d lost 90 lbs. I was stoked! Then, I fell off. I stopped working out, stopped eating healthy, and started gaining the weight back. But after a 20 lb weight gain in the last 10 months, I’ve decided it’s time to do what I do best. I love the gym. I love the new foods I’ve tasted and learned to create. Your story hit home for me, and I want to thank you for sharing it with the world, and with me. You were beautiful before, but you look healthy and vibrant (and of course, beautiful) now! Thank you again! I hope to see more from you!! Best regards, Ang

  27. jemma

    Hi! love the look of your website and your food. I do not want to starve myself on steamed chicken and veges every night so i plan to work my way through your recipes and lose 20 pounds before i get married :) please please please can you give me the recipe for that gorgeous looking nutty apricot type bar at the top of this page? loos scrummy!

  28. Bindu alexander

    your blog combines everything i love– good writing, well told stories, humor, and great food. I just found this today and am anxious to try something. Just joined ww myself in hopes of kicking some weight. Kudos to you for this blog!

  29. Michelle Chave

    I have also been overweight ever since I remember. I was always the chubby kid as a very small child. I have just started my weight loss journey and came across your blog. It is truly inspiring. It is wonderful to see success stories that don’t require you to give up good taste all together.

    I love cooking and used to rely heavily on butter, cheese, and chocolate-y goodness. Re-learning how to create flavor without “the good stuff” has been interesting – and your blog will definitely help on that front. Are you making a cookbook?

    1. admin

      Thanks so much! I am writing a weight loss memoir and then a cookbook to follow. The memoir will come out in spring 2013 and the cookbook later that year :)

  30. Rhea Cardwell

    I discovered my love for cooking after marriage at age 20. While never having the slightest interest before, I found the joy of preparing a meal, presenting said dish, and eating every delectable bite with my best friend to be one of the greatest experiences in life. I cherish my kitchen and the opportunity to create nourishment for family and friends! Perhaps it is because when you cook and sit down to eat, you are providing fuel for the body through food and fuel for the soul through conversation. Every meal should be a celebration!

  31. Anna Maree

    I stumbled across your site tonight, via pinterest (my new addiction) and seem to have lost an evening reading, with pleasure, your story.

    I was able to identify with so much of what you have said and you have helped me make the right choice tonight. I was battling with the urge to break into the chocolates sitting on the dining room table, destined to be a birthday pressie for my friend but quietly calling my name from the giftbag.

    I was becoming hell bent on throwing my dieting regime to the wind and breaking into the lovely chocolate heaven but your blog has kept me from ‘doing evil’ and reminded me about why I’m doing this in the first place.

    Although I’m following a very strict regime at the minute I’ll be looking through your delightful receipes to find something that will tick the correct boxes and keep me on track – I hope at the end of it that I will look as good as you do but I doubt it! You must be so proud of your achievement, you are absolutely stunning.

    Thankyou for sharing all of this with us – it helps to know that other people have these feelings and hang ups but that its not going to be forever, we can do something to change it.

    I lost 6 stone during 2011, had a stone shaped blip during December but am back in the ‘weightloss zone’ now and looking forward to a happy and healthy 2012 when I don’t have to fear the summer months and worry about showing anything more than my wrists to the sun!

    Looking forward to hearing more from you and getting back into the kitchen.

  32. Kahlana

    Andie, just found your blog thanks to someone on a weight loss forum I go to fairly regularly. I recently had bariatric surgery and am so looking forward to trying out your recipes when I can eat solid food again (in the liquid stage of healing at the moment so protein shakes are my best friend right now.)
    I also love the way you write. And can imagine sitting in your kitchen, a mug of hot coffee in hand as we chat about life and food and family. I will definitely be back again. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this.

  33. Dan

    I might be echoing someone else’s comment about how calories and other nutritional facts are included. So it would be simple to plan a week’s worth of dinners and pretty closely know what I’m taking in.

    Then I read a bit further and you’re coming out with a cookbook in 2013. So I guess I’ll go by the recipes that are available, then get your book when it’s time.

    You looked pretty happy 135 lbs ago, but I’ll bet your heart is happier now that she doesn’t have to work so hard.

    Kudos to you beautiful.

  34. Peggy

    Thank you so much. I had weight loss surgery not quite two weeks ago and your words are like a cool rain on a parched piece of asphalt. Here is the food I love and can eat on my new journey.

    Thank you.

  35. Becky

    Thank you for sharing! Your story is very inspiring to me. I started weight watchers last January and I’ve lost 71 pounds so far. I have about 60 or so more to go. I’m excited to continue reading your site and trying some of the recipies! :)

  36. Lee ann

    Loved that… stumbled upon your site via pinterest. your brief memoir brought tears to my eyes…my love for cooking evolved much the same way…watching my mother and late grandmother.
    Thank you for opening up…

  37. Amy

    This blog is truly wonderful. Inspirational to say the least – especially losing all that weight during your college years… I hope that more people are able to see your blog, and realize that you can still eat and enjoy food while being healthy and fit. A concept that has been lost these days… Thanks again.

  38. Evie

    I have just come to your blog for the first time from Mad Mim. I am so grateful to her for sending me and to you for your this post.
    I’m in the middle of my weight loss journey. 36 down at least another 24 to go. And it’s hard. Because whilst I recognise that I eat too much…I eat too much of the good stuff. With the exception of Haribo, it’s home cooking I love to make and eat.
    I’m looking forward to exploring your recipes and learning to cook beautiful food that is healthy as well as delicious.
    Thank you.

  39. www.producepantry.com

    I agree with you. It is amazing how healthy we can make our favorite indulgences. When using whole foods, calories are naturally lower. With a few substitutions, something that was once thought of as unhealthy becomes healthy.
    Thank you for a great blog, I am looking forward to trying some of your recipes!

  40. Staci

    I love food, cooking and the whole process. I completely know exactly your struggles with weight. There is nothing I would rather do than eat, cook, read cookbooks,buy cooking magazines, grocery shop etc. I also struggle with my weight…5′ 7″ 180 pounds. I completely “get” you and this blog!

  41. Kimberly Pennell

    I can’t tell you how much your honesty just gets me. I read what you write and think, ‘How does she know that’s how i feel?’. My struggle with food has been for the last 20 years and at 55 now, I can NOT wait any longer. I must act on what I know. Fear of not eating good food, of not able to be in the kitchen doing what I love has kept me in an invisible time/space split. This very post is what helps me realize that i can lose. I can exercise. I can cook and enjoy it. With moderation. Thank for being who you are and sharing that with ME. God is using you, girl!


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