I really enjoy cooking (and cooking shows...and cookbooks...). To be fair, I particularly enjoy cooking when I'm not racing a clock, or have hungry kiddos begging for food, or know that someone else will clean up after me. But situational exceptions aside, I just like it a lot. I was thinking the other day about those people who have contributed to my love of cooking and/or the way I cook. We all have inspirations, and I've been blessed to have a few great ones.

Like many others, my first experiences with food and cooking were at home. My mom will tell you she never really liked cooking all that much, but what I remember is that she did (and does) a great job with simple, nourishing meals. From my perspective, she was also good at taking whatever we had on hand and putting it together into something yummy. She was the queen of delicious reinvented leftovers.

My Grandma Rush loved to cook. And more than that, she loved to feed people. Big family dinners were a joy. I can also remember a few single men from church would stop by for dinner from time to time, and I don't know who had more fun -- the person getting treated to excellent home cooking, or my Grandma watching them enjoy it. I remember cookies, pies, sun tea on the porch, homemade meatballs, the best potato soup, and melt-in-your-mouth brisket. Being from Kansas City, Missouri, people often ask me about my favorite barbecue place. To this day, I have to stop myself from saying "my Grandma's house."

From my mom and my grandma, I learned about simple, good food. About the power and joy of sharing a meal with others. Pull up a chair and make yourself at home.

My family started homeschooling when I was in 8th grade, and at some point my brother and I took a cooking class from my mom's best friend Carol. Carol was an amazing cook. Her husband used to say that he didn't really enjoy going out to eat at restaurants because he could eat better at home. I remember thinking it was funny that Carol subscribed to a couple of magazines (probably Better Homes and Gardens, and maybe another one or two) just for the recipes...of course, joke's on me, because I have totally done that. I don't remember a lot of details from that cooking class, aside from making homemade bread for the first time, and learning to read and follow recipes. But what I do remember, is learning the fun to be had in trying new things and branching out. Reading magazines just to discover new recipes. And that you can basically cook anything if you have a good recipe.

My culinary nostalgia would not be complete without also mentioning my good friends Nicole and Jeanette. We shared a house with Jeanette for... a few years (I'm having trouble remembering how many), and Jeanette was always game to try out whatever new recipe I felt like cooking. I also think I can credit Jeanette for my intense love of cooking competition shows. We shared a house with Nicole and Ryan for about six (or more? again, can't remember) years. In Nicole, I had a partner in crime. Someone who loved to cook as much as I did, but who had her own unique go-to recipes and style of cooking. Cooking with Nicole encouraged me to explore, to eat more baked goods (well, to bake more...but then someone has to eat it), and to never underestimate the power of having someone to clean up with afterward.

So there you have it: from taco night, improvised spaghetti sauce and barbecue to stuffed cherry tomatoes, pierogies, risotto, and Marlboro Man sandwiches. And because I have to tie everything in to books...

One of my current go-to cookbooks:

Not only are the recipes fast and yummy, but they do a lot of explaining, so it's like a mini cooking class.

Cupcakes, friendship, (high school) romance:


Caterers, family, life:

Scarlet Feather