Never underestimate the power of the written word. I was thinking about this only yesterday and I realized that I might have become curious about the world and travel around the same time that I started cooking. How’s that possible?
As a young girl with three older sisters who were far too cool for me being the baby of the family, I spent a great deal of time alone before my little sister was born a few years later. My imagination was engaged at all times and as soon as I could learn to read, I did. I quickly graduated from reading cereal boxes to reading whatever I could find around the house, including cookbooks.
What I found especially interesting were a set of recipe cards from Betty Crocker as you can see in this picture. No one else in my family seemed even the slightest bit interested and it was rare to have something all to yourself. The food intrigued me as it was nothing like what I was eating at home and no one was trying to grab the cards away from me. It was definitely a win-win in my book.
What was I eating? The daughter of a German father and a Puerto Rican mother, while we ate a vast amount of rice and beans (no complaints from me as it is still one of my most favorite meals!), the remainder of our meals were definitely Americanized to accommodate the palates of my siblings. Macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, casseroles of every kind, and lots and lots of meat. If you want to know how or why I became a vegetarian, there you have it. My father enjoyed steak and the smell of it, well, it was a huge turn off for me. I remember filling my cheeks with the food like a chipmunk and disposing of it secretively.
So to see these cards with food that wasn’t exactly fancy, but in a word, foreign, intrigued me. Why wasn’t I eating food like this? Who ate food like this? The recipe cards offered me an escape to these mysterious destinations that I had never heard of previously and helped me travel, even if only in my mind, to far away places. On the back of the Lace Roll-Ups recipe card it reads “Golden crisp and lacy cookies, popular in Sweden where they are rolled while warm around a wooden spoon handle.”
In addition to preparing many of these dishes, I also researched the countries from which they came and devoured statistics with a vengeance. Suddenly living in New York, which was previously the center of the universe, wasn’t the only interesting place to be. While New York still remains the center of the universe, while feeding others and myself “international favorites,” I was also feeding my brain about the world in which I lived. Every opportunity I had I was reading about these countries like India, Spain, England, Africa, Norway, and many others. The more I prepared the food from these countries, the more I wanted to see them in person. While other children my age were playing sports or playing with their friends, I was captivated by spices like saffron and garam masala and I wanted to know how and where I could find them. A fun afternoon for me was standing over the stove like a mad scientist and creating something that I had never seen or heard of before and finding that people actually liked what I had cooked for them.
Fast forward to today and people often ask what ignited my passion for travel. I can tell you that I can’t really provide a straightforward answer. While my father took my family to Germany when I was 9 on my first international flight and trip, that combined with my love of cooking and reading about the world definitely worked together to create the love for travel that I have today. I still love to cook and when I travel I most definitely want to try the local food as long as it is meat-free. There’s something to be said about trying something new even if you think it sounds weird or perhaps “foreign.” Taking risks with everything makes you enjoy life more, I promise!
I’ll always be a gypsy at heart and I would much rather live out of a suitcase any day of the week than live a boring, routine life. While the recipe cards have yellowed with age and although I might not refer to them at all these days, I appreciate what they did to help create the world traveler that I am today.