Origin Story

Learning how to make Bun Cha in Hanoi, Vietnam in February 2020.

The story of how a formerly picky eater turned into an obsessively diverse home cook.

The year? Probably 1986. The place? My parents’ kitchen table. The story? A standoff over eating more vegetables. “But a potato counts, right?” “No, it really doesn’t.” As they say “Mother always knows best” but I’d like to point out in reviewing my mom’s old recipe book, the number of potato based recipes far exceeded any other vegetable. But I digress.

I was a picky eater. My favorite color of food to eat was white. Chicken. Potato. Rice. Bread. Vegetables weren’t on my radar and don’t even get me started on green food. It was the 1980s in Western Pennsylvania and I was in the middle of a standoff at dinner time. Mom just really wanted me to eat a few peas but I was not budging. I believe my parents finally relented and didn’t force the issue, and probably hoped I’d eventually learn to love peas (I still don’t, for the record).

Fast forward to 1996 and this same girl just found out that she was headed to China for two and a half weeks later that year. Had she eaten Chinese food before? No. Even Americanized Chinese food? Nope. Do they have potatoes there? Not really. Chicken and rice? Yes? GREAT. No problem. Fortunately she had a great friend who took her out for her first Chinese meal a few months before her departure. They went to a place in Pittsburgh called the Sesame Inn, she ordered some kind of chicken and rice dish and she thought: “If I can do this, I can do anything.” (Much kudos to my old friend Wade who not only took me out for my first Chinese meal but also my first sushi a few years later!)

If it’s not obvious yet, that young girl was me. And the food in China was not as I expected but that trip set off a chain of events…I was bit by the travel bug. And I saw a world so much bigger than I could have ever imagined. And the food? Well…it took me a bit longer to get on board with other colors of food, but by my 20s, I was cooking regularly, mostly from my mom’s recipes that she equipped me with when I struck out on my own after college. But I was ready to diversify.

In 2009, I decided to make a pact with myself to take a trip abroad each year. And I kept that promise to myself for the next 12 years until COVID-19 put a bit of a wrench in my record. Around the same, I started setting cooking resolutions for myself. One year it was to cook one new recipe a week for a year. A friend suggested I start to blog about my cooking so the following year, in 2012, I started my first blog: Small Girl Big Appetite. I featured my ramblings and simple recipes I found in my cookbooks or in magazines, sharing the recipes, some less than stellar photos (hey, it was the earlier days of iPhones) and occasional musings of meals I had in various places in the U.S. and overseas. The shelf life on that blog was about three years. I decided to abruptly stop blogging, but I didn’t stop cooking.

In 2020, as the world shut down I thought it’d be good to push myself again like I had in 2012 but instead of cooking one new recipe a week for a year, I aimed for 100. And I did and loved it.

In 2021, I decided to embark on a what likely will be three year project (if I keep my current pace) to cook a dish from every country in the world. And given that my last blog lost steam after three years, I think that is an appropriate goal. I had to settle on some sort of number and so it shall be 196 countries (somewhere between what the United Nations and United States recognizes). This project has already been underway for several months as I write this post, so I’m going to do a bit of a sprint to try and catch up with blog posts. More on my methodology, logic, and plan of attack to come in my next post.

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