For as long as I can remember, I have loved creating things. When I was little, I would spend countless weekends working on craft projects, making photo collages from magazine cutouts, rearranging my bedroom, or helping my grandma set up for parties. Never was I not doing something. For the longest time, I had always said that I was going to grow up to be a fashion stylist. I loved clothes, but even more than that, I loved putting pieces together to make them pretty. I get this from my nonnie, who taught me all I know about tablescapes, entertaining, and making one heck of a Dutch Baby (page 29). It wasn’t until I was fourteen or fifteen that I started to get into cooking, but once I started, I never stopped . . . clearly.
Let me back up. I am one of seven kids. Yes, I did say seven, and yes, we all have the same mom and dad. For most of my life, I was the only girl of the bunch—my little sister, Asher, wasn’t born until I was fifteen. This meant my early years were spent as one of the biggest tomboys around. Dirt bikes, snowboarding, swimming in the lake. My mom put me in cute dresses and hats, but I wanted nothing to do with them. When she picked me up from preschool, I’d hop in the van and immediately whip off my pretty clothes (I know, I know, so wild). I’d strip down to the boxers and tee I wore underneath, just like my brothers, and breathe a sigh of relief.
Growing up in such a big family meant a lot of things. My life was not only fun; it was also never boring. It was hectic, unorganized, and, um, very loud. I am the only person in my family who loves a good routine, loves to be organized, and basically just hates all things chaotic. My mom, on the other hand, thrives on chaos. While I love her to pieces and she is my best friend, we could not be more different. She is an adventure-seeking, go-with-the-flow, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of person. Me, I’m a routine-loving, type A, crazy-focused freak. As a kid, it bugged me greatly that every single day in our house was chaotic. It bugged me even more that our dinners were about five times more frenzied than my friends’. I had this picture in my head of the perfect family dinner. You know, where everyone sits down together at a beautifully set table, at a reasonable hour, and eats like civilized people. I blame this perfectly concocted scene on the TV show 7th Heaven
, which I watched religiously (along with Gilmore Girls, which I proudly admit I still watch reruns of). For the most part, 7th Heaven
depicted a large family like mine. But they all sat down for dinner at a normal hour, ate a home-cooked meal, and discussed life as if they were actually normal human beings. That’s what I wanted, and I wanted it so bad.
My dad worked a full-time job as a bond broker, and after work he would head to the gym to play handball. When my mom was pregnant with me, with three crazy little boys in tow, my parents made a deal that Dad could go play handball after work every day if he’d take care of dinner when he got home. The unspoken part of their deal was that if Dad made dinner, Mom made dessert, which most of the time was ready before dinner.
You see, Dad’s usual hour of arrival home wasn’t until seven thirty or eight, and that was on a good night. Even on school nights we wouldn’t eat until almost nine. (Mom will try to tell you it was earlier, but she’s revised the memory a little bit. It was rarely before nine—ask any of my brothers.) Finally, when I was fourteen or so, I said something along the lines of, “Screw it! You guys are so annoying and I’m over it. I’m making my own freaking dinner!” And that right there is how and why I began cooking. At the time, I was cooking for the sole purpose of helping my dad get dinner on the table before nine p.m. What I soon came to realize is that I really had a lot of fun cooking. I was very much a rule-following kid, but in cooking, I was more carefree and creative. I might have used a recipe as a base, but I never followed it to a T. If I didn’t have something the recipe called for, I used whatever we had on hand and made it work. I was totally comfortable just doing my own thing, never fearful that something wouldn’t turn out. If there’s one thing my dad taught me about cooking, it’s that pretty much anything can be saved with a giant pile of cheese and a handful of fresh basil.
It wasn’t long before I took over all the cooking for the family. I loved it. I loved searching for recipes, going to the store and picking out ingredients, and, probably most important, I loved having control of something. It felt so good to rein in the chaos and take control of dinnertime.
My preteen and teenage years were extremely difficult for me. I struggled a lot with anxiety about school. That, on top of the chaos of my family, was really hard for me. Cooking was my own little escape, and it inspired me in a way I didn’t even know I could be inspired. My parents loved the help, too. It was winwin all around. The number one reason I love cooking is the reactions I see on people’s faces when they take that first bite of a delicious dish. My favorite thing ever is watching someone’s eyes roll back and then open wide into an “oh my gosh, this is heaven” look. Those reactions are what I live for, they’re what keep me cooking and running full speed ahead.
Fast-forward a few years. I’m eighteen years old, and living in LA, and working for Barbizon, an acting and modeling agency, as a talent agent. I’m in ready-set-go mode, about to start school at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, and pumped to begin my life as a fashion stylist, the life I’d been dreaming of since I was little. But after about two months, a case of homesickness kicked in. I freaked out and moved my butt back to Colorado, back to my comfort zone of family and chaos. At the time I was so disappointed in myself, but looking back now, it was without a doubt the best decision I’ve made in my life. The decision to start my blog, Half Baked Harvest
, came as soon as I returned home. I was feeling lost, and my mom convinced me to give something completely different a try. Over the years she had seen how happy cooking made me, so she suggested starting a food blog. Since I really had nothing to lose, I went for it and never looked back. That was when I stepped back out of my comfort zone and left it at the door. For good.
That decision is why I am sitting here now, writing this cookbook filled with recipes that I am super excited to share with you. That one decision set me up to create a life I love. You know what’s funny, though? The whole reason I even started cooking was because I simply wanted to eat dinner at a normal hour. We all joke now that I eat later than anyone else in the family, and it’s true, but only because I love what I do so much that my workaholic self doesn’t get around to actually eating until pretty late. I now understand the struggle my parents were faced with all those years ago. Life is busy, and dinner is hard to get on the table at a decent hour! But dinner is something that shouldn’t be rushed. It’s a time to relax with loved ones at the end of the day when work is done.
Cooking changed me, and my work changed me. I’m not the same timid, fearful, routine-loving person I used to be. Creating recipes for others to share with friends and family has brought me so much happiness! My hope for this cookbook is that it becomes a staple in your kitchen. I want it to be the book that has pasta sauce on the cover and chocolate smeared across the dessert pages, that automatically opens to your most favorite recipe because that’s how often you make it. I want this book to be your go-to.
As you will see, these recipes are inspired by the people and places I love most. I talk a lot about my family, as they truly are my favorite people in the world. My parents and each of my siblings have inspired these recipes in their own special way. My philosophy on food—be bright, beautiful, and positively cozy. My philosophy on life—work harder than anyone else.
Copyright © 2017 by Tieghan Gerard. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.