Here we are, just ten days short of a month since I registered Milk And Madeleines, and I have remained somewhat anonymous since I started. How rude of me. Let me introduce myself.
My fascination with the creation and enjoyment of food officially began in 2000, after I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma-a cancer of the lymph nodes. The thing about cancer is that emphasis is placed upon whether or not the patient is, or is not eating properly.
In 2001, I underwent a stem cell (bone marrow) transplant, using my own harvested stem cells. The process dictated an entire summer of my life. After intense chemotherapy and a transplant, I was in isolation from the public for several months. I was at a high risk of infection, and a number of other diseases because my immune system was building itself back up to become stronger. This meant that if I wanted to eat something extraordinary, it depended on two factors:
Could I make it myself?
Did I feel well enough to eat?
As a teenager, I’m don’t think I completely appreciated watching the abundance of child-friendly programming and cartoons found on my hospital room television. After all, I was a young adult. Imagine my excitement when I realized that there was a new channel featured within the TV lineup, which wasn’t news or cartoons. It was an entire channel devoted to cooking shows. I was extremely fortunate for the fact that Food Network picked up in popularity during this time.
As I sat in my hospital room, which was covered wall-to-wall with posters of *NSYNC, 98 Degrees, and Backstreet Boys, I transported myself into a different place. As I watched the various personalities featured on Food Network, I imagined myself in front of the camera. I imagined myself as wildly enthusiastic as Chef Jamie Oliver, creating the perfect hot chocolate by shaking heated milk inside a jug to make it froth. I imagined myself as a sultry, flirty domestic Goddess as I listened to Nigella Lawson describe the immense pleasure of dining on pasta puttanesca. I fantasized that I were the leading lady giving the camera bedroom eyes as I licked my lipstick painted lips and loaded a fork with pasta. I dreamt of the day when I could be strong enough to leave the hospital, and attempt these recipes at home. Fantasies of cooking in my own kitchen gave me the motivation I needed to get myself stronger.
I wish I could say that after I returned home, that my life went back to being a normal teenager, ahem, young adult. That isn’t how cancer works. Cancer does funny things to a person’s tastebuds. After arriving home, I realized that my tastebuds and stomach were rejecting the same strong flavors I had envisioned myself enjoying. My body did not agree with my mind.
Garlic and onions tasted about as appealing as eating the dirt off of a shoe. But I did not give up and delay my healing by not eating. Slowly, but surely, my taste buds came back to me. When they did, it was hard to get me away from the kitchen. I realized that as a result of being in isolation, I had become more fearless in my cooking abilities. This newfound ability to cook became my way of adapting to the fact that my health was unpredictable. Cooking became an escape. I couldn’t rely on any restaurants to deliver any kind of culinary fix that my tastebuds had craved. I had to learn how to do it myself. Thanks to Food Network, I had no excuses.
Due to the fact that I had been absent from school, I had made arrangements with my school district to finish out my time in high school with the help of a homeschooling tutor. My tutor had an innate ability to sense when I was distracted, so instead of simply telling me to focus, he would work with me to incorporate my interests into my lessons. Sometime around Thanksgiving 2001, my tutor allowed me to start incorporating my interests in culinary arts into my curriculum. Each week, I looked forward to my lessons, because I knew that I could share my cooking experiences, and discuss what kind of recipes I had planned for the following weeks. Cooking brought me a sense of joy and control as my body recuperated from my four year stint with cancer.
Fast forward to the year 2008: President Obama was settling into The White House as our new President of the United States. I had dropped out of community college, and was several months into a job as a receptionist. On each lunch break, I poured over lifestyle, fashion, and food magazines. I ate my cafeteria food, ravenously planning what I might cook that evening. The day that a co-worker had mentioned that there was a small family owned market just a few blocks away from our office was the day that I found nirvana in grocery shopping.
From that day forward, I spent several days a week at this grocery store, walking each isle slowly. I stepped lightly, so I wouldn’t disturb others with the sound of my high heels. I no longer went grocery shopping with any agenda-I went to the grocery store and let the food speak to me. It was almost as if I could hear the right bell pepper, or the right freshly baked baguette speak to me and say, “Take me home. I will join you for dinner tonight. And you will love me.”
After three years of denial that I could ever turn my love of food into a career, I decided to take a leap of faith. I realized that the career path that would bring me the most happiness would not be found within office administration. I knew that I needed work that gave me some kind of creative outlet. I needed work that forced me outside of my comfort zone. I needed to do work that gave me a sense of purpose. I could no longer make excuses. An art school had opened its doors less than fifteen minutes away from my home, and they had an entire quarter of the school devoted to culinary arts. I quit my job, and decided to pursue a career in culinary arts.
Despite my doctors’ efforts throughout my early adulthood to bring my body back to health, I honestly don’t believe that I truly felt alive until my first week in culinary school. I had never felt a greater sense of passion until I was forced to execute recipes under a tight deadline. I came home each day, with my chef’s jacket drenched in sweat as if I had just participated in a marathon race. It wasn’t just the heat of the kitchen. My adrenaline was kicking in each day as I was forced to make decisions on the fly. Being in a culinary school kitchen lab exhilarated me, from day one, until September 2013, when I graduated from college with my Associate of Science Degree in Culinary Arts.
Since ending my career as a receptionist, I have found myself in various positions, from culinary tutor, to prep cook, to line cook, to kitchen manager. These jobs brought me immense joy, because I was finally able to focus full-time on what meant to me the most-the pleasure of creating food, and enjoying it. Sure, some of my meals were eaten in hot corners of kitchens as I hovered over a garbage can, drenched in cooking oil and my own sweat. But I have found that nothing has ever made me happier. Except for maybe one other thing.
Let’s go backwards to the year 2001.
September 11th was a day that many people will never forget. I remember the sound of my mother’s voice as she explained what had happened earlier that morning. I have always been the kind of person who takes on others’ pain as my own, and that week, their pain was weighing heavily upon me. Despite the tragedy, I felt a greater sense of humanity coming from those around me. I wanted to donate money to The Red Cross, but of course, I was only sixteen. I wasn’t able to maintain a job as I recuperated from cancer treatment. My monetary options were limited.
One afternoon, a few weeks after September 11th, I received a letter in the mail from the co-authors at Chicken Soup For The Teenage Soul. I remembered that I had written a short essay about living life to the fullest after I had been diagnosed with cancer. Not only did they want to publish my story-they wanted to send me a check. I instantly knew-I wanted to donate a large portion of that check to the people who had suffered unthinkable tragedies and losses in New York.
My story, titled Lumps, was featured in Chicken Soup For The Teenage Soul, On Tough Stuff. This was the first time I had ever been published. Upon publication of the story, I received a myriad of emails from individuals of all ages. These people told me their own stories: addiction, eating disorders, abuse, depression, anxiety, and heartbreak. I had never really imagined that my story-which I am almost embarrassed to admit, only took thirty minutes to write, would ever have that big of an impact on others.
After spending my teenage years focusing solely on fighting cancer, I found that my community college became a place to enjoy my newfound freedom as I studied extracurricular subjects-dating and relationships. Despite my lack of focus on my education, I found a sense of kinship with my peers in journalism class. These people accepted me, regardless of what I wore, what kind of music I listened to, or what I did. I was no longer known as that girl who has cancer. I no longer felt a sense of loneliness, because I felt that my classmates truly understood me. My journalism class consisted of people of all ages, from recent high school graduates to people who had grandchildren. These people all shared a love for creative writing, and we all embraced our own weirdness.
After spending one year studying boys…er, I mean, journalism, I was elected Editor-In-Chief of our college newspaper. I wish I could say that I had served the title well, but I would be lying. My biggest career regret is the fact that I did not utilize this time to the fullest. I could have spent this time using writing and editing as a therapeutic ritual, but I didn’t. I could have spent this time learning and focusing on my craft…but I didn’t. There is no excuse for goofing off, however, during this time, I felt a sense of invincibility after overcoming a life-threatening disease. I am human. I was living out my time as a young adult, doing the things I couldn’t do during the time I spent fighting cancer. To say that I lacked academic discipline and focus would be an understatement.
By the time I had finished my semester serving as Editor-In-Chief of the school newspaper, I had made the decision to stop wasting my college funds. I had turned my back on something that I had forgotten had brought me so much joy. I dropped out of my college, and my journalism program to pursue a career as a receptionist. As I have already mentioned, after serving three years as a receptionist, I decided to obtain my Associate of Science degree in Culinary Arts.
One year after graduation, I thought I had found my niche working as a kitchen manager. I spent at least twelve hours of each day in my hometown’s downtown area as a part of the thriving food scene, whether I was cooking or eating after my work shift. Something felt wrong, even though I finally felt successful. I realized how much I missed writing. I missed the feeling of being challenged. I missed having an actual outlet to keep track of my thoughts.
The problem with entering work with a company at the top of the food chain is that there is very little room for growth. I felt as though I needed my next career move to be it for me. I needed to think about my passions, and find a way to incorporate everything into my career.
After a ton of pros and cons lists…I quit my job as a kitchen manager to focus on my next move: culinary writing. I’ve realized that each of my past experiences have brought me closer to finding the proper ingredients for happiness.
My name is Chrissi. Why is my site called Milk And Madeleines? The image came into my head in a certain way that I’ll try to explain. A madeleine is a cake, which is eaten as if it were a cookie, which makes it difficult to describe. A picture of the first batch I had ever baked is featured as the site’s logo.
I have a complex past which has brought me to this point today. As proven by this 2000-something word blog post, trying to describe my history within just a few sentences is much like trying to describe the pleasure of eating a madeleine cake (as a cookie) to a person who has never tasted one.
Someday, I might even share my favorite madeleine recipe.
I have established this site, Milk And Madeleines for the purpose of sharing my love of all things culinary. Here, you’ll find food inspiration. I’ll share kitchen basics, techniques, recipes, photos, restaurant reviews, food travel destinations, and food trends.
After fifteen years, I have finally outgrown my inability to focus, because I have found the one thing that has never failed to inspire me. To me, culinary writing is it.
And PS-If you want to get on my good side on a first date, talk to me about food.