Ronda Kaysen: Alma Schneider is a 41-year-old mom of four and a clinical social worker in suburban New Jersey. You'd think that would be enough to keep a girl busy, but she's also the creator of "Take Back the Kitchen," a blog she launched in 2007 that's dedicated to helping people overcome their fear of the kitchen.
Schneider is convinced that the reason many of us moms order takeout rather than create a tasty meal for the kids is that a psychological issue of some kind is holding us back -- and if we can figure it out, we can get over it and channel our inner Julia Child. She's put her theory into practice, treating people's kitchen phobias with therapy sessions that involve restocking the pantry and dusting off the Cuisinart.
We sat down with Alma to find out the secrets to great cooking -- and how we can all let go of our fear of peeling garlic ....
Momlogic: How did you come up with the idea for "Take Back the Kitchen"?
Alma Schneider: A friend of mine moved and got this huge kitchen. For her housewarming gift, I told her that I was going to teach her how to cook. I sat in her kitchen with her and started asking her questions. And I went home that night and wrote up this long plan addressing all these issues of hers. I looked at it and had this epiphany: There is a psychological issue to cooking, and no one addresses these issues. I realized that this was my new career.
ML: What are some of the psychological barriers people have toward cooking?
AS: Gender-role complex is one. People think it's not cerebral enough; it's not important enough to be tied to the kitchen; we don't need to be cooking and should be focusing on career-minded ventures.
ML: What's the quirkiest barrier you've ever heard of?
AS: There's a client I dealt with whose mother-in-law literally had her own Tupperware, cooking utensils and food in her house. The mother-in-law would cook with her own ingredients and freeze it so that her son -- my client's husband -- could have all these nurturing foods from his mother.
ML: How did you solve that one?
AS: We took back [my client's] kitchen. We brought all the mother-in-law's things down to the basement [so she could] take back her space and make it her kitchen. [My client] said, "I want my husband to come every day and smell food cooking." And she has [succeeded].
ML: For me, the hardest thing about cooking dinner is motivation. Sometimes the kitchen is a mess and the thought of washing the dishes before I can even begin to chop the onions is just more than I can bear. How would you suggest that an exhausted, overworked mama tackle that one?
AS: Cooking is about incentive. What is your incentive? Do you want to be healthier? Do you want to save money? Once you become aware of what your incentive is, you're going to be more motivated.
ML: What do you enjoy most about cooking?
AS: It's creative. I really started delving into it when I had kids, because it was the only thing I could do with little pockets of time. I could never finish the laundry, but I could finish a meal.
ML: You have four kids. Do any of them cook?
AS: Yes. My oldest daughter loves to cook. It's time for us to talk when we cook together. It's a great way to bond. She's very creative and she comes up with interesting recipes and she's only 9.
ML: What's your kids' favorite meal?
AS: We have "make your own taco" night; I put out bowls of different things and they make their own tacos. They love the creative aspect of it.
ML: What's your favorite dish to cook?
AS: Green Thai curry is one of my favorite foods, and I love the fact that I don't have to go to a restaurant to eat it. I love serving it to people because people can't imagine that they could make it. It's very empowering to do that.
ML: How did you learn to cook?
AS: I was always around food. I would watch my mother cook for seven kids every single night, and although they weren't gourmet meals, there would always be a well-balanced meal even though she worked until 4 every day.
ML: How would you describe your cooking style?
ML: Do you think that anyone could be a good cook, or is there a certain innate talent involved?
AS: I don't think it's innate. Like anything else, the experiences that people have early on in their lives and later in their lives influence how they cook. Some of my clients who were kept out of the kitchen or criticized early on in the kitchen might say, "Forget it. It's not for me."
ML: Is there a secret to good cooking?
AS: Cooking is not just about the food. It's about experiencing the cooking and experiencing serving it to people and eating with people. Enjoy the ride and remember why you're doing it. If you keep all those things in mind, cooking will be less stressful and more enjoyable.