Each of us knows many excellent cooks as well as some that, well, just don’t quite qualify. So what is the difference?

My theory is similar to that phrase, "Live to Eat or Eat to Live." It’s quite apparent that I fit into the first category but thought scarce I do actually know a few folks who live by the latter.

Many cooks simply get anything onto the table to feed hungry mouths they’re responsible for while others cherish and thrive in the kitchen.

To the former, speedy preparation is their daily goal. To the latter, the more time they spend in the kitchen the more alive they become.

Though declining health and age have taken their toll on me, preparing and serving delicious food is one of the identities that will accompany me to my grave. Of course, there are many better cooks than I. My personal list of favorites is numerous. They are known for their detail and gift, if you will, in the culinary world. They blossom and flourish. On the other hand, some can’t create salivation for their subjects and a few literally make my stomach churn. Even the most basic ingredients can and should be tasty.

Aside from those who are downright nasty — everybody knows at least one — there are many who serve nothing less than delectable meals, snacks and goodies that are downright impossible to refuse.

The common denominator among good cooks is love. They love to cook. They love to serve. They love to see others enjoy their masterpieces as well as the simple fare that we often declare as comfort food. They love quality raw foods and are thrilled to cook from scratch.

They love those they feed and the compliments that follow, although often embarrassingly. They love delicious food, too.

There are some who will wolf down anything set in front of them. On the other hand, some of us prefer to eat things that are truly tasty. That’s me all over the place.

When a cook lacks this love, it shows. They cut corners. They aren’t particular about removing every little eye out of the potato or making sure there are no seeds, peels or debris in fruits and vegetables they serve.

Those who cook with love are patient, desiring their food to be served at the precise doneness, etc. We do eat with our eyes first. Diners often won’t try something lacking eye appeal.

Cooking with love requires reaching for new horizons and skills. Great cooks are always learning and seeking new recipes. They can generally tell how it will taste by merely reading the ingredients list and instructions — but that doesn’t stop them from trying new taste combinations and recipes.

Adequate cooks seldom try new recipes. Their goal is simply to fill bellies and get it over with. Best cooks delight in watching others enjoy food that they have lovingly prepared.

Even the tightest budgets do not deter great cooks from serving tasty and appealing meals. The most extravagant budgets won’t necessarily give so-so cooks a level up either.

Through the years, I’ve pondered this a great deal. Pretty much being a self-taught cook (though learning basics in my childhood home) is one thing that brings me joy.

When a young stay-at-home mom on a very tight budget, with neither car nor phone in a very rural area, I found solace and joy in my cookbooks. The Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook I received as a wedding gift in 1964 became my companion in those isolated circumstances. It remains an excellent source, even with today’s moderations, despite the duct tape holding it together, for an inexperienced cook with a desire to improve.

Oh, sure. I grew up cooking meals planned by my mother for our family of seven but that was restricting. As the opportunity to fill my own pantry and fridge came, so did creativity and inspiration. Studying a great cookbook certainly contributed.

If you don’t love to cook, try working on your attitude. More people have been eating and cooking at home this past year of pandemic than in a very long time. Let’s keep it up.

It is both soothing and welcoming to walk in the door and smell good food not coming from a cardboard box. Without spending extra for prepared food, we simply pop into the microwave, good home cooking allows a bonding opportunity for young and old alike.

The kitchen is the heart of the home. So don’t complain and pitch in to help. Make cooking wholesome yet delicious meals a major part of your day — and love every minute of it. You won’t regret it. Don’t criticize the cook either. They have taste buds. Just kiss the cook and dive in!

— A coal miner’s daughter born in Appalachia and schooled in Michigan, she currently lives in rural Athens. Hill describes herself as a cook and cookbook author, jack of all trades and master of none, a Christian wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She shares her home with her husband, Bob, and their spoiled-beyond-belief dog, Molly.

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