Cast Iron

Sometimes I talk about baking on here, which doesn’t really have anything to do with writing, but is still a reasonable thing to talk about. Because I like baking. I’ve been doing it since I was really young, thanks to the fact that being homeschooled always left my afternoons free, and early afternoon is, as everyone knows, the very best time to prepare something delicious.

I am not, however, what I would consider a natural baker. My mom and my sister both excel at it. They have a flair for it. They have an inherent understanding of this crazy thing called craftsmanship.

I … do not. I’m too meandering, too unstructured. I like flourishes and tangents and experiments and never doing things the same way twice.

Which means that at heart, I’m all about cooking.

I love cooking A LOT. So much that sometimes I search out things that look especially hard to make, just because I want to spend as long as possible in my kitchen. So much that when someone asks me what I’d like for Christmas or my birthday or any other gift-giving occasion, my answer almost always involves some kind of cookware, and when I got my first book deal, the way I celebrated was to get myself a really good set of knives.

(Also, they are for cooking, and not, as some people have insinuated, because I’m morbid and creepy and like sharp things. )

(However, if the zompocalypse happens, I already have my melee weapon all picked out. It’s the eight-inch Damascus steel chef’s knife with the ergonomic handle.)

In addition to my fancy knives, I also have a stand mixer, a blender, a really excellent stove, all the baking dishes in the world, a good rolling pin, and a pretty decent selections of pots and pans.

Also, this is not a post just about cooking, even though it kind of looks like it. If you shade your eyes and squint, it could definitely be a post about craft, or writing, or maybe even life. Because you know what else? The absolute most indispensable item in my whole kitchen is this:


This is a twelve-inch cast iron skillet that I bought from Target for eleven dollars the summer I was nineteen. It is the absolute dearest possession in my entire kitchen.

An abridged list of things this pan is good at:

  • Getting crazy-hot.
  • Pressing things flat.
  • Fighting anemia. For real.
  • Giving your arms a good workout.
  • Being indestructible.
  • Anything other pans are good at, only better.

With this one pan, you can make all of these things: broiler-ribeye, pineapple upside down cake, bacon and eggs, buttermilk biscuits, pancakes, fried fish, other fish, any sautéed vegetable, any topping or filling or sauce, Swedish meatballs, chicken-fried steak, and latkes. (Also, this pan has almost unilaterally devoted itself to what tastes delicious, rather than to what is particularly healthy.)

If this were a writing metaphor, I would tell you that a cast iron pan is knowing how to write a basic sentence, and that all the other griddles and trays and pans are just fancier dishwasher-safe versions of knowing how to do that same thing.

If it were a life metaphor, I’d say that Teflon is when you make everything way too complicated and over-think all the things you said in that meeting and wonder if anyone saw you almost bite it when you slipped walking up the steps, while the cast iron pan is you lying on your back in the yard, looking at the stars and feeling completely at peace because you know the surface is just as non-stick as Teflon, only you can still use steel wool without scratching it. You can leave it sitting on the burner and it will never warp because it got too hot. (Which is something you cannot safely do with the complicated life.)

But this is mostly a post about cooking, so mostly, I’ll just say this: if you have a cast iron pan, you can make almost anything.

Except cupcakes.

Because you need a special tray for that.

14 thoughts on “Cast Iron

  1. My brother gave me a cast iron frying pan when I moved out west, and I was all “I am probably only going to use this for self-defense!”, but it turned out to be hella useful.

    I got a new icing tip today. My cupcake world just expanded. Like, LEVELED UP. I am excited.

    • I specifically almost mentioned icing tips, and how they are the One Thing that I do not have in my kitchen! (Even though I did cake decorating in 4-H when I was little, so I grew up with them in the house. But I was really terrible at cake decorating. So.) Lately, I’ve been thinking about them a lot though, because I have a bunch of recipes that would just be so much easier if I had a pastry bag!

  2. Huh, I am confused right now…and slightly amused. Because I hate cooking and now I find myself wanting a cast iron skillet. I think your true calling is a sales woman.

    :) Nobutseriously…I love baking. But not cooking. Baking makes sweet, yummy things. Cooking makes frustrated Christina, and burned food, and unhappy thoughts.

    • Oh man, I was a baking disaster for years! I am so bad at being precise—I just want to kind of eyeball everything, and it took me forever to figure out that when you read the list of ingredients for a cake, those measurements are not approximations. No, they really-really mean it!

  3. You could make a big cupcake! I like cooking too, but not baking, unless it’s a roast. Did you grow up with one of those old iron wood stoves? They cook the best roasts & scones & toast, but you have to watch the scones because you can’t regulate the temperature. They’re too big to use as a weapon, but the sound of the door closing & wood sparks popping, my best childhood sound. The iron age was great & everything tasted better. I remember spending days, all day, chopping & stacking firewood & I never tired of it. The wood smelled good, the stove sounded awesome, & the fire created atmosphere for late nights playing cards. Teflon will never create nostalgic memories :( A wood stove is on my wish list.

    • While it’s not exactly a big cupcake, one of my favorite things to make in the skillet is a batch of cornbread. It fluffs up perfectly on top, and gets all light and crispy on the bottom—delicious!

      I did grow up with a wood stove, but it was only for heat (we had an electric range for cooking). We sometimes dried apple slices on top of it though, and it worked just like a food dehydrator. I used to love chopping wood, but I was the weedy one in the family and my mom always worried I wasn’t strong enough to use the splitting maul, so I mostly chopped kindling, while she and my sister did the stove lengths. However, when we had the writing retreat this February, there was a maul and a fire pit, and I got to show off my splitting technique!

  4. I am not entirely sure what I just read here. But I have a sneaking suspicion that it is profoundly brilliant. *bookmarks* It is not possible to mention zombie apocalypse weapons, writing craft and cooking in the same post and not have it be awesome.

  5. mmmm. Nice skillet portrait. I see you’re elevating the skillet, but why slight the blade? I associate your stories more with edges than with blunt instruments. I would like to see this blade. Does it have a holder? –You know, like a sword?

    • I figured I needed to shake things up a little! Everyone knows my penchant for sharp things, but who would guess that all my kitchen exploits started with an 8-inch skillet when I was five?

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