Make Yourself Some Food

I was cursed with a mother who could cook. Not only cook but bake as well. My mother chose to be a homemaker (a term for housewife I hadn’t heard of until filling out my college applications) because she delighted in creating a wonderful home for us. This included a great many acts of services, both small and large. She would make our beds, clean our laundry, clean the house, cook for us, and things innumerable that as I start to try to create my own sense of “home” with my wife, I am now only starting to appreciate.

Coming home to a wonderful meal every day meant that I never had to worry about cooking while I was growing up. Food simply appeared, and I beheld it, and it was good. After leaving for college there was the freshman commons, so cooking was also not something I needed to learn. For the remainder of the three years in college I couldn’t tell you what I ate, only that it made me gain weight and taught me nothing about food. When I went into the professional world, I had a new commodity in which to help me procure delicious meals, money. Money allowed me to eat out a lot, or to eat simply at home (I once ate sandwiches for dinner every night for 6 months and loved it).

It was really when I started my professional career that I started to take a small interest in cooking. It was probably more of an awareness regarding how little I understood of the art and the craft of making food. It felt like there was this party where everyone there knew how to cook, but nobody had ever invited me to join them. I didn’t know how to cook, and I didn’t really even know how to learn how to cook. I remember very early on I bought a Thai cookbook because it had huge pictures and they looked tasty. All the book did was inspire me on many nights to get take-out Thai food.

Here were the reasons I used to avoid cooking:

  • I don’t want to buy all these specific ingredients for this one dish and never use them again.
  • The few dishes I have tried to make were not that good so I must not be a good cook.
  • I can’t just randomly grab what I have at home and whisk up something delicious so I must not be a good cook.
  • By the time I get home from work I’m really hungry and don’t want to have to think about what to make, at that point it’s already too late, I want food ready right away. It’s easier to just pick up something on the way home.
  • Cooking for one seems ridiculous. I always make too much and then for some reason sit down and eat all of it.

I could always justify not cooking for any one of those reasons. If something looked good it always required too many ingredients that I didn’t already have at home (which was none). I would try to improvise and the dishes usually didn’t turn out very flavorful. I think what it boils down to was that I was never willing to just submit myself totally to a recipe, to all of its ingredients, and spend the time to actually learn to cook.

Now that we’re in Montana there are situations that have created the ideal conditions for me to learn to cook. The first is probably that there are simply no good places to eat out around here. Not in our small town, and not really in the bigger towns either. Montana does not have a food culture, at least nowhere near what we enjoyed in the Bay Area, so going out to eat has become much less appealing. The second is that because we don’t have an income right now, we are trying to limit the amount that we eat out. Finally, I have time now to cook. I can start cooking something hours before dinnertime so it’s ready by the time I’m hungry.

Liz still does probably 99% of the cooking, but I have cooked more in the last 9 months that I have in my entire life. I’ve tried things I never would have conceived of trying before. Some of those dishes include bbq ribs, red wine braised short ribs, french onion soup, Japchae (a Korean noodle dish), Bokkeumbap (Korean friend rice), Spaghetti Algio e Olio, and experimenting with how to perfect cooking eggs and bacon. I can now correctly chop an onion. I can now julian carrots. I know how to caramelize onions. I know how to fry a good egg. I know how to cook nice and crispy bacon. I’m still a total novice cook, but am vastly more capable than I was only a year ago.

There have been three realizations that I’ve had from the experience of starting to cook.

  1. It really is a skill that you can get better at. Each time I make a dish I improve some small part of it to make it better next time. It is a slow progression, but every time I learn to make one dish a little better, all my dishes become a little better as I understand a little more about the craft of food making.
  2. I enjoy it. I still cannot just open a fridge and create a meal from a selection of ingredients, but so far I really enjoy following a recipe and preparing the food, cooking it, seasoning it, and seeing it go from a set of ingredients to a complete meal. Even meals that take hours I find that I’m able to get lost in it and really enjoy the process of creation.
  3. The more I learn to cook, the better I am able to appreciate good cooking. I’m more aware of quality of ingredients, of subtlety of taste, and of presentation. I’ve been back to restaurants that I used to like, ordered my favorite dish, and realized that I no longer like it. I can now see the lack of seasoning, or the overpowering of their seasoning, or how the meat could have been better prepared. Because I can now create some food, I can better empathize with it. This makes me want to eat better food, eat tastier food, not becoming a food snob, but not settling for garbage (don’t worry, pizza is still my favorite food).

For those of you out there that don’t cook, it is well worth your time to try. If anybody thinks it would be helpful to have someone hold their hand though a first couple of meals let me know and I’d love to help you get started. We can do like a Skype session where we both cook a meal together or something. We can get creative, but having that first meal cooked and come out well will give you the confidence to try another dish, then another, and soon, you’re cooking.