January 19, 2009 by skwishface
I used to be terrified of cooking.
When I graduated college, my culinary skills encompassed scrambled eggs and the ability to follow the instructions on the box as long as the steps were few and the ingredients minimal. Jell-O was a specialty of mine. Does it get any better than add hot water, stir, add cold water? Or substitute juice, if you’re feeling extra sassy!
Then I moved in with the Husband (who was, at that time, the Boyfriend, and we lived in glorious sin), and realized that he brought no additional cooking skill to the party. He could make spaghetti. And while it was very good spaghetti, it was also his one and only dish that did not involve packets of powdered cheese food. We lived like this for a time, brining ourselves in a slurry of high-sodium boxed meals , dropping loads of money on going out to eat, and generally keeping Pizza Hut in business. There was also the influx of leftovers from his mother’s house, which varied in strangeness but were always eaten because OH MY GOD actual home-cooked food.
I had already decided that I would marry this man, will-he-nill-he, and so it started to bug me just how much we were depending on his mother’s leftovers. At the time, he was also doing his laundry over at his mother’s house (a 40-minute round trip made once a week) despite the ready availability of our apartment complex laundry room. Though he lived with me, he still depended on his mom for the comforts of home. Comforts that I, as his someday-wife, should be able to provide. But really, what was I providing? Warmed-up processed food products and a $3.00 batch of clean clothes.
I couldn’t do anything about the cost of the laundry machines, but I could, I decided, learn to effing cook. We were going to have kids at some point in the fuzzy, distant future, and I could not raise children on a diet that could claim juice-mixed Jell-O as its most nutritional component. But, I mentally wailed, how the hell would I learn to cook without someone to show me how? We didn’t exactly have spare cash for culinary classes. My mom lived four hours away. I didn’t know my future mother-in-law well enough to lurk around in her kitchen and take notes. Crap crap crap.
Then I turned on the TV. Did you know there is an entire network dedicated to food? And on this network there are nice people who take 30 minutes to explain in clear, concise terms how to prepare various dishes. Should you need clarification, there is a website full of recipes and tips. Somewhat dubious, I started watching.
Cooking shows have come a long way, baby. I went into watching these shows expecting this, and I got this. No more do we have two cameras in fixed positions, one pointed directly at the chef and one straight down at the stove. Poor production quality is no longer allowed. Food is big business now, and has apparently decided to act like it. Sure, the hosts have their idiosyncracies, and sometimes the recipes are just plain bizarre, but the quality of the information is hard to deny. After a while, I started noticing some trends:
- everything starts with olive oil and minced garlic in a pan
- everything in that pan is cooked over medium heat
Okay, not everything, but close enough! One day, I watched an absurdly cheerful woman in a kitchen designed by Ikea’s funky grandma cook up some chicken and pasta and I realized … I could totally do that. How hard could it be? I’m a college-educated smartypants. If this chirping koosh-ball of sunshine on my TV could not only cook this meal, but cook it in less than thirty minutes, and presumably get paid handsomely to do so on camera, sure I could manage a reasonable facsimile.
So I went online. Printed out the recipe. Took the print-out with me to the grocery store. Painstakingly purchased everything on the ingredients list. Got it all home and confronted my kitchen. It was a desolate place, a forbidding landscape through which howled winds that whispered of failure. Undaunted, I proceeded to damn near remove my own fingertips trying to mince fresh garlic cloves. Unfazed, I narrowly avoided severe burns as I dropped said garlic into hot olive oil from a probably inadvisable height. Stunned, I ran out of the kitchen to the office where the Then-Boyfriend was doing something computery and demaned to know “Do you smell that???”
He glanced up. Took a cursory sniff to placate me. Then did a double-take.
“That delicious smell is coming out of MY KITCHEN!” I crowed. Triumph was mine! Good smells were actually wafting around the apartment, and they came from fresh ingredients prepared by me. The dog came sniffing around, staring into the kitchen like he’d never seen it before and might, if such scents were to become commonplace, be persuaded to actually set paw on the tile floor in there. In an ecstasy of delight, I flew through the rest of the recipe, announcing each new phase like an overly-enthused sportscaster so that everyone within a city block would know that I had conquered my own kitchen.
In retrospect, the resulting dish was probably not that great. I’m fairly certain the pasta was overdone and the chicken was chewy. But that’s not the point. The point was that I actually cooked something. Something new. Something that had no instructions but what I found for myself, and no boxes or pouches.
It was a breakthrough, dammit.