Cooking and Me

I started cooking about ten years ago because I had been eating frozen meals forever, and I noticed that at age 30, I started gaining weight.  And by gaining weight, I mean I finally got above 150 pounds.  Not grossly fat, not even overweight, at a more appropriate weight for my height and build, but it was really odd to notice I was finally not just eating and burning all the calories.

I’d always been a stick and now I’m close to average but my weight was still climbing slowly, so I figured my metabolism had down-shifted.  I mean, I’m not inactive, but at the time I pretty much just sat at my laptop, watching TV and playing around with computer stuff.

So, I started walking at least a mile every day while listening to music and podcasts, and I changed my commute to use the train or buses more than driving, so I’d have to walk a bit, but I was still fluctuating.

I looked in the fridge, and I saw all frozen meals from the grocery store.  I looked at the labels, and I was kinda worried.  Not that I was worried about chemicals or such, but I saw a heck of a lot of fat and salt, and I didn’t really taste it in these meals.

If I had decided to start cooking fifteen or twenty years ago, I might not have had as much success, but the Internet and Google made finding recipes easier.  So, I started simply, with soups and stews, just to learn the basics.

And I got my weight to stop wandering so much.  But I didn’t like eating the same three things all week, and just buying mixes or kits instead of frozen meals wasn’t satisfying.

I eventually tried to make an Irish stew for a potluck at work, and was surprised by how much people liked it.  Usually at potlucks you have leftovers – but the crock pot might as well have been licked clean.

I started experimenting with changing recipes I found online, and when I made something good that wasn’t just following a recipe, I’d bring some over to Dad to see if it really was good, and if he approved, I’d start experimenting more.  I tried to start writing things down, but I wasn’t as good at documenting things as I would’ve liked.

Eventually websites started showing up, like SeriousEats.com and Crock-Pot.com and I started seeing variations on recipes.  So, I could start opening different variations in other windows and tabs, and comparing.

I started seeing how some spices worked, but I wasn’t really understanding the idea.

A couple of years ago, now, I went to Florida to visit my brother, and we went to a Chinese supermarket.  My eyes were opened.  It was amazing.  I should’ve taken more pictures, because the vegetables and plants were jaw-dropping in their variety.

But then we turned a corner, and there were tanks of fish, living fish, and other things from watery environs.  And then we turned another corner, and there were aisles and aisles of frozen things.  And further along, spices from floor to ceiling.

We just kept walking through this store, completely overloaded, just trying to absorb what we were looking at.  There were frozen noodles made from almost every variety of ingredient you could possibly use to make noodles, and we found the same in dried noodles.  We found more kinds of ramen than we thought could exist.  We found meats and fishes that were mythical in variety.

This grocery store was like three joined together.  We almost emptied our bank accounts, but came to our senses before we reached the checkout.  We settled on a few things.

But when I came back to Minnesota, I started looking up recipes I always disregarded as not-me.  You know – those recipes that are from cultures us white people really screwed over a couple hundred years ago, and keep screwing over today.  But letting guilt guide your interests and enjoyments in arenas like cooking is a little stupid.

I started playing, honestly just enjoying the exercise of creativity.  I started looking at cooking the same way I used to look at making art, (a way I hope to again, one day,) and my kitchen became a playground.

Because cooking is like science that you get to taste.  Science doesn’t always have that guarantee, and eating some experiments can be really bad for you.  But cooking usually results in something fun, and if it doesn’t, there’s a chance to rescue it.

I may have just jinxed myself with that last statement, but it holds true, mostly.  In ten years I’ve only had to throw out a few things.  But I learned valuable lessons about the difference between freshly ground pepper and pre-ground pepper.  Or that cumin seeds and powder are not a 1-for-1 exchange.  

Regardless, I don’t know if you readers have found that kind of thing in your own lives.  I really hope you do, or that you have.

Now I’m off to watch some Adventure Time and prep some stuff to make refried beans, and maybe get the stuff to make a good meatloaf.  The freezer is getting a little spare.  Have fun, readers.

Skåll!!!