Wednesday, August 8, 2012

My Evolution in Cooking { A Short Story}

Let's be honest. Cooking used to downright scare me. I mean a lot of things scared me when I was young, but thinking of myself as a cook in the kitchen gave me the chills. I never really thought I'd be able to do it. That might sound silly to some of you who were raised in a kitchen or had the cooking gene from birth, but my love for cooking has evolved over time. Aged like a fine wine, I like to think my cooking only gets better and more refined with time.

I was one of those kids who was terrified to make a mistake, who only raised my hand when I knew the answer, which was often because I made darn sure I knew the answers, and not having the answers scared me. It still scares me to not have the answers, but I'm getting better about that. Enter cooking in the kitchen. I thought a recipe was something that had to be followed exactly or you would run the risk of blowing up the oven. Okay that may be a slight exaggeration, but coming from someone who felt at home in the high school chemistry lab, you can see where the idea of making a mistake and exploding something comes from. I was scared of the kitchen. Sort of like I was scared of the chemistry lab but in a good way, because I usually aced my chemistry exams. Enter my sort of unhealthy need to be the best at every single thing I do. If I couldn't be the best I didn't really want to do it. Hence why I didn't cook much growing up.

College was a time of fear and uncertainty. Again, I'm very good at being dramatic when necessary for effect. I began learning to cook in college, because I needed to eat. See how that works? Sometimes when we need to do something we do it. I had my mom and dad making delicious meals for me most of my life, and I let them. It was a purely selfish way to think about food. In college, I learned to cook some things or starve. Fear has a funny way of making you do things you didn't think you could do. So I started cooking for myself in college. I became more certain that I could saute a mean frozen pierogi from Trader Joe's in Ann Arbor, and I also made a mean stir fry from the frozen food aisle. Hey, we all have to start somewhere.

{ Sandwiches and Harry Potter for dinner? Don't mind if I do. }

After graduating college, I moved in with family in Colorado. That helped my cooking skills tremendously, because my aunt seemed to be one of those people who was born with the cooking skills of a world class chef. Funny how we talk ourselves out of doing things because we think others are born with certain skills. Fortunately, she reminded me that good cooking comes with age, experience, and lots of messed up meals along the way. It was okay to make mistakes in the kitchen. Sometimes failing is the only way to learn. What a novel idea that seemed. I thank my aunt for being such a confident cook but also reminding me that she messed up meals too.

I finally moved in to an apartment with another Michigan alum, and she was not much of a cook. Let's be honest, she quite often called a bowl of cereal dinner. Who hasn't done that though? She was blessed with the baking gene, and I didn't seem to have a single bit of baker in me. She was thrilled to get a KitchenAid stand mixer for Christmas, but I just couldn't share the same enthusiasm because baking scared me. I had flashbacks of high school chemistry lab, and I kept think about an exploding kitchen. However, cooking a nice meal didn't seem to scare me quite as badly as it scared my roommate. We all have different abilities in the kitchen depending on how badly we want to eat a certain food. I knew I didn't want to live off of ramen for the rest of my life, so I learned to boil, saute, and bake things.

Enter my future husband (now my only and current husband). I would cook dinner for the two of us, because honestly I was just a better cook at that time. He ruled the grill, and that terrified me. I ruled the refrigerator, sink, stove, and oven. We ate things like baked chicken, lasagna, stuffed shell pasta, and pancakes. There were definitely burned meals and dried out chicken, but I was learning and growing more confident in the kitchen. Win, win.

{ see... cooking can be fun! }

Marriage was not all about burned meals, because I had tried to get that out of my system before terrifying my man completely. I tried my best to burn meals when I was cooking only for myself. With a husband who's a pilot, it was easy cooking for myself when he was gone. It was the best, and least embarrassing, way for me to learn. My dad came to visit one Thanksgiving, and I made almost all of the food by myself. That's right. All alone. It was a nice confidence boost, but it still freaks me out that I actually did that. I haven't done it again since.

{ I made all of this with a little help from my husband and father }

I'm actually to the point in my cooking evolution where I amaze my husband, and that's kind of cool. He'll exclaim things like "these are just as good as the pancakes at Snooze!" I'll respond by telling him he's crazy and that no one can make pancakes that delicious. My husband also looks at me like I just parted the Red Sea when I cook something without a recipe. That's something I never would have done in my fearful days of a chemist's approach to cooking. Heck, now I'll even modify a recipe to our tastes. I've learned that a recipe is more like a guideline, but you need to cook often in order to find out what you'd like to change about a meal.

I'm still absolutely terrified to cook for guests. I stick to the few things I'm most confident in making, but I always sweat a little when I know someone besides me or my husband will be eating my food. My fear of being judged by others comes rushing in, and I'll wonder if my meals will turn out or if they'll think I'm a dummy in the kitchen, or worse, maybe I will blow something up while they're watching. That still scares the bejeezus out of me.

{ steamed mussels would have scared me years ago }

My husband and I are actually at a point now where we don't even enjoy going out to eat, because most of the food I make at home is better than what we can get at a restaurant. I'm not saying that to make myself sound like an incredible chef, but it goes to show you we just don't have great food offerings here in the Tampa Bay area. Now if we still lived in Denver that would be a different story, because I can still eat at Vesta Dipping Grill and have the socks blown off my feet. We are still searching for a Tampa Bay restaurant that knocks our socks off.

Every day I'm learning to grow more confident in the kitchen. Not to mention, I am not afraid to put pumpkin in my pancakes these days. See what a little time, a whole lot of burned meals, people who believe in you, and some successful dishes will do to a person. Some day maybe I'll even learn to be successful at baking from scratch. Who knows maybe I'll give grilling a try, or I'll just leave that to my husband. I'm not sure there's room for two grill masters in the family.


  1. Ohhh it's great that you are overcoming your fears! I was TERRIBLE at the kitchen as well. I can honestly say that I didn't know how to cook before I got married. But since I couldn't find a full-time job, I had more time in my hands and started cooking more. (But I've always loved baking - but that doesn't mean I was good at it either). I had put on 25 pounds in the two years I lived here as an au pair, so I was decided to eat better. It takes time and effort, at least for me. Now I'm like you, I use the recipes as a guideline. For some people, like my mom, cooking comes easily. For me, it took lots of dedication! I think it's great that you challenge yourself and learn more.

    PS: For you to have an idea how bad of a cook I was, my MIL sent my mom a letter. Among other things, she said how good of a cook I was. My mom and my sister literally stopped reading for a good 5 minutes because they were laughing so hard!

  2. Ash, you are awesome in the kitchen. I still can't get that Tilapia recipe out of my head. Still haven't made it yet. One day though! :)