The irony of it all though is that I have always hated cooking, especially baking. I learned some basics growing up, but I had absolutely no interest in or patience for cooking, especially chopping things. Jeff is the same way, so we spent our first few years of marriage going from frozen pizza, to spaghetti, to tacos, to hamburgers, and then back to frozen pizza again. Any time we differed from that routine, it usually ended up in disaster, and we would end up ordering take out, which we did about once a week anyway.
Last January I decided I needed a new hobby. I was spending too much time on the computer and had been for years. I could feel my brain rotting, and it was time to do something new. My job requires a lot of social interaction, and as an introvert, I can only take so much before my head explodes, so I wanted something I could do at home by myself, something that would help me relax from the stress of the day or week. Since I have become somewhat epicurian anyway, cooking was an obvious choice.
I didn't want to just jump into things, though, as I knew that if things got too stressful or disastrous right off the bat I would give up. I wanted to start from the very beginning, and I mean the very beginning. I discovered a book called "How to Cook Everything: The Basics" by Mark Bittman which has about 200 recipes of really basic dishes with very few ingredients but that teach the basic fundamentals of cooking. The book is 4,000 (e-book) pages and starts with things as simple as boiling water and teaches knife skills, something I felt I needed to improve the most if I was ever going to enjoy cooking. The lessons link to pictures that show how things should be chopped or how food should look when it's at a certain cooking stage. The book is brilliant, but this isn't meant to be a book review.
|Pico de gallo de Gail|
The first recipe I decided to tackle was pico de gallo, a.k.a. fresh tomato salsa, which is bizarre because I can't stand raw tomatoes. I figured it would be a great beginning to improving my knife skills, so after work one day, I bought some fresh ingredients and stood in the kitchen for at least three hours, reading Bittman's book and watching YouTube videos over and over to learn how to chop things properly. I must have watched Chef Ramsay chop an onion at least 15 times before I felt I had it down. The salsa turned out really well (or so says Jeff, who likes tomatoes and ate half the bowl himself).
Since then, have made almost 100 recipes, some from Bittman's book, from Food and Wine, from Epicurious, and a few others. I stand in the kitchen for hours and cook recipe after recipe. It's a good thing I have a husband who likes to eat and isn't picky. I'm a long way from creating my own recipes, but I am so much more comfortable with deferring from the recipe I'm referencing, whereas before I would stick to the recipe exactly, even if something was burning or it was obvious that things were not going right.
Not all 100 recipes have turned out well, and I have had quite a few mishaps, mostly on the baking side of things, of which I still am not a fan but make myself do because I want to be well-rounded (and Jeff likes the baked stuff the best--when it goes well, anyway). I love the process--when I'm cooking, I feel stress drip away and am able to quiet my unquiet mind. I listen to music, watch Netflix, or stand in complete silence and chop and dice and mince and braise and sautee and roast and broil and mix all weekend until I can't stand to stand over the stove any longer. I feel good doing this, and eating healthier as a result, which helps as well.
Food is so versatile--you can do so much to it, and it makes you and others happy (usually). Me, too.