I haven’t always enjoyed cooking. I specifically remember a time when I was 17 years old and I told someone, “Cooking is dumb. Why spend 2 hours working on something that’s gone in 15 minutes?”
I’ve come a long way since then.
Growing up, my dad did most of the cooking. He found a love in cooking at a young age and let it direct him into owning a few restaurants and working in a few kitchens. Unfortunately, it was never something he got to pursue wholeheartedly. Which is a bummer, because he would have been an amazing chef. He is an amazing chef.
Because my dad did most of the cooking in our home, there was never much need for me to be involved. Sure, I’d occasionally wander into the kitchen and help throw something together, but it wasn’t something that truly interested me.
When I was 11, I found a kid’s cookbook at our church’s annual giveaway. (Think ginormous garage sale, except everything is free.) I read that book cover to cover several times, before finally settling on a recipe I wanted to try. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but I remember it involved wagon wheel pasta and ended up being spicier than I expected. I took the cookbook to my parents and asked if I could make that recipe for dinner. Money was tight, but my parents still took me to the store and I helped pick out all of the ingredients. I got home and quickly began following the recipe step by step. The recipe said it made 6-8 servings, which was perfect for our family of 6. I put the pasta in the pot of boiling water and suddenly my excitement started to dwindle. There’s no way this will fill our family of 6! I tried to be optimistic and kept secretly praying that the pasta would miraculously expand…kind of like when Jesus fed the 5,000, but on a smaller scale. I finished it all and set the table, but I knew then and there that it wasn’t enough. It was the first time I cooked a recipe on my own and I didn’t understand how serving sizes worked. First off, the dish was intended as a side dish — not an entree. Second, we can all agree that a half cup of pasta is a pretty skimpy serving. I immediately felt frustrated and disappointed. Not just because it wasn’t enough…mostly because I knew that it cost money…money we didn’t have. I don’t remember much else about that night. I’m sure my dad made something else or we ran up to McDonald’s and got some 88 cent cheeseburgers.
It was a long time before I cooked something after that.
Around the age of 14-15, I began doing a little baking. Nothing special — just boxed cake mixes and brownies. I always tried adding something special to them though. I knew that to make a boxed cake extra moist, you add just a little extra oil. To make boxed brownies special, a little extra oil and maybe some chocolate chips. I remember my parents referring to me as “The Cake Queen” and I was assigned the task of baking cakes and desserts for special occasions. It made me feel special. Like I was good at something. Useful.
As I got older, I started to appreciate what happened in the kitchen more. But still not to the point of enjoying cooking. I remember always being in awe of my dad. You could ask him what was for dinner and he’d respond with, “I don’t know. Haven’t thought about it.” But then 2 hours later, he had chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes with gravy, corn and dinner rolls on the table. Or sometimes it was pork steak, brats, mac & cheese and green beans. How did he come up with something so quickly?! And hardly ever with a recipe.
It wasn’t that my mom didn’t cook, she did. I remember her making biscuits from scratch many, many times. (Still want that recipe, mom!) I think it’s just maybe that my dad found more joy in cooking, so he was usually the one tinkering away in the kitchen.
When I got married, the thought of having to cook dinner every night was daunting. I remember the first time Justin and I went to the grocery store. “What do you want for dinner this week?” “I don’t care.” “You gotta help me decide. What do you like?” “Lots of things.” “We should have made a list.”
We walked out of there with stuff for tacos, hamburgers and some frozen pizzas. We kept our first meals pretty basic. Neither of us spending much time in the kitchen.
As time went on, I started experimenting more and suddenly I was entranced. The kitchen became my hideaway. The place where I could truly express myself and it didn’t matter how it turned out. There was always next time. And the next. And the next. There was food to be ate everyday, so I had plenty of chances to keep trying.
You see, I’m a quitter. I dabble in something, decide I’m not good at it, quit, move on to something else….rinse and repeat. I was stuck in a cycle. I played drums briefly, did some drawing and painting, tried singing (awful, just awful), tossed around the idea of going to cosmetology school. I just wanted an outlet. A way to express myself. But I kept finding I wasn’t good at it, or I’d mess up and get discouraged. Those activities weren’t essential for daily living, so they were easy to quit.
Cooking isn’t like that. You have to eat. Maybe you can eat simply or mostly at restaurants, but at some point you’re going to have to get behind the stove and make something. So I kept at it.
I am an incredibly introverted person with moderate social anxiety. Being in the kitchen, I don’t feel any of it. I can be myself. I can make what I want. Break the rules, make my own rules, make a mess, clean it up, mix ingredients together that have no business being together, burn things, spill things, taste things and then start all over. No judgement, no one to impress. Just me and the kitchen.
And I don’t follow recipes. Why? Because recipes don’t know me. They don’t know how much garlic I like — which is a lot. They don’t know that I prefer basil over oregano or that pepper doesn’t always have to accompany salt. They don’t know that I like a little cinnamon in my BBQ sauce or that I like more than a 1/2 cup serving of pasta. Recipes don’t know me at all – I know me. And the kitchen is where I can let me and all of my preferences shine. Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with a husband who will eat just about anything. 😉