This article appeared in the Spring 2012 edition of Honorable Mentions. To view the full copy, click here.
Update from the author: six years later, I love to cook. And I still like this article.
I don’t cook.
Like most teenagers and young adults, I blame my parents for this. The excuse is easy, common, and rarely questioned. Also, truthfully, my parents rarely cooked.
However, at the age of twenty, I really need to take a step back and examine the true root of my problem: my own lack of motivation. Yes, the fact that I cannot cook is really my own damn fault.
I should mention my fear of cooking as well. Despite the fact that I can read, operate a microwave oven, and have cooked macaroni and cheese at least three times in my life, I still fear the potential of something going horribly, permanently wrong. My past indicates my fear is justified: when baking brownies, I once forgot the butter. A few years back a dear friend and I tried to bake our cookies on wax paper which (predictably) caught on fire (immediately). My latest stunt included trying to melt chocolate in the microwave and burning the bowl (and wasting a bunch of perfectly good chocolate).
Again, at the age of twenty, I found it was time to own up to my fears. One, because this fact is no longer funny; my lack of cooking abilities has crossed the threshold into pathetic territory. Two, because I need to learn to feed myself. The student center is not forever, my friends.
So recently I reached out to one of the very able cooks around me to find a fool-proof recipe and set to work.
Chicken parmesan, I was assured, could not be ruined by my unavoidable clumsiness nor lack of confidence. My mentor armed me with a recipe (a very elementary one with each step carefully outlined), a shopping list, a baking dish and sent me on my way with these great words of wisdom: “If you can read, you can cook.”
The deadline was Valentine’s Day, and not only was I going to attempt to cook a meal for my boyfriend but I was also going to surprise him with it by working closely with his roommate and high-jacking his apartment. If I am a bad cook then I am a terrible liar, so I felt this feat quite brave. I also decided to dress up for this event, which included wearing heels. These elements seemingly set me up for failure but I was determined to make the most of this experience (because it might be my last).
Before getting to the apartment, I only had to make two shopping trips and use my roommate once to locate breadcrumbs. For the most part the shopping was painless and not as expensive as I expected, although it should be noted that there are about fifty brands of chicken.
Notice how I am avoiding the climax of this story, the part where I actually cook my first non-boxed dinner? That’s because it was relatively uneventful, in the best way possible.
To calm my nerves I played some music and I simply read the handy dandy instructions (also known as the recipe). There was some work involved in timing everything right, between cooking the chicken, pasta, and garlic bread simultaneously, but with the use of multiple timers I didn’t have to think too hard. I was surprised to find that, for the most part, the fire-breathing box known as The Oven did not spontaneously combust nor did the fire alarm go off. I also only injured myself once opening one of the packages. Everything went quite smoothly and I even enjoyed the process. Once I got into making the egg and bread crumb mix and chopping vegetables for the salad I, for the most part, forgot why I was making a big deal of something so basic. Modern cooking proved pretty simple; if I had had to hunt down my dinner and then cook it over an open flame, the story might have been different.
When all of my timers went off and I checked the chicken to make sure it wasn’t pink, the ultimate test came: the tasting. Much to my relief, my boyfriend and his roommate liked their meals and no one died or became deathly ill due to food poisoning (which, I believe, is a legitimate fear).
Since that fateful meal I now know that cooking isn’t really that big of a deal and can be very rewarding, especially when I control the ingredients and get to taste everything. Since my first obstacle I have expanded my pasta making and in general have a better outlook on the whole cooking thing. I cannot wait to ditch my meal plan and start my own folio of tried-and-true recipes.
Am I suddenly an expert chef? Absolutely not. Have I grown up a little? Well Mom and Dad, yes I have.