I have liked cooking for about as long as I have been doing it, which is to say since I moved into an apartment the summer after my junior year of college and suddenly had nobody around to do it for me. This was a shock. My parents lived not six miles away, and one night I was home eating dinner and then an hour later I took my stuff down to the apartment and moved in. I got up the next morning to go to my job on campus. And as I was walking home, I remember thinking to myself, "What on earth am I going to do about dinner?" Eventually I figured out something - spaghetti, I think, a meal that would be foolproof except that fools are so persistent - and it's been pretty much smooth sailing from there.
Since then I have made several fascinating discoveries about cooking, among them:
- There is a reason for all the heat settings on the stovetop between High and Off. That reason is called "cooking the middle before the outsides catch fire." That is a memorable lesson to learn.
- Different spices have different tastes. I distinctly remember once in grad school running out of the usual stuff I would throw onto meat and just rummaging around for other stuff of similar color and granularity to put on. Sadly, it was not the same.
- Similarly, that if you mistake lemon pepper for garlic pepper, there is no saving the chili and you should just throw it away. In my defense, Tabitha was a newborn at the time and I am just amazed that I could find the spice rack at all amid the psychedelic sleep-deprivation-induced hallucinations. Babies - they're better than tequila.
- Food comes from the ground. As a city boy, it was quite a revelation when Kim pulled a something off a plant and handed it to me as if it were food. "What's this?" I asked. "Food," she replied. "No it's not," I said, "food comes in boxes on shelves." "Just eat it." (Pause.) "Huh."
- It is easy to make things in the kitchen. You don't even have to know how. It's called "trial and error," and if you survive the latter, you get to have more of the former.
- If you volunteer to cook dinner, you don't have to go on excursions to places that you don't want to go to. People are willing - even eager - to forgive your absence if you feed them good things when they get back.
And now I am a real cook, though my repertoire is sadly limited by time, money, and my own rather unimaginative palate. What can I say? I'll hold off on the subscription to Gourmet magazine for a while.
But I'm eating a lot more coleslaw these days.