Learning How to Cook: June 2015

My ex-husband moved out of the house at the end of January of this year. We were married for just over five years. During those five years I think I only made dinner twice.

My ex-husband was a disciple of Alton Brown and he was obsessed with cooking. He bought a sous-vide. We installed a gas range in the kitchen. We regularly went to the knife shop downtown so he could get his knives sharpened and buy new kitchen gadgets.

It was also something of a living nightmare.

IMG_1888Shortly after my ex-husband turned 30, he was turned onto the Paleo diet. All of a sudden, rice, bread, and potatoes disappeared from our house. Dinner became a 12 ounce steak with three brussels sprouts. If I tried to take more than three I got yelled at for being greedy.

Food became scare around the house.

No one tells you this, but doing Paleo is an assload of work. You pretty much have to prepare a whole meal every night because a lot of the Paleo foods aren’t really designed to be eaten leftover. One night we would have lamb chops, the next I would be scavenging for food after a long day at work to be told that I could eat all the salad I wanted. Fuck that.

I started hiding food around the house.

My ex would find my food and eat it and complain to me about how having it around threw him off his diet. Once he ate a bagel that threw him off his diet, well then he was already off and why not go out and get Chinese food?

My dad has been on the opposite diet most of my life. His diet consists primarily of beans and brown rice. I remember as a teenager being told by my dad that a cheeseburger I ate on the way home was going to kill me. My dad and my ex-husband would have fights that would almost come to blows over which one of them was wrong. Both were convinced the other was going to drop dead any day because they were eating poison.

Thanksgiving was the worst.

IMG_1895My ex-husband insisted on doing all the cooking (expect for pie, which he let our mothers take responsibility for). He would spend a week brining the turkey, which had to be specially pasture-raised, making a starter for the bread, and creating his own stock. When Thanksgiving would actually happen, he would spend twelve hours stressed out of his mind trying to get a meal done that no one would eat because everyone filled up on cheese and crackers waiting for dinner to get done. I usually would steal two bottles of wine and hide in my childhood bedroom watching Doctor Who.

I decided when he moved out that I was not putting up with this shit anymore. I spent my life being told by my dad I couldn’t eat cheeseburgers and being told by my husband I couldn’t eat bread. Fuck all of this. I did not want to cook. I just wanted to live off of prepared food I found at Costco and the grocery store.

This went great for a while. I got to eat all the stuff like lasagna I hadn’t been able to have in several years. Everything was awesome.

Until it wasn’t.

I noticed after a while of doing this that I was getting tired of the food I had available to me. Even stuff that i liked tasted kind of processed.

One day a few months ago, I went to Costco to pick up my food for the next week or so. Nothing looked appealing. I was tired of everything I saw.

Then I noticed that they had boneless skinless chicken thighs. They came in six packages of four. One of the biggest things keeping me from figuring out how to cook was trying to figure out how to debone chicken. Seeing that I could get packages of about a pound of deboned chicken to include in various recipes removed an obstacle I had mentally about figuring out how to cook.

IMG_1940I picked up ingredients for food rather than food. I walked out to my car and looked in my trunk with a modicum of despair because I was pretty sure I was not going to have food for the next week or so because I wouldn’t feel like cooking anything.

Fast forward two months.

I actually have gone through most of my chicken. I had to throw one package out because I forgot to use it in time. Other than that, I actually made food.

I have done a lot better at making food for myself to have for lunch than I feared I would. I have been slower than I wish I had been. I am hoping to learn to do things faster.

One thing that always amazed me about my ex was the fact that I would look in the refrigerator and not see anything for dinner. He used to be able to look in there and say, “We have X, Y, and Z, which means I can make Foo.” I never understood how he did that.

I understand now.

I control everything that I have in my kitchen.

I have a certain number of things that I keep in stock so that I can construct meals out of them.

I have a few meals that are basically all the same ingredients but have different spices in them. I really like stewed chicken. I can make a chicken stew with a bunch of veggies and either add curry roux or some other spice mixture and have two different meals.

IMG_1924I have also figured out how much you can do with a friend egg. I never ate fried eggs until I married my ex. I always found eggs to be rather gross. I discovered that if you break the yolk over something, it makes a sauce and you have an instant meal.

I cook sweet potatoes with onions on Sunday mornings and it usually makes 2-3 servings. I reserve one serving and eat it later in the week.

I know I should probably not waste my time each week making a meal. I should spend my time working on my app or working on my conference talks. But you know what, I don’t care. For the first time in my life I can control what I eat. I think both my father and my ex were wrong about how they ate. I think food is more than just what you put in your body. I think it can feed your soul. I think sitting down to a nice meal that you enjoy that you made yourself has its own healing properties. I don’t want to spend my life thinking I shouldn’t have eaten that piece of bread because bread is bad for you. I want to think about how enjoyable it was to feel the crust crunching between my teeth and feeling the butter oozing off of it and I scarfed it down. I don’t do that every day. I don’t want to be on my deathbed and think about all the food I didn’t eat because I was worried about losing five pounds.

It’s been interesting to me to slowly expand the boundaries of what I can do. The first time I made curry it was scary because I never really worked with raw chicken before. I never cut it up or dealt with cooking it properly. To be fair, braising chicken isn’t that difficult to do. Then again, the enjoyment of a meal shouldn’t be determined by how difficult it was to prepare.

I am glad I don’t have to eat another piece of undercooked pork or unreasoned beans and rice ever again. I can control what fuel I put in my body and knowing that I have more options than I did six months ago makes me feel awesome.