You Can Cook If You Want To

I am a human who loves to eat. I also love to cook. I cannot fully connect with people who “love to eat,” but do not cook. 

This pumpkin was not impressed with my risotto, considering how long it takes to cook it properly.

This pumpkin was not impressed with my risotto, considering how long it takes to cook it properly.

Eating itself is satisfying. It is necessary. It is a distraction. It’s something to take photos of, if that’s your jam. It makes us feel good, even if briefly.

When you cook for yourself, it’s so much more. There’s nothing less fabulous than the feeling of pulling off a new recipe. In New York, at least where I live in Brooklyn, that means searching multiple stores to find every ingredient. It’s likely you’ll have to substitute something or risk driving yourself insane with grocery trips. 

Part of me loves these little quests; it’s my own low-stakes version of gambling. 

Picture me: a wrinkled, too tan, chain-smoking lady in a dark casino at 2am. My foggy brain is covered by a bright pink visor, and the machine’s ‘MAX BET’ button is warm from my hovering touch. I’m lost in a gambling abyss, not noticing day has become night. 

But this is me and grocery stores. My quest isn’t to win money — it’s to win dinner.

My obsession continues until the final dish hits the table. I try to be strategic and only hit stores I happen to be near. The process can take 1-2 weeks. It’s like putting together a puzzle. 

Kichidi topped with date chutney, requiring dates, tamarind concentrate and spices.  Recipes: Padma Lakshmi

Kichidi topped with date chutney, requiring dates, tamarind concentrate and spices.
Recipes: Padma Lakshmi

I get a rush as I enter my fifth grocery store, psychotically continuing quest for pitless dates or tamarind concentrate. 

I pause for the automatic door to open. I step in and take a deep breath.

“This one feels lucky,” I think.

My mind likes this little game. My mind is weird.

This epic search for ingredients is such a hassle and a time suck, so I totally understand why people in NYC don’t cook. Plus, you can get almost any meal delivered. The delivery lifestyle grosses me out though. I like touching my ingredients. Smelling them. Knowing them. (Ok, maybe I’m the gross one?) But seriously, I think a big part of how I understand food comes from understanding cooking. I love it so much.

Sick/lazy? Try my half-assed chicken soup! Simmer chicken broth. Throw in garlic, ginger, and/or herbs if you have some. Put in some type of veggie and cook it til tender (if greens, add those only for a minute before you eat.) Cook pasta. Add these things. Get a spoon. Sit down, you’ve done enough.

Sick/lazy? Try my half-assed chicken soup! Simmer chicken broth. Throw in garlic, ginger, and/or herbs if you have some. Put in some type of veggie and cook it til tender (if greens, add those only for a minute before you eat.) Cook pasta. Add these things. Get a spoon. Sit down, you’ve done enough.

Trying to be a freelancer while searching for full-time gigs is tough. I have no solid income at the moment, just occasional freelance payments. I push myself to cook at home because I know it saves me money, even if I’m using fresh produce. My roommate and I have a CSA share each week to motivate ourselves to cook. 

I know I could and should eat ramen right now. That’s what people in my situation do. Broke and single? Ramen. I know. It’s winter, and I will do it more. 

But I won’t eat sad ramen. I’ll make a trip to H-Mart for the good ramen selection. I will add fresh mushrooms, garlic and greens to it because that’s how I roll. I cannot convince myself to eat ramen all the time though. My palate and mind are too wild for that. But I think winter is a good time to pause my little grocery store quests.

‘Who doesn’t love ramen?!’ I’ll reframe the story. Ramen is a canvas for interpretation. Add a little of this, a little of that. Improv is good for the mind. 

Time to focus on bigger puzzles.