I’ve purposefully refrained from writing about food and cooking on this blog for several reasons, but primarily because I know nothing about either.
But things are about to change.
Last week, two of my professors at CSU made blogging a requirement, to my complete surprise. The prof for my “Creativity, Literacy and Collaboration” class stated this task: to spend at least one hour each week doing a creative activity that’s completely out of our comfort zone, then reflecting on the process and writing about it.
The task could be anything from learning to play the guitar, taking a new dance class, playing a sport, or doing crafts, as long as it’s something we don’t do on a regular basis.
For me, the answer is cooking.
Cooking anything more than pasta or a grilled chicken salad actually gives me anxiety. It might be the fact that I’m somewhat of a perfectionist, so I want it to turn out well, or it might be my complete lack of confidence due to a complete lack of experience, but cooking, especially having someone watch me cook, terrifies me. I think I’m doing it all wrong, from cutting the onion and pepper in the wrong direction, to not knowing the difference between spices and herbs, to not having the patience to do things slowly.
This fear wouldn’t make any sense to someone who knows my mother and my grandmother, two women who love to be in the kitchen. They are both outstanding cooks, serving up home cooked meals on a nightly basis. Anyone who stops by my grandmother’s house for a visit knows she often has two pies in the oven, a concoction on the stove and several cleaning projects underway at the same time.
Anyone who’s been to my parents’ for dinner can tell my mom slaved over the stove all afternoon, and then took the same amount of care when it came to presenting the meal on the table. She enjoys getting carried away in the details, and sees her finished product as a rewarding, yet effortless (for her), task.
I see it as a complete waste of time.
That doesn’t mean I don’t have good intentions for trying. I have cooked meals for others on occasion, but I do it for the same reason I jump off bridges and cliffs, go rock climbing, or wander blindly into the largest religious festival in India – just to see if I can.
Believe it or not, I’ve been carrying around a pink Thai cookbook from a class my friend Nicole talked me into in Chiang Mai, Thailand. When I first returned home in Summer 2012 I told my family I was going to try out my newly learned skills on them.
That was 18 months ago.
I still owe them.
Then, when I left India in February, I brought with me a sack of the most popular spices used in many Northern dishes, and I’ve since taken it with me to Thailand and China, then from Condon to Bend and back three times, with intentions of cooking traditional northern cuisine for family and friends. Now, that same unmarked bag of spices is here in Fort Collins, and still has yet to be opened.
But now, cooking is not only required of me (at least once a week), it’s part of my grade. As a graduate student that sounds kind of silly, I agree, but I’m not complaining. It could be worse. I went through the journalism program in my undergraduate institution having almost no involvement with blogging or social media, two elements that are nowadays considered necessary tools in the life of a developing writer.
Had my professors at the University of Oregon assigned a blog, I would have cringed. I didn’t want my life to be public. Four plus years later and nearly the entirety of my life for the past two is on this website, and I love it. Not only do I see the importance of having an Internet platform for my future as a writer, but also I love having a way to express myself, to share my stories and photos, and to receive instant gratification with the click of a “Publish” button entirely in my hands.
So Saturday night, I pulled out that pink cookbook of Thai recipes, skimmed through to find the Pad Thai, and promptly went to the store to buy the ingredients. I didn’t realize until I returned home, however, that this book was very clearly written by a Thai, which means the directions fit in all of five lines, and some very important parts are missing.
When it comes to cooking, I need all the parts to be there, step by step, which I admit probably takes the creativity out of the equation completely.
But I tried anyway. And it was a near disaster.
I’m pretty sure the accidental blob of oyster sauce was way too much, and I probably should have precooked the noodles before throwing them into the wok with water, as the recipe suggests. I probably shouldn’t have substituted white sugar for brown (trying out that creative improv thing…because I didn’t have any regular sugar), and maybe I should have actually measured some of the ingredients. Even the color was way off.
Let’s just say, I ate it. The Pad Thai was edible, barely, but I’m really glad nobody else was around to witness it.
I can tell that with practice, I might actually get a knack for cooking. In time, I might even enjoy the process. I never understood how people relate this activity to relaxing, but with a bottle of wine and some Pandora tunes, I might be on the road to discovering their trick.
I did notice that cooking, unlike the other stress relieving activities I pursue (yoga, running, hiking, etc.), doesn’t allow the mind to wander too far from the task at hand. So when the pressures of grad school become too much and I just want to completely forget about the mountains of homework expected of me, I might just have to unearth my mother’s cooking gene and go get lost in the kitchen.
Until then, maybe you’ll have better luck with this Pad Thai recipe.
Pad Thai Recipe (directly from my pink book):
50 g narrow rice noodles
50 g sliced chicken small strips (or prawns)
20 g hard or firm tofu, sliced into small pieces
10 g Chinese chives or spring onion, cut into 3 cm lengths
30 g bean sprouts or cabbage
1 tsp chopped garlic
2 tbsp cooking oil
1.5 tbsp oyster sauce (Veg.: mushroom sauce)
1/2 tbsp fish sauce (Veg.: soy sauce)
1 tsp sugar
1/4 cup water
1. Fry tofu until lightly golden. Add garlic, fry until fragrant.
2. Add the chicken stir until cooked. Add the noodles and water, stir until tender.
3. Season oyster sauce, fish sauce, sugar and stir well.
4. Break the egg in, spread the egg around the wok and turn them over.
5. Add bean sprouts and Chinese chives, stir until everything is done.
** Serve with fresh vegetables and you can add some ground peanuts, chili powder, red dried shrimp, lime juice to create you favorite taste.
If you can fill in the blanks for me to try next time, I’d really appreciate it! What’s your trick?