learning to love food, and learning to cook

This is a pretty personal post, which I am hesitant to share with the world. Ever since I was little, I have been picky. I’m not talking about your child who refuses to eat broccoli or sushi. I’m talking about your child who refuses to eat hamburgers, steak, lasagna, salsa, pesto sauce, avocado, spinach, pepperoni pizza, hot pockets, tater-tots. All sandwiches excluding grilled cheese and PB&J. Oh, and anything refrigerated and microwaved scares me.

You get the idea. To make things worse, I am only just now growing out of my “picky phase.” From the list above, I now eat steak, avocado, pesto sauce, and spinach (all within the last three years).

My pickiness stems from an extreme aversion to the actual act of trying new foods. The act of trying it turns my stomach upside down, causes me to break out in a sweat, and makes me want to start crying – but once I’ve tried the food, I often find it enjoyable and come back to it again and again. I have trouble convincing myself, though, that this is true for nearly all foods, and thus trying foods should not be as emotionally terrifying as it actually is.

Over the past few years, I have learned a few triggers which make trying new foods more difficult. For the most part, as soon as someone has pointed out that I am trying a new food and comments on the novelty of such an event, my stomach seizes up and I put the fork down. I’ll go back to my plain pasta in butter sauce, or my chicken fingers, or a grilled cheese sandwich: anything plain, familiar, and comfortable. This means, sadly, that it is particularly difficult to try new foods around my family, who have struggled against my pickiness since I was a young girl, from keeping me at the table until I finished every bite on my plate (I starved instead) to bribes (upwards of $100). If it’s a big deal, I won’t – can’t – try it.

Conversely, I have learned a few situations where I find trying new foods less stressful. These situations tend to be with people I don’t know, or people who aren’t familiar with my pickiness. There are two ideal examples: when a cute boy cooks for me, or dinner parties with a group of friends. In both cases, the stress still threatens to overwhelm my senses – but it is outweighed by the stress and embarrassment of turning down the food.

Now, however, I am coming to a new phase in my life: I want to cook for myself, so that I am able to eat a variety of meals without eating out every night. This requires two things: 1) learning how to recognize recipes I would like, and 2) learning to cook.

Over the past two years of eating with cute boys and groups of friends, I have become more comfortable with the first requirement. When I look through cookbooks, I can now pick out enough recipes which sound interesting that would justify purchasing the book. I have also learned enough about online recipe websites which will allow me to cook a variety of tasty meals.

However, the second requirement is almost as overwhelmingly terrifying as the act of trying new foods on thanksgiving up on a stage, with my entire family in the audience and encouraging and commenting and judging…

The challenge comes, I think, in that I am unfamiliar with kitchens. I was so picky when I was young that I avoided any and all cooking lessons from my mother (sorry Mom!). Now, I am lost in the kitchen. I can make pasta and I can scramble some eggs. If I’m pressed, I can grill up some chicken (and maybe bake it?). But that’s literally the extent of what I can do.  For example, I understand the concept of making a grilled cheese sandwich, but it still scares me to actually get out the frying pan, butter, bread, and cheese… Because honestly, I don’t know how all of this works!

To learn to cook, I now have two cookbooks – one, a hefty conglomeration of a variety of recipes with pretty pictures; however, it assumes a basic amount of cooking knowledge, which is not true in my case. The other is Alton Brown’s I’m Just Here for the Food, which is almost entirely devoid of pictures, but places an emphasis on teaching how to cook. It doesn’t say “sear the steak,” but rather, “this is how you sear something; now try it with steak!” It also explains the science behind cooking, as in “this is why searing works!” As a scientific person, I trust a person’s explanation so much more when they explain the science in addition to the process – and Alton Brown is very colloquially scientific in his book, allowing him to appeal to both the scientist and the layman.

One of my goals this year is to learn to cook for myself. My end goal is to start a personal cookbook – an accumulation of recipes that I have learned to cook, tried, and enjoyed. It will include a section for each of the following:

  • Vetted recipes for when I’m looking for something tasty to eat on a whim (or to make for a group of people, etc.)
  • Recipes I have yet to eat or make, as well as recipes I have eaten but yet to make myself
  • A list of recipes with similar ingredients, to make the grocery shopping easier
  • A weekly recipe planner

Additionally, I am donating the large number of chicken breasts I have accumulated to a friend for Thursday Night Dinner (TND), as I probably won’t be able to finish them before I move. TND is hosted by an awesome friend of mine who just enjoys cooking and company; as such, she cooks the main course every week, and everyone else brings the drinks, sides, and desserts. In exchange for the chicken breasts, my friend will teach me to make the meal she is going to serve, so that I might be able to make it for myself in the future.

I have been picky all my life, and while I’m starting to get over it, it still gets in the way. I think learning to cook is the last step in getting over this stubborn childhood fear of food. We’ll see how it goes.

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One thought on “learning to love food, and learning to cook

  1. Good luck with the cooking. I’m a later learner as well, and it’s been a struggle to keep up with it. The thing about cooking for me has been grocery shopping and “budgeting” when I will use certain things like fresh veggies before they go bad. One site that’s been helpful for me when I just have some random stuff laying around is http://www.supercook.com/ where you can type in whatever ingredients you have handy or what you want to use and it’ll list relevant recipes.

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