My parents never really let me cook when I lived at home. I mean, sure, I washed dishes, chopped up vegetables, put away groceries. I stirred stuff in pots. I opened cans and measured out ingredients, but despite that I coveted holding the mixer while we made brownies or turning steaks on the grill as the flames licked at the tongs, it was never allowed. No amount of interest in recipes or cookbooks on my part changed their minds: the kitchen was adult territory, the stove a sacred shrine, the burners consecrated. The intricate mysteries of preparing meals were not mine to unravel, not according to my parents. The closest I ever got to cooking was using the microwave for EasyMac.
Unsurprisingly, my lack of culinary experience has proven problematic later in life again and again. The very first time I made a meal for myself involving the stove it was a huge pot of Hamburger Helper, and it came out great and I was so proud of it, but I was also ignorant and I didn’t know leftover cooked meat had to be refrigerated, okay? I left it in the pot on the stove. For two days I ate the Hamburger Helper, even as it started to taste funny, and on the third day when I opened the pot it looked like a failed human transmutation experiment à la Full Metal Alchemist. You know that scene where little Edward and Al attempt to resurrect their mother and don’t quite get what they bargained for? Yeah. On the third day, the Hamburger Helper left in the pot looked like that.
The first time I made pancakes I set them on fire. (I still ate them afterward.) Brownies? Charred on top, resembled liquid shit everywhere else. One fateful Saturday night I braved baking chicken breasts and my whole apartment building had to be evacuated for three hours while it was raining outside. Not drizzling. Raining hard. My neighbors applauded when I moved out.
Of course I’ve learned things. With no parents in my own kitchen to tell me not to and a distinct lack of shame, horrible scalded smells aside, I read how-to sites all the time. I’ve discovered olive oil and a wok and marinades and steamer baskets. Pyrex. Baking mittens. Garlic cloves. “You’ve never chopped an onion?” Elena asked, dumbfounded, when she moved in. No, I hadn’t — but now I can, even if my fingers aren’t as fast as hers.
I scroll through food blogs between tasks at work. I bookmark recipe after recipe: I have an adventurous soul and hungry hands and I want to do different things, I want to make them myself. This weekend I tried cooking barbecued jackfruit and it turned out terrible, sure, I can admit that, but cans of the stuff are only $2 apiece and who’s to say it won’t be great next time, huh? The kitchen is adult territory, I get it, but I’m an adult now at least in body and I am conquering the place one tile at a time.
Once I had to Google how to make a grilled cheese sandwich. This weekend I had to Google how to hardboil eggs. Just as my first grilled cheese sandwich was a blackened, bubbly ruin fit only for consumption by the hardiest of goats, the hardboiled eggs are revealed now as a failure. This morning I brought a couple to work to eat and they’re runny inside. Go figure.
But give up? No.
I never will.