A Layman’s Culinary Education in a Time of Crisis

Things are challenging all around. Time is often short, and funds aren’t generally abundant. Life’s taught me, though, that I feel better when I eat well, get enough sleep and exercise, and share the things that bring me joy and a sense of fulfillment. In my experience, the things I’ve found that bring me fulfillment also bring fulfillment to other people, and since I do have a gift for gab … well, we have this again. Welcome. Or welcome back. Regardless, I’m glad you’re here.

I am wont to provide disclaimers. It’s in my nature. I’m not a chef. I have no culinary training. I grew up among people who cooked. I was the baby, but everyone else in the family cooked. I watched. I tasted. I listened. Ok, yes, I also talked, but I really was paying attention too. Or so it seems, because I have a treasure trove of memories of flavors, of aromas, and of a quantity of boisterous laughter that will buoy me forever. They also frequently make me hungry.

One would think that having grown up in the rural Deep South that I’d be aces at things like fried chicken and cornbread and collards. Not really. I’ve always been more connoisseur than chef. Don’t get me wrong. I can make all of these dishes. But I don’t. I don’t eat those things on a regular basis, so I don’t cook them. My suspicion is that many of the old tropes about the diets of various regions have broken down as the diaspora toward education and jobs has spread us far from our families and communities of birth. I’ve spent the majority of my adult life in The Midwest, and when I have cooked as an adult, it’s largely been to support others with a plan or simply to have some singular thing that doesn’t suck to eat in that moment. The dishes that I genuinely love simply haven’t been in my repertoire.

Just lately, though, things have changed. I’ve met someone interested in starting a family with me, and I’m at least as interested as he is. We’re still trying to figure out how that’s going to work, but one thing is certain: I’ll be cooking for two. Another thing is a hope that he and I share: that I won’t be cooking only for two for long. To be clear, that’s about parenthood versus polyamory. That’s a whole other blog post. Possibly blog.

So, not only do I need to be making nutritious and tasty food for myself on the regs, I also need to genuinely hone my culinary skills and knowledge. I don’t just want to explore how to make fruit and vegetable purées for infants moving to solid food, I want to eventually find all the foods that kids with access to a parent who genuinely loves cooking will eat—I suspect this may be heartbreaking—and cook in the kitchen with my entire family teaching, laughing, smelling, tasting, and growing on a regular basis.

Beyond that, I want to feed me, my beloved, and all our friends and family the kind of food that makes everyone shut the fuck up and just enjoy each other’s company for a little while. You know what I mean? Food so good that the worst asshole in the room is on his best behavior so he doesn’t get booted. Food so good that the most genuinely picky eater can find something that absolutely sends them to the moon and back. Don’t bow up. If we’re going to play this game, I’m bringing it to the court. You know you have picky eaters, and assholes are everywhere. This is about figuring out how to make food so good they’re at our mercy.

In the meantime, I also have to feed my single self. On a budget. A rather strict one. Especially now. I have some things going in my favor. Despite low current income, I probably have considerably more cookware and kitchen appliances than the average person walking into this. I do genuinely love to cook, but as many know, cooking for one with minimal waste is challenging; that’s something I’ll have to explore here. But I have a stand mixer, food processor, knives that aren’t quite hazardously dull, and a moderate collection of pans, bowls, and accessories for the appliances. Also, I have cooked individual dishes from cuisines from around the world and as often as possible with cuisine-local recipes and ingredients. I’m not without some experience—quite possibly just enough to get me into trouble.

I see now too that my experience in operating a yarn shop, teaching classes, and helping customers get beyond their own fear has given me a perspective. I have little to no fear of being a beginner and sharing my own lack of knowledge. Often the most challenging part of learning any new thing is getting past one’s own discomfort at some gap in knowledge or experience. Most of us don’t make a habit of allowing others to see us flat-footed, but that’s where we have to start. Innocent. Childlike. Open to absorbing all of the nuances as well as the steps and facts of the lesson to come. We have to be willing to expose our own ignorance. And now? Now of all times? That’s a really, really scary thing. And now more than ever, I firmly believe in my heart of hearts that we must do the scary good things. This is going to be one of mine

For those of you coming along for the ride, this will be my kitchen grimoire. I’ll make mistakes and tell you about them. I’ll try things one way, and I’ll try them another. Oh, and I’ve met some of you people. I strongly suspect that some of you will have opinions. Share them. We’ll get it sorted, and this can serve as our notebook as we get there. I won’t promise to answer every question, but please feel free to answer each other’s questions in the comments. Just be civil.

As a teaser, I’ll leave you with this idea. Having my morning coffee, I happened across a video of Gordon Ramsay making spicy fishcakes with several fresh ingredients with a Thai flavor profile and canned tuna. OMG. I shit you not. You won’t believe.

Finally, if you’re already a fan of the kind of content that I’ve offered in the past and would like to support this project, please share a link to this post on your favorite social media platform. The more the merrier—genuinely.

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