There are a few things you need to know about me from 2019 (aside from my blissful naivety of what the following year would hold). First, I love to eat good, adventurous, and new foods, but I hated cooking. Hated it. Full on felt that the process was torture. Fortunately I’m married to a chef and I was happy to eat sandwiches when he was not available. Second, I love taking on new and difficult challenges – always have – but I was sick of fitness and body centered goals. I started toying with the idea of a cooking challenge. Truth be told, training to run a seventh half marathon, after almost a year of running hiatus, seemed more doable than learning to cook. Actually enjoying cooking seemed near impossible. So, obviously, I set a New Year’s resolution to learn to cook.
Given what 2020 held, this was a very serendipitous decision. What better thing to do in a pandemic? Cook! And cook? Cook, I have.
Things started slowly and a bit painfully. I initially focused primarily on vegan and vegetarian dishes. My husband is a meat lover and as our primary family cook, almost every meal includes it, so I wanted to lighten our environmental impact. I continue to be interested in more plant based cooking, but have to admit I found it difficult to make things I really wanted to eat – though it was all rather pretty and colorful. From there I sort of unofficially turned to focusing on food from other cultures (Indian, Thai, traditional Mexican, etc). Now, since August or so, I’ve been enjoying using old cookbooks – be they gifts from our wedding over 10 years ago, hand me downs from various grandmothers, or 25 cent garage sale buys Morgan picked up years ago, I’m loving cooking my way through the 70s, 80s, and 90s.
I had some pretty major flops, from rock hard cookies to cold sides to being completely unaware that lemon cucumber skin is extremely bitter. I… I did not always love this challenge. Like all good goals my journey has includes many “why the fuck did I decide to do this?!” moments.
I find the most difficult thing to master is timing. It feels like I spend an hour prepping everything, I turn on the stove or oven, and then EVERYTHING HAPPENS AT ONCE AND MY KIDS NEED HELP USING SOME ELECTRONIC THING AND THE CAT THROWS UP AND NOW STUFF IS BURNING AND WHY IS THIS NOT HOLDING TOGETHER? BABE CAN YOU HELP ME? OH SHIT THIS IS BURNING!
Shockingly though, against all odds, around April I found myself enjoying my time in the kitchen. Timing is still an issue and mistakes are still a regular occurrence, but somehow, I’m finding this fun. I think the change is related to confidence. I hated cooking because I was intimidated by it and bad at it. Every task felt like a judgement on my competency. This challenge forced me to try and in the end forced me to build up some confidence. Confidence to have fun, try things, throw away disgusting mistakes, and the confidence to say “it’s ok to like doing something you’re still not very good at.”
Lately, I’m finding myself drawn to baking as it relates to cultural tradition. This month, for example, we’re celebrating the mid-autumn festival popular throughout Asia a month late by making moon cakes. I masked up the kids and together we shopped our way through three Asian food markets to find lye water, golden syrup, lotus seeds and more. This process will involve combining indigents I am completely unfamiliar with, but look delicious. My moon cake press is in the mail and the kids have been ordered to work on paper lanterns as we learn the history of the festival and about the other cultures around us (stay tuned)!
For 2021 I want to keep it up, and in addition to some yoga and strength training goals, I’m setting a new New Year’s resolution to keep me in the kitchen: I’m going to bake my way through the Great British Baking Show technical challenges. This show may well be one of the reasons I decided on this challenge in the first place. Acknowledging that baking and cooking are two different arts, I’ve been taking both on in turn. This show, while a competition, is so cheery and supportive. I believe it has also convinced my husband to buy me a Kitchen Aid mixer for Christmas (thanks Paul and Mary!)
I look forward to recreating the tent in my own kitchen and imagining some ducklings and sheep wondering outside my window – perhaps kids and guinea pigs will be proper substitutes.
I’ve been posting Instagram stories of my cooking adventures with hashtag ElsbethCooks, though I’m slowly drifting away from having any social media accounts (Instagram is my last). I may share these baking adventure there, here, or no where – but know that most weekends I’m probably at home, cursing and baking.