Before about 5 years ago, I would have said, if asked, that I “can’t cook.” Of course, I could make scrambled eggs and ramen, but nothing that would compete with, say, a meal out. At some point, I started making a concentrated effort to eat at home more, which meant learning “to cook.” Learning to cook, like learning to program, turns out to be a confusing task. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion about which is the “right” way to do things complete with obscure terminology (“roux” & “recursion”), tools (copper pots vs cast iron, vim vs emacs), and technique (abstraction and readability, french vs everything else).
The fun part of both cooking and programming comes when you get frustrated reading about all the “right” ways to do things and just say “f*@$ it, I’m doing it my way.” This is where the magic happens. Also where the failure happens, but it’s a necessary evil.
Joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture, basically subscribing to a farm’s output) speeded up the process for me because I all of a sudden had all these vegetables I had never cooked with before and I had to figure out what to do with them NOW. I learned that I can make soup with just about anything (an immersion blender is my friend) as long as I add a lot of garlic. I learned that a lot of ingredients are interchangeable (many of the tough greens – kale, turnip greens, kohlrabi leaves, collards) and some are NOT. I learned that I absolutely love bok choy and rhubarb (got lots of it in last year’s CSA) and learned to tolerate cabbage.
Most importantly, I learned that the way I learned to shop for food was completely wrong. I always read that if I wanted to make most of my meals at home I should, once a week, make up a list of recipes I was going to make that week and then adhere to those recipes religiously. I’d make up these huge shopping lists, carefully get every single ingredient, and then make all the dishes as planned. Oh, except stuff always came up – a friend would ask us out to dinner, we just wouldn’t feel like cooking one night. And even if things didn’t come up, I didn’t use everything I bought for every meal so stuff always went bad. I felt like a failure.
Now, I shop without a list. I know what staples I need, and if I run out I can improvise. I buy vegetables that are in season or on sale, or whatever sounds good. I shop the outside of the store mostly, buying comparatively little from the middle. I pick a meat a week and work it into several dishes. I had to learn to shop this way, because during the CSA I got a huge box of veggies and I just had to figure out how to deal.
It has taken several years to get comfortable making food. The next step, for me, is to get comfortable making food for other people.