Start With What You Know

I haven’t made it a secret here that I really don’t know how to cook. I’ve written about it here a few times, in an effort to both make fun of myself and to chronicle my efforts at learning how to cook… kicking and screaming the whole way. The truth is, I still don’t feel at all like I know what I’m doing, and when I’m by myself, trying to decide what to eat for dinner most nights is a chore. Hence my rather pasta-centric diet. Pasta is easy and I like carbs and I don’t have to think about it.

In reality, I am sure that I possess whatever mysterious skills one needs to cook food that is not comprised of noodles. I have done it before, and two weeks ago, I made homemade macaroni and cheese and fed it to my coworkers, with great success. So I’m beginning to feel a bit more confident, asking people to give me recipes, trying to decide what I should try next. I have slowly been accumulating chili recipes, and one of my coworkers very kindly gave me her chili recipe and I think I can handle it. (I’ll write about it here once I get the nerve to actually DO it, naturally.)

So this past weekend was Easter at my parents’ house. I kept asking my mom what I could bring, but in reality I already knew what I wanted to make: these Mexican chocolate icebox cookies someone brought into work. Super dark chocolate cookies with a kick of chili that somehow made them even more chocolatey. And I don’t usually like chocolate, so I surprised even myself by wanting so very badly to make them. I convinced my mom that if I also made a batch of chocolate chip cookies, the Mexican chocolate cookies would work too, even though my family would probably be a bit wary of something weird like chocolate cookies with chili powder in them.

And so Friday night, I’m here with my brand new, unused red apron, trying to make sense of a borrowed hand mixer, wondering if I could pull this off. Well, of course I could. I had to freeze the dough overnight, though, so I couldn’t find out how they turned out until Saturday. I ended up at my parents’ house on Saturday (home of an actually trustworthy oven, unlike the POS I have in my apartment). I baked the chocolate cookies and then made and baked the chocolate chip cookies. I feel a bit silly admitting this, but somewhere in all of my “I can’t cook” falderal, I forgot that I LOVE to bake. Baking is perfect – you measure precisely, you follow the recipe, it’s a formula. It’s satisfying in the same way that math problems or color-coded Excel spreadsheets are. So yes, my cookies were a huge hit, both at Easter and with the poker crowd Saturday night. (Although the Easter folks were in fact a bit scared of the Mexican chocolate cookies, but at the same time, I blinked and the chocolate chip ones were gone.) I’m super glad that I figured out that duh, baking is fun, and I can bake, and well, even.

I also think I may have gotten to the bottom of why I’m so afraid of cooking. Something about the idea of thinking up what might go well together and how much of this or that to use and hey what about that herb or spice, wouldn’t that complement this perfectly? just freaks me out. I don’t KNOW that stuff. I hardly even know what aisle in the grocery store to look for most stuff. But wait for it – the dumbass realization – hey, maybe I should just, oh I don’t know, use freaking RECIPES until I get the hang of things. Imagine that.

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