A few days ago, eight weeks into my cooking project, I found a package of sliced cheese tucked under the vegetable crisper. It was rather moldy. I chuckled a bit before chucking it.
I used to buy that cheese every two weeks. It went in the same sandwich that I made every day to bring to the hospital. In the sandwich also went versatile ingredients like tomatoes, mushrooms, and spinach; they were things I could throw into random entrees to cover dinner. I cooked regularly before 2017; in fact, I got by all of third year only buying cafeteria food but once (a chicken wrap in Queens; it was meh). However, priorities were minimal thinking time, flexible utility, and financial efficiency. For four years, my food — including that sandwich — were boring.
I haven’t needed that cheese for eight weeks.
This cooking project is not quite what I expected. It’s been mostly researching online, and to study food in the modern age of the internet, that takes a funny form. Like, I watch BuzzFeed Tasty videos, ranging from the Art of Pancakes to Worth It!. Or watching Cooking with Dog or Gordon Ramsay yelling at people. I acknowledge only one of these is remotely useful for cooking. Okay, but actually, I jot down cooking techniques from actually useful videos, look up recipes from actual food blogs, subscribe to a few cooking community newsletters, and query friends and family for tips. Then I summarize them in my own terse recipes (this blog). That’s like 80% of the effort. Thankfully it’s reusable (but currently all first drafts).
Then I run off to the multitude of specialty stores in NYC — Chinatown, KTown, Curry Hill — and just follow those instructions as shopping lists: 5% of effort. Finally, actually prepping, firing, and plating food: 15% of effort. Sure, the action of cooking takes a bit of practice, but mostly it’s just chopping safely, withstanding heat, estimating timing, and washing dishes (and one spoon) a lot.
Only a few tricks have entered my repertoire: cooking with raw spices, frying, meringue whipping, emulsifying, poaching, pickling. A few new ingredients too, though mostly it’s just a spice cabinet. The only new equipment I’ve bought is mixing bowls, measuring spoons, a whisk, a grater, a skillet, sieves.
But I’ve changed as a home cook by embracing the kitchen. I buy weird ingredients and commit to cooking them. I track my ingredient sets and plan out the order of ingredient prep. Even when not cooking, I’m thinking, reading, and scheming about food. This is a strange shift considering how I grew up as a food-averse kid who wished for a pill to take in lieu of food.
Eight weeks! That’s how long I aged that cheese. That’s how long it took me to transform from cooking for necessity to cooking like I mean it.
I’m well on pace to cooking 52 new dishes this year, likely by June (hopefully, because that’s when I get busier again). Turns out that weird ingredients need to be chained into other weird ingredients, so I’m just going to keep on churning out new dishes!
PS. Also yeah, this is my first blog post in 3 months. Weird to be back!