In Year 7 home economics I placed a golf ball in the microwave.
The crackle that pre-empt the catastrophic boom was amazing. My anticipation and delight could not be dampened. Followed by the screams and whoop whoops by my friends that echoed in the Masterchef kitchen set up.
Yes, it was unlikely that I was ever going to appreciate the joy of cooking.
I was thrown out of the class and sat in detention for the remainder of that term, every Thursday morning for 50 minutes. In my mind, the perfect outcome.
When I was at uni, I lived on my mum’s single serve home cooked meals with instructions labelled.
Add rice. Good with salad.
Every weekend was a homemade pick up or delivery. I wasn’t going to starve. And my house mates took pity on me, ‘how did I not know how to cook spaghetti sauce?’
On a Thursday morning, after $1 drinks the night before at the local pub, it was a large McFeast meal from Macca’s. I remember how soothing all the salt, grease and sugar felt on my red raw gut as we tried to reconstruct the shenanigans from the night before.
By the time uni was done, I had even less of an idea on how to cook. And I really didn’t care. I headed overseas and worked at summer camp and was introduced to the delights of American camp fare.
Breakfast sausages, pepperoni pizza, sloppy joes, chilli con carne. And it all came out of industrial sized cans. It was brilliant! I didn’t have to go near a kitchen and I just had to keep my elbows off the table!
From camp to Colorado, I don’t quite remember how I kept myself sustained. But I quickly found a boyfriend to take care of that in exchange for doing the dishes. It was a fair trade, but I often wondered why on earth someone would need to use so many bloody utensils?
For me food was a necessary process, a social ritual. I loved eating out, there was no clean up and no time wasted walking up and down grocery aisles. I often followed my boyfriend wondering what he was seeing that I simply couldn’t.
At high altitude, the taste of fruit and vegies barely resembled what I remembered food should taste like. The sweetness of a tomato, the tartness of a granny smith apple. They were distant memories.
It was during my trips home every 18 months that something finally twigged.
Why didn’t tomatoes taste like this at 9,100 feet?
And it dawned upon me…I hadn’t experienced the joy of licking mango juice dripping off my fingers and down my hands in a very, very long time. It just wasn’t the same in the mile-high state.
After 8 years abroad, my return home confirmed what you have already worked out. I had no idea what to do in a kitchen. In fact, I argued with my mum why I needed a full size fridge at all!
Grocery shopping was a quandary. What exactly should go in this basket? I had no interest in where food came from, but I knew where it would end, so I figured I would keep it simple.
A loaf of bread, cereal, milk, orange and mango juice, sliced ham, chicken, broccoli, apples, bananas….no bloody vegemite!
My mum’s single serve home cooked meals showed up again.
Add rice. Good with salad.
And my penchant for tuna sandwiches with Red Rock sweet chilli chips and a coke were a lunchtime staple. I was set.
But for some reason my curiosity was awakened and my mum took quick advantage of the opening, slipping in a little Women’s Weekly cooking mag along with the week’s single serve meals.
And I thought, ‘it can’t be that hard’. So I started to put familiar ingredients together and much to my surprise my plates started to resemble a meal.
In fact, I was feeling so confident with my signature dish – grilled lemon pepper chicken, with a green salad – that I invited a girlfriend over for dinner. Quick, easy and tasty…impossible to screw up.
So I prepped, I cooked and I dished out – making sure the feta and the olives sat neatly at the top of the salad pile and served it on my coffee/dining table. Space was at a premium, I lived in 55 square metres.
I could smell the chicken, it was cooked to perfection. The lemon pepper was generously coating the chicken strips. I was rather impressed and so was my girlfriend giving me high-fives. Until she started choking, and gasping, and turning red, reaching out for a glass – of water, of wine, a beer – anything that could hose down the lemon pepper fire that had exploded in her throat!
I guess my sense of taste and smell was duller than I realised. And then I started to laugh…hard, really hard. And once my girlfriend stopped choking and was no longer red in the face she started to laugh; harder than we had in a long time until the tears ran down our face.
I was 28. No spring chicken.
Time to understand the use of the word ‘sparingly’.
So I went back to the mini-cookbooks, folded some corner pages, started a shopping list and read the recipes. I even bought a spice rack, excited with the possibilities. Who could I choke next?
As my kitchen technique improved and my sense of taste restored, I figured it was graduation time and I bought an outdoor BBQ – grilling salmon and angus beef sausages. Making my own tabouli and adding toasted nuts to my salads. I also realised why fridges were important and upgraded to a larger one with a decent freezer compartment. My mum thought I had been abducted by aliens!
When I met Mr Metamucil he could cook – tick – and used utensils I hadn’t discovered – tick (to be determined). But he also has a 10 minute rule. Shove it all in, quickly, you’ve only got 10 minutes.
It’s like he’s at a pie-eating competition and is vying for a lifetime of pies!
But it was refreshing, I didn’t have to trade meals for dishes and we actually cook meals together. Pressing fresh garlic, grinding cumin seeds, garam masala and turmeric and we take turns stirring the risotto, because inevitably Mr Metamucil has forgotten an ingredient, he rarely uses a recipe, and wonders why it tastes different every single time.
Fast forward 10 years and I’ve discovered a thing or two. About food. About myself. About what’s good for me. And what’s not. Reading about blue zone diets, experimenting with a Mediterranean diet full of nuts, olive oils and omega-3’s…anything to contain the inflammation of auto-immune dis-ease. Not depriving myself of much, but savouring and enjoying.
I’ve discovered the importance of food to not only nourish, but its ability to heal and to bring me joy.
Of course, there are days where my cooking ambition far outweighs the finished product, and I’m bitterly disappointed, ‘I put so much effort in, for such little payback.’
And then there are days where I nail it, and I’m doing the happy dance in the kitchen. But in my excitement and excess saliva, I sit down and employ Mr Metamucil’s 10 minute rule and then I get a similar despondent feeling, ‘I put in so much effort, and it’s gone so quickly!’
Yes, there are days where I feel like maybe I should try one more golf ball. Surely they’ve improved their microwave-bility?
But I realise, it’s my microwave, my kitchen, my home insurance and I put a banana muffin in instead.
20 seconds later… I sit back, break it open, watch the steam rise and feel my mouth salivate and take one bite, chew, toss it around and enjoy…before the next bite and then another one.
And it appears my home economics teacher was right, I won’t ever understand the joy of cooking, I’m experiencing something much more fulfilling. I’ve discovered the joy of tasting, savouring and enjoying…and that is the best lesson I could have ever discovered.