I cook. It is one of the skills that I am most proud of, my ability to combine ingredients to created a dish that delights the senses. Particularly in the realm of vegetarianism, being able to play with flavours and emerge with something you’d be proud to serve is an asset, and a great comeback to those who claim that vegetarian dishes are bland. Sometimes I follow a recipe, and sometimes I whip up something on a whim, putting everything but the kitchen sink into a pot and calling it dinner. Chopping vegetables is therapeutic to me, the gliding descent of the knife into a red pepper providing a calming outlet for feelings of sadness or rage. Where most people might recover from a breakup with a bowl of cereal or some tasty take-out, on the eve of a heartbreaking break-up, I fashioned a curry from every vegetable I could find. I chopped and sautéed my tears dry- though I spilled a few over a fresh onion. Indeed, coming up with a dish from fresh, colourful foods is a skill I’ve developed as I’ve grown up, and one that has served me in many situations.
Most of what I’ve learned in the kitchen has come courtesy of my mother. Always the tidy chef, I’ve adopted her manner of washing dishes as I go along, making for an easier clean up and a calmer work space. Though every cook has their own little rituals, many of my kitchen habits were picked up as I watched my childhood meals being prepared, as I marveled over the way it all came together. Even today, if I have a kitchen query my mom is first on the list to call in for advice from anything from how long to bake muffins versus cake to how much of each spice to use in my chili-making endeavors.
My experimentation in the kitchen took on new wings when I moved into my own apartment, and was able to fashion a spice “rack” from mason jars. Before then, though adept in the methods of manoevering in the most ramshot of kitchens (first year university residences don’t lend themselves easily to culinary masterpieces, but I made it work), I had not yet forayed into spice usage beyond my favorites (cumin, cinnamon and chili powder, for the record). Through the exploration of a few good cookbooks like The Moosewood Cookbook and Veganomicon, I began to recognize that certain spice blends and to kick up my dishes with flavour. It is the discovery of the magic of spices that made me begin to feel truly comfortable in the kitchen, and allowed me to step outside the box of recipes, trusting in my kitch-intuition.
Of course, my love of cooking reflects my deep desire for control over every aspect of my life, especially over what food goes into my mouth. But beyond the linkage to my disorder, I feel that cooking reflects other, more positive aspects of my personality. Cooking allows me to be creative. It enables (and arguably requires) a certain degree of panache both in flavour combining and in presentation. I enjoy making my meals look as beautiful as they taste, a trait which is both annoying and admirable in turns. Cooking is stress relief- how could stabbing into a squash with a sharp knife not feel slightly animalistic? It is an excellent distraction, a fun way to spend some time. Cooking also allows me to create things for others, and I love to make someone’s day with a fresh loaf of banana bread or a spicy curry at the end of a long day.
The kitchen is a multilayered place for me- a friendly and familiar outlet, a calming stress reliever, and to a certain degree a frightening foe. Pushing away the last component, I do appreciate my ability and desire to cook. One day, I hope to completely obliterate my fear of certain foods, which will only allow me to further my kitchen exploration. One day, I will venture into kitchen-siberia and seek out the most obscure and unknown ingrediants I can find, creating and enjoying meals even more fantastic than those I make today.