Embarrassing confession: in high school, I made my little sister scramble my eggs. Why? Because I was afraid of the kitchen. I’ve always had a penchant for eating, but my foray into cooking is fairly recent. Let’s track it here, shall we?
Eat The Dang Quesadilla
I was lucky enough to have a mom who cooked for us all the time. I always knew there’d be dinner on the table when I got home from school, crew practice, or work…because she was Superwoman. When I left for college, my main source of sustenance became dining hall food. Shout-out to Uconn’s Towers for carnival theme nights with corn dogs and cotton candy!
Husband (who was Boyfriend at the time) also introduced me to the magic of Food Network during the post-high school years. You know, Food Network when it had cooking shows instead of competitions? I’m looking at you, Cupcake Wars. He also lived in an apartment, so we occasionally cooked together. One night we grilled Emeril’s chorizo-pork burgers on a camp stove…on his stoop. He recently reminded me that the two meats had different cooking times, so one burned before the other was done. Not our finest work. I believe there were also some not-so-artfully done grilled peaches with mascarpone that neither of us really liked.
I didn’t have my own kitchen until senior year when I lived off-campus with my hometown bestie. We had to feed ourselves, which meant meal planning, grocery shopping, and (gulp) cooking. The details of this era are a little fuzzy. I mimicked simple dishes my mom made, like quesadillas with canned refried beans and shredded “Mexican” cheese. And probably store-bought guac. So we didn’t starve. We did, however, overflow the dishwasher and have to wade through suds in our rain boots.
Grad school brought a new roommate, a new kitchen, and another year in which I had to regularly feed myself. I remember buying a lot of lunch meat and packing identical brown bags with my roomie. There were also a few ambitious dinner attempts, like the time I wanted to make fish n’ chips and my entire apartment reeked of fishy oil for days. Or the time we decided to make matzo ball soup and the balls disintegrated into a mealy, matzo-y mass floating in the broth. Practice makes perfect, right?
My first teaching job meant yet another move, roommate, and an apartment I actually paid for. Dinner often meant a frozen quiche from Trader Joe’s, but I do remember the first meal I cooked in that place: breaded chicken breasts, potato salad, and sauteed zucchini. Simple, but it was a big deal back then. I think there might have been an apple pie, too. Store-bought crust, of course. I also had a brief cake-decorating stint, and I learned how to make buttercream roses from Wilton classes at the local Michael’s Crafts. It’s also worth noting that I received one of my most cherished gadgets during this time: my Kitchen-Aid stand mixer. Thanks, Mom!
Cooking and Co-Habitating
I moved in with Husband-then-Boyfriend the following year. The first co-habitation meal I made was a standard BLT jazzed up with basil mayo. I was still teaching, but he was a full-time Ph.D student with night classes, so I gradually started cooking more often.
I discovered canned Mexicorn — a.k.a. corn with red and green peppers in it and a racist name — and salty, boxed “Spanish” rice. We had burritos a lot. We were also pseudo-vegetarians for a while, so I made an exorbitant amount of veggie burgers: quinoa, walnut and kidney bean, and black bean. I also started documenting my food on social media, so things like zucchini-caramelized onion focaccia and potato soup with blue cheese and bacon are preserved through grainy cellphone photos.
We later bought a house, and I have spurts of food memories from here, too. For Husband’s birthday one year, I made a mixed vegetable baked ziti in a heart-shaped Le Creuset that promptly got given away shortly thereafter. I cooked my first turkey for Friendsgiving. I also started making cupcakes, so I subjected my coworkers to baking experiments like the cross-seasonal “peaches n’ cream n’ cobbler” flavor.
And then we moved to California. There’s a reason Alice Waters could execute Chez Panisse (and the food movement that followed) on this coast. I understood the first time I saw organic strawberries at a California farmers market. They were perfect. I gained access to amazing year-round produce, international ingredients, and food inspiration at every turn. I’ve had so many first-time culinary experiences in the Bay Area, like legit Japanese ramen, melting cheese in a candle (ask me about that one), Filipino lumpia, and late-season tomatoes that I picked down the street. California is where I bought my first box of Maldon sea salt, ate my first of many acai bowls, and baked my first batch of English muffins.
And it’s where I continue to experiment and grow in the kitchen, from grain bowls and cashew nacho cheese and curried noodle soups and matcha lattes and everything in between. How did I get over my fear? As the inimitable Ms. Julia Child said: “No one is born a great cook. One learns by doing.”
NOTE: All the photos in this post are breakfast foods…because I’ve come full circle from egg phobia 😀
1 thought on “I Was Afraid Of Scrambling Eggs”
So many of us grew up with mothers who always seemed to know what to make for dinner and how to make it without a cookbook, food show, or recipe in sight. A Kitchen-aid back then was your kid who washed the dishes after all of the eating was done. Food, then, was not about getting the freshest ingredients or trying out new cuisine. But food was always about family. Your evolution as a chef is centered around the people you love and that is something to which we all can relate. Thank you for your stories. Melting cheese in a candle? Please elaborate.