You know that scene in The Hobbit where the three trolls are deliberating on how to cook Bilbo and all that lean dwarf meat? That’s how I want to die, or something like it. If I had my choice, I think I’d rather be cooked by someone with a little more ambition than someone who will just crush me into jelly, slow roast me, or sauté me with some light seasoning. I’d probably enjoy being the main character in a sandwich, maybe the protein in a nice salad, or the ingredient that brings a whole family of ingredients together in a wholesome soup. Yeah, that sounds nice…
Unfortunately, being a vegetarian precludes me from cooking and eating myself, and I know I could just not eat myself, but if I’m going through all the trouble to gather the right ingredients to make myself a subtle yet complex flavor that dances across the palette like a lithe ballerina of taste, then I’m going to eat a bit too. Being a vegetarian has made a lot of things I used to cook a little difficult to replicate, but I’ve noticed I’m actually becoming a better cook, which is gratifying in a way I never would have expected–imagine writing something you really love and then being able to shove it in your mouth and taste all the work you poured into it.
I used to get sick a lot. Maybe it was being around students all the time, maybe I’m just predisposed toward sickness, or maybe my immune system was sadly understaffed because I only slept two hours a night and ate exclusively food that came in shiny bags and could be used as candles in an emergency. However, whenever I got sick, I’d bump up my cooking game from Banquet tv dinners to a delicious homemade chicken noodle soup.
I’d make a nice garlic and ginger broth, add enough vegetables that stirring it was like looking down into a tornado rolling over a farm, and then I’d add chicken. The chicken, as you can imagine, was the main flavor in the whole thing. The vegetables and broth all tasted like it, and there was probably about two pounds of happy little bird swirling around in that bubbling pool of nourishment.
As it happens, chicken soup is hard to make without chicken, but that’s what I did last night, and that’s one of my favorite things to do now. Cooking is fun in a way I never planned for as a shitty youth living in a dorm with a fully-functioning kitchen I never used. Cooking is also pretty easy, and that’s the point I’ve now taken about 400 words to get to. Cooking is easy and really satisfying, and I want to hit young me with a shoe for not learning to do it earlier.
Not everyone has access to good ingredients or cooking supplies–I spent a lot of my childhood living off microwave meals and powdered milk–but if the opportunity is there, holy shit cooking makes everything easier. I have students who tell me the only food they can make for themselves is ramen, and only the really industrious students add hot sauce to it. Most of these students either have a little kitchenette in their dorm like I did, or within a year or two they’ll have something like it. They also don’t have much time because students and just people in general are busy doing their lives, but cooking doesn’t have to be a whole affair. It takes like 5 minutes to make a salad, 9 if you want to get wild and sauté some mushrooms for it.
Life is hard and largely populated by moments that make me wish I could crawl under my desk and hide until the world forgets about me, but getting better at cooking for myself made it easier, and, ya know, food is really good and I know what I like better than the PepsiCo chemist in charge of making sure they don’t quite kill you.
As I get older, I’ve been enjoying doing things for myself. I don’t really like going out for drinks anymore because I know the cocktails I need. I don’t go to movies as often because the musical and theatrical performance I see in the shower every morning is unparalleled. And I think I’ve finally come to the point where I can confidently say “I’d do a better job cooking myself than a troll in a forest.”