Tuesday, 7 July 2015

The Food of Love

I was never one for cooking. I believe in eating healthily, but despite that, cooking has always been a chore. As a child I hated being asked to help with dinner, while my brother was eager to be in the kitchen with mum, spurred on by childhood dreams of becoming a chef (he is now studying Accountancy, but cooking is still a hobby for him, as far as I'm aware). So, when I was seventeen and getting ready to head off to uni, my mum played a trick on me to make sure I could fend for myself in the big, bad world. She and the family headed out for the afternoon, leaving  me with instructions to have a spaghetti bolognese on the table by the time they came back. Sure, I knew the basics, I had had no choice but to help with dinner occasionally, but I had never cooked a meal from start to finish before. Aside from the fact that the onions were a little too al dente for our taste, the meal was a success. Seventeen year old me was brimming with domestic pride.

Let's fast-forward a few years, past the kitchen highs and lows of university where I learned to make a cracking veggie lasagne but resorted a little too often to Super Noodles, or else cooked my carrots but forgot to defrost my chicken. Like many freshers, my diet wasn't the healthiest, especially not during that time when I ate everything my mother wouldn't let me have as a child (why did I think that white bread was that good?) But a mixture of gaining a better understanding of nutrition and living with housemates who were good cooks eventually gave me a few useful strings to my bow. Yet despite a preference for a Mediterranean style of cooking (I refer you to my Spanish upbringing) and picking up a few tips and tricks along the way, I couldn't consider myself a good cook. And the main reason for this is performance anxiety.

Sure, I can cook for myself. But if I make a mistake, or something doesn't taste good, what does it matter? Better luck next time, I can learn from my mistakes. But cooking for other people, especially people who don't know me very well, is stressful. I have recently come back from a year in Hamburg, and while I picked up lots of tips and recipes from my German hosts, cooking for them was for me akin to sitting an exam or going to an interview. I dreaded it. And it's not just getting it to taste good. Things like getting everything cooked in time, cooked at the same time, and getting a meal to the table while all the components are still hot are things I'm just not very good at.

But three weeks ago I moved in with my boyfriend. I'm not a housemate any more. I'm not a lodger living with a host family. I'm not living with my parents. I am the woman of the house, and while I've been waiting to start work again (next Monday, not long!), naturally it's up to me to cook dinner while my boyfriend is at work. And it's interesting how, despite my dislike for cooking, now that I have to do it every night I'm starting to enjoy it. I don't get that stage fright with my boyfriend. I trust him not to judge and criticise. Last Sunday, while enjoying a lamb roast which I surprised myself by cooking rather well (I don't recall cooking lamb before, so you can understand me being pleased with myself) I realised that over these past three weeks I haven't put a bad meal on the table. There were one or two dishes which I considered mediocre, perhaps, but no disasters, no burnt veg, nothing horribly greasy or tasteless.

I've always had a love for food, but never a love for cooking. Until, perhaps, now. My mum's guidance hasn't gone to waste. Her love of flavour and all things Mediterranean have influenced my cooking, and I've taken that and combined it with what I've picked up from my travels and people I've  lived with, such as ways to make vegetarian foods appealing to a meat eater, and that German love of something as simple as butter to add flavour to any dish (so yummy, but so naughty for the waistline). Sure, there is bound to come a time when I make a total mess and we have to resort to a takeaway pizza, but for now I've found something out about myself that I'm quite proud of: I can cook, and I'm eager to get better at it.

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