Cooking was definitely something I grew up with, but I wasn’t interested in doing it myself until well into my 20s. I knew homemade food was good and sometimes better, but I didn’t care. There was a McDonald’s under the Loyola stop and a value menu with my name on it, Gharweeb Nawaz with one-dollar lentils and saag paneer, and about six million good Mexican places. I was set.
But sometime around my third apartment I started to miss it. So I started doing it, and long story short I am an okay cook. I don’t do anything fancy but my cookie and casserole game is solid. I don’t suck at vegetables either, especially the roasted and slaw variety. Every once in awhile I’ll bust out the food processor and make my own crackers. They’re basically teeny cheddar pie crusts and make me feel a lot more “foodie” than I really am.
The term “foodie” makes my teeth hurt, like to the point where I don’t want to say I like to cook because people get all oooooohhhh do you make your own seafood broth with leftovers from your homemade beer-steamed mussels then save them for later? (no, though I’ll happily eat the delicious bi-valves at Revolution or Hopleaf). And okay, I went to Sean Brock’s pre-fixe dinner at The Publican and I still think about those freaking heirloom carrots and crab-studded hushpuppies. I like herb-flecked artisanal goat butter as much as the next guy. But copping to making your own food and not blowing at it feels like aligning with a sanctimonious culture that doesn’t have a lot of room for being human or White Cheddar Cheez-Its, my one true love.
Despite not worrying too hard about the origins of my asparagus and a deep and abiding affection for Duncan Hines Butter Recipe Golden, I like cooking. I read a lot of food blogs. The abundance of Mariano’s excites me. I think it’s taught me some things too, which I will now share with you in a hopefully non-preachy manner.
- Doing something with your hands is meditative and soothing. It’s a reminder that you as a human can be useful in a way unrelated to a keyboard or mobile application. As someone who spends 95% of their waking hours on a laptop or future phone, I like to know that this tangled mass of blood and bone is good for something tangible.
- Giving yourself enough time is important. Like, three times as much as you think you’ll need. Even if you don’t need it, it’s nice to know it’s there. Trying to frost a thousand still-warm cakes later, I finally get it.
- It’s okay to fuck up. It’s okay to fuck up a lot. Fucking up is how you get good. Or sometimes you just keep fucking up, and eventually learn that wild rice is just not your thing.
- Be decent to other people. Not everyone wants to hover over a pot of simmering whatever or even microwave some Easy Mac, and that is seriously okay. A cool way to make them want to even less (plus hate you) is to jam the idea that cooking is next to godliness down their throats. I don’t want to fix my own toilet. You don’t want to make bolognese. It’s okay.
- Be decent to yourself. Sometimes you don’t want to hover over a pot of simmering whatever either. There are these places in Chicago called restaurants and they are pretty amazing.
And most recently:
- I can cook a fucking steak.
It was one of my goals for 2015 and I did it. I used this recipe because all of their recipes are perfect. It wasn’t the most amazing steak, but it was good. I’d do it again.
Going along with that:
- Don’t be afraid. Ribeye is expensive. Meat requires patience and concentration. But if you screw it up, it is very rarely (ha! steak joke! sorry) the end of the world. It’s just food.