How me finishing the sentence "Cooking became easier, and more enjoyable when I learned…" became a post about Shrimp Risotto.

by Irvin on July 7, 2010 · 6 comments

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Don’t we all love Shauna over at Gluten Free Girl? If you don’t know her, check out her site and see how she’s not only the sweetest and the coolest but she also has a way of asking thought provoking questions that make us all want to think about things (think in a good way, as opposed think in that sort of way that makes my head hurt when AJ switches over to professor mode and tries to explain to me what thermal enthalpy is). Just as she asked her tweeople (good grief, I just used that term in a non-ironic way) a couple of weeks ago what their first thing that they learn to cook (mine were snickerdoodles) which lead to an avalanche of fantastic posts from people all over the place, she recently asked everyone to complete the sentence “Cooking became easier, and more enjoyable when I learned…”. It was a harder question to answer than I thought it would be, and it was the question that led me to post about my shrimp risotto – a savory dish and not what I usually post about (desserts, baked goods, etc). But that’s Shauna for you. Always getting you write thing that you wouldn’t normally write about – and I mean that in a good way.

I had read the tweet during a period of time at work, when I was slammed with a project (when is there NOT a time when I am slammed with a project there? More and more the insanity has escalated) but it got me thinking; too many thoughts actually. When did cooking become easier and more enjoyable for me? Because I’ve pretty much always love to cook, at least as much as I can remember. Sure there are times when it’s a chore, but I’m one of the rare birds that goes into the kitchen to cook and calm down when I’m stressed.

My college roommates used to joke that every time they found me in the kitchen baking in our ridiculous tiny ghetto kitchen, they knew I had a test, essay or art critique I was procrastinating from. Oh man, that kitchen was terrible. Cramped with no counter space, the largest mega microwave you have ever seen because I accidentally killed the previous microwave by sticking some Chinese take out with a metal handle in it and my roommate deemed that an opportunity to buy the largest one he could find – the Cadillac of microwaves (and I mean that from a size perspective), warped stained linoleum floors, and a dinky tiny stove that looked like the older cousin of an E-Z Bake Oven, it was probably the worse kitchen I have ever lived in. That didn’t stop me from baking or cooking though. I pretty much didn’t know any better.

I mulled Shauna’s sentence over in my head while trying to meet a crazy deadline for work. I was going away on a much needed vacation the following week, and I needed to get a major project done because there was a presentation while I was gone. But my mind was thinking about the sentence. “Cooking became easier, and more enjoyable when I learned to chop onions properly.” “…when I learned to appropriately set my mise en place.” “…when I learned to get use my kitchen scale.” “when I learned how to appropriately use all the attachments to my KitchenAid mixer.”

All of them were true. But the reality is that cooking and baking is an ongoing learning experiment for me. Every new recipe, every new attempt at a different dish and every time I make the same thing and it turns out different makes me realize that there are so many factors involved in making food, and I want to learn all of them to make myself better.

For me, making food is both easy AND hard at the same time; enjoyable and frustrating and ultimately rewarding. And that’s when I realized I was looking at the sentence the wrong way. For me, it wasn’t about learning a new technique or learning how to use a new piece of equipment.

For me it was starting to cook with my partner AJ.

“Cooking became easier and more enjoyable when I learned to cook with the love of my life. AJ.”

I always viewed making food as a social thing. AJ never really enjoyed cooking that much. He professes to have made certain dishes from before meeting me (quiche for instance), but I’ve actually never had his quiche before. He’s only made his soft pretzels once for me (and now he says he likes my soft pretzels better so I probably won’t be getting any of his soft pretzel from him again). And we first started cooking together AJ got really nervous when he made food for me. I think he saw how comfortable in the kitchen I was, and how he would struggle with chopping ingredients (he still hates chopping). And at times he would just freeze up and get really anxious. I started referring to it as his “KPA” which stood for Kitchen Panic Anxiety. I think labeling it helped. Or maybe it made it worse.

Either way, AJ’s over his KPA now (with an occasional flare up when he’s tired or stressed). I think he finally realized that I don’t have any judgment on food that someone else has made for me (if it’s a restaurant that’s different, I’m paying for it, but when it’s just a friend or loved one, the fact that they are making food for me, and I don’t have to lift a finger, is enough to make me love it, and love that person, universally). And so he learned to love to cook as well.

And we learned to cook together. It’s one thing to cook for yourself; it’s quite another to cook for others and to cook together. I chop, he sautés. I clean and chiffonade, he stirs and cooks. I make the rub, the paste, the marinade, he preps, rubs and grills. Just as we are a team together in life, we’re a team in the kitchen and that makes everything more fun. And because of him, I ended up making things I normally wouldn’t have tried to make.

I’ll confess that AJ and I rarely bake together in the kitchen however. It’s a little harder to divide the tasks when we bake, and though he’s a scientist in his day job and gets very excited when I use the kitchen scale or the mortar and pestle in the kitchen he has little interest in baking and making batters or doughs – though he loves partaking of the final product. Thus it’s savory dishes that we make together, not a dessert or baked good.

One of our favorite things to make together is shrimp risotto. It’s the perfect dish to make together, as one person can start with the cooking of the rice (which needs to be stirred pretty constantly) while the other can cook the shrimp and prep the other ingredients. In the end you have an amazing dish that you would never think to make at home – the sort of thing that you might order at a restaurant. But now you have total control over the ingredients and what you want to put in the dish. And you have the satisfaction cooking with someone and eating with someone. You’re eating their love.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

S. B. Hadley Wilson July 8, 2010 at 5:11 am

“Cooking became easier and more enjoyable when I learned that I could control my weight by cooking myself.

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maybelle's mom July 9, 2010 at 12:22 am

my post was also about learning to cook with my spouse. i kind of feel like you learn to cook over and over again in your life–you learn to sustain yourself, then maybe you health/wealth changes, and you learn again, you meet someone…

love your writing as always.

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Mr. Jackhonky July 9, 2010 at 11:24 am

@S. B. Hadley Wilson. That's awesome. Though the first time I read it, I was confused and imagined you sitting in a giant bubbling cauldron cutting carrots into the broth, cooking yourself, ala bugs bunny. it was an amusing mental image.

@maybelle's mom. It's an ever learning process you know? I am constantly learning new things in the kitchen. If I didn't, I would be bored.

And thanks for the compliment! It totally means so much coming from some who is an awesome writer like yourself!

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petoke July 11, 2010 at 6:24 am

YUM. this risotto looks delicious. I remember the first Thanksgiving dinner I had with you & AJ (you know, the one where I showed up and did absolutely nothing, but ate all your food)(oh wait, that was all of them) . . . it was so damn good. I never knew AJ had KPA. it didn't show at all.

i like this post.

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Rita July 1, 2011 at 12:19 am

WOW, I LOVE this post. It’s big on heart, it has a love story embedded in it, and I did NOT expect that answer to the prompt. How sweet, and how true! Especially because I’ve seen you two in action.

I want to “like” everyone’s comments so far, too.

Cooking, the language of Love. Cheers!

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Arthur in the Garden! August 5, 2013 at 9:28 am

Risotto is a wonderful thing!

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