I have always been in awe of people who can come home, having no idea what to make for dinner, look through their cabinets and whip up a fabulous meal out of whatever they find. This is baffling to me, this ability to just find random ingredients and put it all together without a recipe. This is “cooking” as far as I am concerned. I am not a cook by any stretch of the imagination. I watch cooking shows and think to myself “oh wow, sure, I can do that!” But I never do. I guess for all my dreaming of being able to create beautiful food, I’ve never really had the desire.
But things change. Two years ago, a man came into my life. Let’s call him Jack because, well … that’s his name. Jack is a cook. He learned from his mother and his grandmother how to make traditional Cajun and Creole dishes, and his time as a single dad has taught him to be able to throw ingredients together creatively to make delicious dinners. For our third date, he came to my apartment and made chicken and dumplings for me. I knew then that this is a man I’d want to keep around.
Since then, he’s cooked for me many times, and it’s always been fabulous. Shrimp Creole. Shrimp and Grits. Jambalaya. He makes it looks so effortless, the way he just seems to know exactly what to do. He knows what ingredients to add when, he knows whether they should be fried, or sauteed, or baked. It seems instinctive.
I started to want to be able to do this, too. I wanted to show him that I could do it, that I am not a complete and total loser when it comes to food. I didn’t think my famous Deviled Egg would impress him much. I began to watch more closely while he was cooking, offering to help chop things or stir things. Asking questions. We made a meatloaf together. I did a good deal of the work on that, and it turned out pretty edible.
My relationship with Jack had gotten to a very strong place. Crazy in love to the point of nearly nauseating our friends and loved ones, I felt that maybe we were at a point where I could attempt to cook for him without jeopardizing that love. I might make him sick, but I was confident that it wouldn’t change his high opinion of me. So I told him I would cook for him. He asked what I would be making. I told him, truthfully, that I had no idea.
I was going to jump in head-first. I was going to make food. Without a recipe. Out of ingredients. I was scared to death. I looked in the freezer and saw that I had some pork chops. Thin ones, like the kind you’d make for breakfast, but there were four of them. I thought that would make a good jumping-off point. I looked in the cabinets. I had some Italian Wedding Soup, some pickled beets, some noodles. I had some oatmeal, some peanut butter and some Nutella. I thought, wow. My pantry leaves a lot to be desired. The only thing that made sense with the pork chops were the noodles, so I set them aside and went to the store.
I took out the pork chops and seasoned them on both sides with some creole seasoning. Jack puts Tony’s in everything, so I thought that was a good idea. I heated some oil in a pan and put the chops in. Then I sliced up all the peppers and the onion and threw those in, too. Everything was hissing and popping in the pan and things started to smell pretty good. I was getting more and more excited. This was starting to look like real food.
Then I started to get cold feet. This had been pretty simple. I didn’t feel like I had done anything special, just chopped stuff and threw it in a pan. This wasn’t like they do on the cooking shows, where they use exotic and interesting ingredients. Sure, the orange peppers were exotic to me, but I felt sure that Jack would already be aware that orange peppers existed and wouldn’t consider them very unusual. I wanted to do something a little more out of my comfort zone. I wanted to be …. culinary.
To my surprise and delight, the sauce I had made started to thicken up. It turned into a gravy. It was like magic! About that time, Jack arrived for dinner and declared that it not only smelled great but looked pretty tasty. Now I was really nervous. What if it looked good but tasted terrible?I made the noodles and poured the pork and peppers and magic gravy over them and made a plate for Jack. I waited, my heart pounding. He tasted it. He took another bite. And another. He smiled. He said it was wonderful. I was giddy with pride.
He didn’t die. He didn’t get sick. He didn’t break up with me.
I could cook. I really cooked, without a recipe. Just from ingredients. I created food from scratch. I can do this, and it isn’t that scary. Will I ever do it again? Probably. More likely I will continue to watch Jack cook, to learn by helping him do it, and then occasionally make some things on my own. But at least now I know that I can.
It was a learning experience for me, not just about cooking, but more about myself. I had convinced myself for so long that I was not able to do this. But I did. And it was a success.
Jack asked for seconds.