Monday, August 8, 2016

Tasty and the Reluctant Cook

This reluctant cook is currently preoccupied with watching the short one-minute “Tasty” posts on FaceBook. It is an anomaly that I drool over the food videos on how to make lasagna poppers, taco-stuffed peppers, cinnamon roll french toast bake, and churro ice cream bowls. Those are works of art, in my opinion. Although I am mesmerized by these "Tasty" videos, I am not convinced that cooking is easy and relaxing.

Back in the 1980s when I was just starting as a nurse in the United States, I shared an apartment with four roommates. My friends (Tess, Evelyn, and Fe) could whip out delicious dishes without any effort, without breaking a sweat. We had a deal; whoever was off duty from work would cook dinner for the rest. I dreaded those days.

My first thoughts upon waking up were: “What would I cook?” and “Would they eat it?”. While others have told me that cooking is their stress therapy, it was the opposite for me. I was so exhausted from the stress of even thinking about the steps in the food preparation. Cooking jangled my nerves and definitely impacted my mental well-being.

My mother was to blame for my lack of culinary skills. When I was a child, my mother didn’t like anyone underfoot when she was cooking in the kitchen. The one time she let me cook fried fish, I almost burned the house down. Or maybe she just resigned to the fact that I would rather read my books than cook anything. I would rather daydream than peel onions. I prefer writing than measuring how much salt and how much pepper to put on the food. I scoffed whenever somebody said that "the best way to a man's heart is through his stomach". Who comes up with idiotic things like this?

So, when I flew over to America, I was the least domesticated among the group of nurses who descended upon Roosevelt Island. My friends’ version of the classic Filipino food of adobo, sinigang and tinola were way much more delicious than mine. Same ingredients, but my food always ended up with either too much or too little fish sauce, overcooked or undercooked, and too bland or too salty.

But since I had to do my share of chores, I tried my best in the kitchen. I really did. I decided to experiment. I surprised my friends with Pork and Beans with ground beef, Monggo with sardines, and rubbery beef steak. Bless their hearts, my roommates managed not to vomit after every dish. There was also the incident of the oven. I had decided to bake the chicken. When I opened the oven door, a flash fire singed my eyebrows and lashes. To this day, I have not baked anything.

In the end, to save my sanity as well as to release my friends from punishment, I told them that I would rather wash the dishes than come near the stove again. The sighs of relief after this pronouncement should have insulted me. Actually, abstaining from cooking saved the friendship. My adventures in cooking became fodder for jokes whenever I meet with my friends again. I was very much self-aware that my talents did not extend to cooking.

A few years later, I cooked out of obligation because I had a child to feed. I don’t think I starved my family. My then-husband was even more clueless than me. In a week’s time, I alternated between fried chicken, pork chops, or anything with the pre-mixed ingredients in a pack. The week-ends were spent trying out the neighborhood restaurants. Even with my inadequate cooking skills, my son grew up healthy. I don’t think that his fascination with the Food Channel is a symptom of food deprivation. Maybe, those frequent food trips during the week-ends made him a gourmet.

Today, I am thankful for take-outs and deliveries; good food is just a phone call away. And just because I’m obsessed with the “Tasty” videos, it does not mean that I will finally don my apron again. Hmmph, cooking is over-rated.

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