Wellness Wednesday: Anyone Can Cook!

Learning to Enjoy Cooking in Times of Stress
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What’s for dinner? It’s a common question, one you might call out from the couch without looking up from your phone, or shout downstairs through your half-open bedroom door. It’s a question that in your first year of college will probably be addressed to your friends, referring to what’s on the menu at the dining hall, or, if you’re feeling adventurous, somewhere off campus. It’s a question that, sooner than you’d think, you’ll be asking yourself, staring at your own fridge in your own kitchen. 

If you’re intimidated by that last scenario, that’s ok and you’re not alone! The responsibility of feeding yourself can be both exciting and daunting. There were nights when I’ve spent hours on a simmering sauce and patiently rolling out fresh pasta, but there were also times when I’ve gotten double orders of Chipotle to stretch out as four meals while I cram for midterms. I’ve had Thanksgiving meals with a 60+ person swim team, and more dinners of questionable leftovers by myself on the couch than I’d like to admit. And honestly, I never feel like I’ve had a bad meal. What’s important to me, and for you this Wellness Wednesday, is learning to enjoy eating and cooking (especially) when you’re stressed. A good breakfast can set the tone for your whole day, a healthy snack can push you through that extra hour of studying, and eating well can help you build a healthy lifestyle. 

Part of this, as many of the newly quarantined are discovering, starts with cooking. In college, friends would watch me pull a loaf of bread out of the oven or butter baste a pork chop and ask how to get good at cooking. Like many things, it’s through lots and lots of practice. It’s by beginning with basic boxed mac and cheese (Annie’s white cheddar shells only thank you) and adding degrees of complexity as your confidence grows and your tastes evolve. It’s by being ok with when a recipe doesn’t turn out right, and eating it anyways. Like most things, it can be discouraging to struggle and difficult to enjoy while failing. And what’s more, the learning doesn’t stop. I still try to cook everyday, even when I’m busy and even if it’s just eggs for breakfast. I’m still figuring out what I love to make (the amount of pickles I make and consume is quite frankly alarming) and what I just can’t enjoy (after three attempts, I’m convinced cauliflower fried rice is a Buzzfeed hoax). And I’m still trying to fight the idea of a working lunch– not only does everyone have at least 20 minutes in the day to eat, but everyone needs that 20 minutes to unplug, relax, and enjoy. But, what has helped me the most is making food for the people I love. As the first 500 words of every food blog recipe has ever said: food is an important part of our cultures and families. It’s how we gather, celebrate, and express love and appreciation. Whether it’s cookies for my coworkers or Thanksgiving for my family, so much of why I enjoy cooking comes from making others happy. 

Now while I consider the meals I make at home to be pretty good, I try to acknowledge that I am just that: a home cook. I’m aware that what I do for myself isn’t nearly at the same level of what restaurants do, which is part of what makes going out to eat so enjoyable. On Saturday mornings not spent at Code2College workshops, I volunteer at Eden East farmstand where I’ve met chefs, farmers, and service industry folks who have expanded my respect for the work they do. And right now during this strange and scary time, their livelihoods are gone. Going to a restaurant was a way to celebrate an achievement, explore new foods, or just give myself a break for an hour, and I, like many people right now are realizing what a luxury that was. 

So tonight, instead of asking “what’s for dinner?”, try asking “how can I help with dinner?”. Learn how to make your parents’ favorite meal, or if you can, get take out or delivery from your favorite local restaurant. Savor the home cooked meals and know that one day soon we’ll be able to laugh with friends at the lunch table. But most importantly, enjoy it.