I rarely cook, but this week I cooked a new meal every day. I completed an item on my Impossible List! I wanted to learn how to acquire healthy, easy, and cheap food. Committing myself to cooking every day required I learn. Previously I was spoiled on great home cooked meals and dining halls. When I moved to Boston, I ate out frequently due to the long hours I worked. As an unemployed man living in a very expensive city, I cannot justify these expenses. Inexpensive food is more of a priority. So I decided to cook, though I had limited experience.
I cooked most frequently on the Appalachian Trail. The food I ate was a far cry from the food out here. I ate poptarts 80 days in a row. My tuna, peanut butter, cheese, pepperoni creations don’t make my mouth water. Most days, I made a mean Annie’s Mac with my extensive boiling water skills. Beyond the repetition, and inferior taste assortment, cooking on the trail did confer some satisfaction. I needed food. I ran a calorie deficit and needed anything I could to keep me going.
Similar to real world cooking, I bonded with my fellow thru hikers over the meal. We talked about the day’s hike and our delirious minds’ desires. We bonded and laughed even though we had been eating the same food for months. In these ways I enjoyed cooking, and I wanted to have a healthier respect for the art in the real world.
I started by looking up 7 easy recipes for one. I made a list of all the ingredients and went grocery shopping. I’ve been grocery shopping many times, but never for a full week of meals. From my thru hiking experience, I knew where the poptarts and mac and cheese were, but the rest of the space confused me. The whole experience took about an hour and a half. I intensely price shopped and left with only items that brought me joy.
The first day I made sesame noodles. Simple. I wanted fast recipes that I could repeat quickly and sesame noodles were perfect. Unfortunately, even with their simplicity, I managed to mess the ingredients up. Instead of a teaspoon of sesame oil, I put a tablespoon. Good start. After adding more ingredients, I managed to make the sesame noodles palatable and quite enjoyable. I grew my cooking confidence. I can make things that I like, even when not following recipes exactly.
During the week I made a number of paninis. While some people might not think this cooking, I had never tried these recipes before. I usually ate peanut butter and jelly or ham and cheese sandwiches. A goat cheese, strawberry, avocado panini toasted was outside of my comfort zone. I also made a mozzarella, basil, prosciutto panini. I enjoyed these paninis on fresh French bread and realized that eating healthy and cheaply, wasn’t all that difficult. I could make things I liked to eat.
Along with these creations, I helped cook a big steak with a self-made rub, and I made pizza with jalapenos, sautéed onions and peppers, peperoni, and goat cheese. I created a tomato, mozzarella, prosciutto spread with basil and olive oil and a scallion, basil, omelet.
Beyond the sesame noodles, most of the recipes went well. However, I did make a balsamic vinaigrette dip for French bread, and much to my dismay, severely burned the toast. I set the toaster too high and was focusing on adding the basil, red peppers, and other ingredients to the dip. The smell of smoke alerted me to the toaster smoking profusely. I opened windows and turned on fans to air out the kitchen. I just want to make my inexperience in the kitchen clear.
After the week, my experimentation increased my cooking confidence. I now have several recipes that I enjoy that are cheap and easy to make. Ever since the AT I have been acutely aware of what I put in my body. Since not having a job, I am acutely aware of how much I spend. Cooking lets me control both these inputs.
Most importantly, I knocked off an item on my Impossible List. I cooked for a week straight. Without writing this goal down, I would be eating peanut butter and jelly day in and day out. As I iron out what next to do with my life, I can still accomplish small tasks that leave me satisfied.