When I turned 18 in India, the first and only thing I wanted to do was learn how to drive. When I made this wish known, you know what I heard back?
Why don't you learn how to cook first?
Five years later, as I was getting ready to move across continents to join Shane in the UK and oh, marry him, a then father-figure proclaimed that "Shane will never respect you if you can't cook for him".
Wanna know how else Shane might lose respect for me?
If I let your Boomer opinions into my life so back off, uncle.
(Wish I'd actually said that to him back then)
Interestingly, I both learned how to drive and dabbled in cooking in the few months leading up to my wedding. But as soon as I got my driver's license and an approval stamp from my mother that I might be able to find my way around a kitchen, I abandoned both skills.
One of the first things I've promised to get myself as soon as the lockdown ends is a driving license in the UK. There have been many instances during this lockdown when I've felt like I could have gotten myself out of an unfortunate situation if only I could drive. I have promised myself to never again be found feeling that stuck and helpless (if I can help it).
As for cooking, it has saved my life during these weird, unsettling times. That, coming from someone who has literally said the words, "I can't cook to save my life", is something.
I've had to feed myself for a little over five years now and it's been...a journey. A journey and its accompanying lessons that I'm happy to share with you today.
The title might have given away the fact that this post is written in two parts. There's just so much to say on the topic.
Our first kitchen in 22 Nelson Street was so tiny that it barely fit both me and Shane at the same time. Storage space even for groceries was non-existent, a myth even, and as for tools, we simply used all the kitchen utensils that came with our fully-furnished flat. It goes without saying that cooking in there was a dreadful chore that we tried to simultaneously put off and be done with as soon as possible.
Between 2015-16, I think we cooked just about three recipes:
1. Eggs and bacon on toast
3. Marinated chicken in the oven, served with tortilla wraps (didn't even bother getting some veggies on the side)
And for the rest of our meals, we either ordered in, ate out, or bought processed food from the grocery store.
In January 2016, I developed an eye twitch that lasted nine months and only went away when I started eating healthy. Apparently, a lack of a balanced diet and appropriate nutrients can make one's eyes twitch. Who knew?
It was during that time that we (I) decided to clean up our act and actually cook something so we subscribed to Hello Fresh. This was life-changing. We were actually eating greens, saving money, and not going grocery shopping that often or wrestling with our tiny fridge to fit said groceries. This was possibly the most adult thing we'd ever done until that point (besides getting married as infants I suppose).
Hello Fresh back then probably saved our lives but I'd be lying if I said I enjoyed the process. But Shane did (at least more than me). So he would don his imaginary lab coat and pretend to be conducting a chemistry experiment, making cooking out to be an exact science as detailed in the recipe cards. Meanwhile, I would wait around in the shadows of this scene to clean up as he went. Every spoon he used would magically disappear into the dishwasher and some of the greens he'd chopped up for the sides would be mistakenly thrown out into our compost. My personal record was cleaning the stove before we even sat down to eat...while the hot plates were still scathing hot. The smell of boiling surface-cleaner is not one I'll forget easily.
But sometime in 2017, about a year after we learned to survive on this new system, we gave up. Cooking, even with 20-minute recipes cards and exact ingredients delivered to our door, was still a chore. A chore that needed us to leave the only comfortable room in that cold apartment to enter a suffocating chamber with ZERO ventilation.
I cannot believe how much rent we paid to live in that shit hole in the city centre. We still live in the heart of the city and pay way more in rent but there's a difference. The kitchen here is amazing. It almost makes the stupid amount we pay worth it.
I'm slowly learning that the kitchen in any home has the power to make or break the experience of living there.
In 2018, when we moved into our current place with the lovely open plan kitchen, I promptly subscribed us to yet another food box delivery service - Gousto.
It was my goal to actually use and enjoy this available space after three years of suffocating. So every Sunday, I would watch DPD's idiot driver "Steven" leave our Gousto Box on the bottom step of our apartment complex without even ringing our bell because that lazy sonovabitch wanted to avoid carrying it up to our door. And every Sunday I would contact customer care to complain about him. Turns out, Steven was not even his real name. DPD (those deceitful motherfuckers) apparently assign a random name to their drivers so it's a good thing I never rushed out to the balcony to scream at Steven for not doing his job. Not that Steven (that tardy fuckweasel) would care, but I digress.
We would get three meals for four people delivered every week and three times a week, we would cook dinner with The Bromance, who moved into our neighbourhood the same year we did. The fourth portion of every meal (if there was any leftover after two boys were done with the meal) would be packed up for my lunch at work the next day.
Gousto actually taught me things. As a writer, I believe that their instructions on the recipe cards were a lot more precise and actually instructed. For example, it was through Gousto that I learned how long it takes for garlic to infuse its flavour into the dish. Roasting vegetables is something I perfected with Gousto. They taught me how pasta can be done so it's al dente, what flavours compliment the tartness of soy sauce, and even how to peel my onion more efficiently.
Hello Fresh could have taught me these things too, I suppose, but I just needed to be able to breathe while cooking.
By the end of last year, after collecting over 150 recipe cards from Gousto, we decided to pause our subscription. We were still planning on using our existing recipe cards but by getting the ingredients ourselves. This meant that there was no pressure to actually cook all three meals before an ingredient went bad or to wait around for that little shit-nugget Steven to leave our perishables in the sun.
The timing was perfect. We were getting ready to go to India for three weeks over Christmas. The New Year would mark a whole new era of cooking in the Shankita household.
[To be continued]