I was my family’s white angel of death – the black sheep of the house. I grew up in a household of accomplished and gifted bakers, bearing the hex of being completely uninterested in cooking. At first, it was the frustration of knowing I’d never fry an egg like my father or bake a cake like my mother, but then my exasperation slowly fizzled into utter laziness and an unstoppable dependency on fast food.
Aside from the adventurous night where I’d concede to defeat over starvation and muster up the courage to throw a couple chicken strips in the oven, I had never legitimately made any sort of meal for myself ... ever. Until recently.
I have this particular foible in which the idea of a potentially-positive life-change sends me into a spiral of anxiety. For example, upgrading my sock collection once drove me into a psychological meltdown. Cooking used to give me a similar feeling, and I’d find myself too sidetracked with the "what ifs" to even venture into experimentation. The thought of taking care of myself via the act of chopping ingredients and putting said ingredients into a pan caused me to blow a microchip.
However, sometimes you need someone in your life to put the little things into perspective. This happened to be my girlfriend. As compared to the hodgepodge of cutting, frying, and chopping that was my parent’s method, her calm and meticulous demeanor with food put my mind at ease. Watching her move effortlessly through the kitchen to create these delicious, wonderful meals inspired me in way I’d never imagined possible.
So, I began cooking. It started off slow – boiling pasta, chopping cucumbers, taking ice cream breaks – but I made progress and, oddly enough, got really into it. Compared to my past life of breakfast Hot Pockets and dinnertime Lean Pockets, I found nothing more soothing than roaming up and down the aisles of food stores, hunting for fresh produce.
When you watch your parents cook, or anyone with exceptional skills in the field for that matter, you don’t watch them follow directions; you watch them cook with their tastebuds and memory. When I’d watch my dad make a steak, I wouldn’t spot one measuring cup, thermometer, timer or teaspoon. When you’re following explicit instructions, whether it’s from a person you love or a cookbook, the vital math gets added back into the art of making food.
Had I known that it would’ve only taken one simple recipe for Vietnamese chicken wings and noodles to shift my life from fast food addict to self-sufficient human being, I would have done driven down the highway in a red convertible and thrown a grab bag of tacos, fries, cheeseburgers and sundaes all over the road in a grand metaphorical gesture.
Measuring, chopping, sautéing, seasoning and slathering gave me something I’d be missing for years: complete control. I think of cooking as a microcosm of the circle of life. You get pregnant when you go to the grocery store, let your baby grow by way of tossing it in egg yolks, flour, bread crumbs and spices.
You watch it grow and go through puberty in the oven, and then deliver it to the world when the buzzer rings on a beautiful porcelain plate. Seeing your carefully-chopped colorful ingredients, listening to butter sizzle and smelling chicken cook puts your senses at ease knowing you’ve created this mise-en-place. You go into a trance, like turning a shark onto its back. Save for the freak grease fire or burnt bacon, cooking is the solution for the problem of not feeling in control. It gives you a zen that could only be described as cool.
I’ll never be as adept as cooking as my parents – they’ve got decades on me – but I think I’m a lot closer than before. When I put a plate of carefully-arranged food on the table and see my girlfriend’s face light up, all the anxiety I’ve ever felt melts away like butter or one of those foul-smelling soft cheeses. Of course, I still buy fast food sometimes, because, in the words of the omnipotent keeper of the ass, Kim Kardashian: "Can I live?!"
Jeremy Glass is a Connecticut-born writer with a deep appreciation for pretty ladies, fast food and white T-shirts.
He's the Vice editor for Supercompressor.com and recently released a book of short stories called Aimless.