I have never liked cooking. Although, it’s something I have been told many times I should just learn to enjoy. My family hardly every goes out to eat and mom has always cooked for us. Whether it’s coming home after a busy day to a boiling crockpot, giving off the savory aroma of roast beef, or a special plate of the sweet Pecan Chicken that I always ask for on my birthday, she never fails to bring food to the table. I, on the other hand, take pride in using prepackaged ingredients—making cookies and macaroni from the simple instructions printed on the back of the box.
My boyfriend, who happens to think of himself as a chef, laughs at my skills and jokes about doing all the cooking if and when we get married; which I actually wouldn’t mind, being that, never once have I created a meal that makes the family’s mouth water, nor have I ever had the desire to do so. Never have I planned a dinner, buying every ingredient and preparing it by myself, nor have I even thought of taking on this responsibility. That is, until today.
I went grocery shopping and cooked an unfamiliar recipe by myself to experience a bit more of independent adulthood and prove wrong those who know me best by showing them: I really can cook. But is it truly as easy as my mother, boyfriend and everyone who has ever cooked for me makes it look? Would I be able to make it without the help or company of others? To find out, I scrolled through the millions of shared Pintrest recipes. I found one that was seemingly doable, yet unusual to my particular set of taste buds; and without thinking of the consequences of this decision, I drove myself to Walmart where I bought each ingredient. I spent the afternoon slaving away in the kitchen, apron and all, trying my best to make less of a mess and more of a masterpiece.
Not only was I cooking, but making something that doesn’t normally enter our house: Asian food. Pad Thai with rice noodles, to be specific. While reading the list of ingredients, I was immediately intimidated. I didn’t think I’ve ever eaten rice noodles, nor would I know, in the slightest, how to make them. The recipe also called for three ingredients I had never heard of: fish sauce, Tamarind paste and Sambal Oelek. What in the world? I spent a significant amount of time Googling the stuff, only to find out that it was fermented fish, paste of the Tamarind pod (indigenous to tropical Africa) and hot chili sauce, mixed with more fermented fish, shrimp and rice vinegar—None of this comforted me one bit. At this point, I was expecting this to be a disaster, but also somehow trying to keep a positive attitude in doing something new. (I’m not sure if it’s possible for these two thoughts to coexist, but I tried anyway.)
Walmart is an interesting place, filled with all sorts of people; but there’s always one thing that everyone has in common: grumpiness. No one makes eye-contact, minding their own business to the point that I think they no longer see me as a person, but as another obstacle for them to push their cart around. It was surprisingly easy to find the specialty items I was worried about in the “Asian Aisle,” but I wondered if the couples chatting to each other in Chinese were curious why I was there. While I was completing my scavenger hunt of foreign food, it turned out that Sambal Oelek is pretty pricey: twenty five dollars per bottle. That was not worth it. I pulled out my handy, dandy iPhone and found out Sriracha (three dollars a bottle) works just the same. Phew.
In the “Speedy Check-Out Line,” a lady in her fifties with dangly earrings that stretched her earlobes down to her jawline, looked at me in surprise. I’m sure she was wondering why a seemingly twelve year old girl was buying rice noodles and fish sauce; but she never asked so I never told her. I got the same look from the receipt-checker, a plump blond who told me to stay safe. I just laughed and wished her a good day.
When I was getting ready to take over the kitchen, my family’s faces twisted at the ingredients and made bets on how long this would take me, all out of good fun, but I could feel the pang of truth behind their sarcasm.
I felt like I was on the Cooking Network, reading the recipe out loud and narrating to myself each action I was preforming. “First, I take the Tamarind paste and whisk it with the fish sauce, then I add the spices…” With each bottle I opened, a new set of aromas filled the air, making it feel like an Asian market. The fish sauce was the most pungent, reminding me of nothing other than cat pee, both in sight and scent. Doubt hit me almost just as hard as this smell did my nostrils, but as I added more and more to the sauce, it began to take on a different character: spicy yet sweet and distinctively Asian.
The noodles were like tiny clear silkworms, wiggling together as they softened in the pot. The chicken was marinated in an altogether different sauce that brought even more flavor to the mix. Everything was transferred into a sauté pan, sizzling and popping as it cooked. This noise made me nervous and I stirred the contents of the pan way too much, trying to settle both myself and the food. I noticed that the salty, savory soy and garlic tied with the sweet and spiciness of what was already made, filled my nose with an indescribable aroma. And I realized, I was having a bit of fun.
Each bowl of “Pintrest Pad Thai” was garnished with peanuts and vegetables and served with my anxious smile, waiting to hear the feedback I knew I’d receive while trying this thing for myself. It was surprisingly delicious, especially for people who hate fish and never go beyond a mild spice level. There was an underlying hint of fish that you could only find with the knowledge of the hidden fish sauce; but it also had a nutty flavor that balanced out the spice which I could hardly feel, but left my lips burning afterward. The noodles soaked up everything that surrounded them, making each bite taste like an explosion of flavor that I could never have thought of on my own.
My brother dumped a quarter-sized amount of Sriracha on top of the beige-colored meal, thinking it would be too bland without it. Little did he know how much he would be sweating after his first few bites. My mother, who has an aversion to any kind of sea food and frightened by the smells she had experienced only minutes before, was genuinely impressed by the dish. Although she did laugh at the fact that she guessed my timing right: an hour and a half; but that’s beside the point.
As I soaked the pots and pans and scrubbed the counter, I grinned in satisfaction. I really can cook. However, it definitely wasn’t as easy as it looked. Without the laying out of linear directions and reading them to myself several times, I would have been completely lost. There were moments of uncertainty that filled my mind with doubt, but overall I was successful in filling both my own and my family’s bellies with something delicious. If only my boyfriend could see me now.
The kitchen looks as if there was never even a mess, but the clock tells me otherwise. I am tired and sweaty and ready to sit down. I now have so much more respect for my mom who does this every day, without fail. It’s tiring work, this cooking thing. And, though I may say I enjoyed it today, I’d be fine going without the responsibility for a while.
Published by Bethany B.