June 25, 2011
Confession: I used to be a bad cook
I'm speaking at Google next week.
Ever since they invited me to come give a talk as part of their Authors@Google series, I've been trying to figure out what I'd talk about. I knew I wanted to share my story of how I went from being a lawyer to the happy herbivore, but I kept feeling like something was missing. That a part of my story was left unsaid.
I fell into my culinary career and believe me when I say no one was more surprised than me.
When I left home to go to college, I didn't know how to make anything beyond a sandwich. I didn't even know how to boil water to make pasta. A few days before I was leaving for school, my mom tried to show me how to make scrambled eggs and it went badly. I could tell she was worried about me, how would I eat? But I assured her I'd make good use of the dining hall.
For the first two years, the extent of my "cooking" in college was making a bowl of cereal or heating up a poptart. (I could also make some awesome jell-o shots, but I'm not quite sure I can call that cooking.)
My third year roommate, however, was all domestic-like and loved cooking. On the weekends, all of our guys friends would flock to our apartment to eat whatever she made. I was a bit jealous of the attention, so one weekend I asked if I could help out; I wanted to get in on the action! My roommate went easy on me and gave me a recipe for crostini. I thought Great! How hard is it to toast bread and top it with stuff?
I failed. Miserably. The bread was so hard we almost broke our teeth trying to bite it. My roommate and all our friends, including my then-boyfriend, made fun of me for weeks. Anytime they ate something my roommate made when I was around, they'd say "You didn't make this right Lindsay?"
I was mortified and promised myself I'd never step back in the kitchen. (I did eventually learn how to make a simple pasta dish that I used anytime I needed to entertain and I've included it in Everyday Happy Herbivore).
I met Scott my senior year and finding such a great boyfriend that also liked to cook seemed to be the best solution I could have hoped for. For the first three years we were together, Scott did all the cooking. I could make pasta, tacos (seasoning packet), sloppy joes (seasoning packet), mac n' cheese (from a box) and canned soup, but that was pretty much it. Even then I still hated cooking and cringed anytime Scott would ask me to make dinner since he was running late.
Then when Scott & I were married, my family and friends started to tease me non-stop about my lack of cooking skills, insisting that I needed to learn how to make at least one really good meal. It had been a few years since the crostini debacle and while the scars were still there, the wounds weren't fresh, so I decided to give cooking another try.
I went to the bookstore and bought one of Jaime Oliver's books (he was the Naked Chef back then) and spent hours -- literally hours -- preparing this one dish. Thankfully, it was edible, but it wasn't that great. It certainly wasn't worth the effort and time I had put in or the amount of money I spent on ingredients. Scott was really proud of my effort but I continued to think I was a lousy cook and it just wasn't for me.
I became a vegetarian not long after that and Scott (bless him!) was pretty good about making meals that we could both eat. When I went vegan, however, Scott was all "you are on your own." He was supportive of my decision, but had no idea what he'd make me if he had to take cheese and eggs out of the equation.
I tried to get buy on stir-frys, pasta and veggie burgers, but it didn't take long for me to realize if I was going to be vegan, I needed to get in the kitchen and learn to cook. Back then there weren't many substitutes or convenience foods for vegans. I was also living in an not-so-veg-friendly city so my hand was really forced in the kitchen.
I started slow and easy, making things like soups and stews. I then ventured into muffins. The first 3 vegan baking attempts came out wrong but I was determined to make it work (I was hungry for muffins!) and when the fourth batch rose perfectly (and tasted good too!) I was a new person. Every bad experience was gone. I had a new excitement. I can still remember those muffins vividly -- I can still remember how good it felt to get something right.
One "success" gave me the courage to keep trying, to keep cooking and keep baking. It all started out of necessity and along the way it turned out to be something I loved. As I got more comfortable and confident in the kitchen, I started trying to make my own recipes. I started experimenting with new flavors. New ideas kept coming and coming and coming and I was fearless about trying them out. I was a foodie. I was a cook. and somewhere in all of that, I became a chef.
but I still don't make crostini.