I woke up early so I could marinate my chicken in buttermilk, turmeric and paprika so I could fry it later. Then I did the dishes from my dinner the night before and brewed a fresh a batch of iced tea. Then I sat in the kitchen a rewrote my grocery list to include everything I needed to make a low carb tiramisu because tiramisu is my hands down favorite dessert.
As I sat there, lovingly penning a list that included mascarpone, almond flour and cream cheese, I realized: wow, things have really changed around here. A year ago, I wouldn’t have known what the fuck to do with paprika and buttermilk. That’s because a year ago, and for all of my adult life, I didn’t cook. Not because I didn’t know how to cook. I spent years as a bartender, and I have a good understanding of flavor pairing, prep work and meal planning. I used to say that the reason I didn’t cook was because I worked in the restaurant industry. As a bartender, I ate free meals every shift, usually from sprawling spreads of leftover food from the high end restaurant where I worked. Who needed to cook when I got a plate full of meatballs, pita, hummus and salad every night? As a sales rep, I had an expense account so I could pay for my meals on the company card. Why pay for groceries when I can get a free meal?
I thought those sounded like good excuses for only stocking green tea, cashews, candy, yogurt and the occasional bunch of kale in my kitchen. But the fact of the matter is: the reason I didn’t cook was a lot deeper than financial convenience. Here’s the thing: I always knew how to cook. My mother cooked dinner for our family of four every week night. She made all my school lunches. She loved going to the farmer’s market for seasonal vegetables and the bread store for fresh bread. She had a good collection of cook books, a fully stocked and outfitted kitchen. She taught me how to cook when I was a girl. I remember the joy of cooking meals myself for the family, baking cookies, whipping shit up for myself.
But somewhere along the line I lost that. It started when I was a teenager, when I suddenly became aware of my body. I grew up during the low fat diet trend of the late 90s and early aughts. Growing up in the Bay Area I was exposed to the vastness of hippie health culture, which encompassed everything from veganism to organic food to kombucha to alternative baking. Between low fat diets and the cultural sway of veganism, I resigned myself to eating what one friend once called ‘squirrel snacks’ – basically a low-nutritional diet of small portion, non-meal foods punctuated by occasional doses of protein. I thought that eating yogurt for breakfast, chips and hummus for lunch, and four shots of tequila with a taco plate for dinner would keep my skinny. And if I were skinny, then I would be beautiful.
Of course my disdain for cooking was tied up with my sexuality. On the one hand, not eating enough foods or the right foods would keep me thin, and if I were thin then men would want to fuck me. On the other hand, the ability to cook full meals was something my mother did as an act of subservience to my father, and I was never a subservient woman. I was never going to do something as desperate and pathetic as cook a meal for a man. To me, there was something so gauche and unsettling about the idea of a woman who thought that feeding a man would make her worthy of love. I had seen so many women who fed men have their hearts broken, be abandoned, and left alone by their men. But skinny bitches? No one ever walked away from a skinny bitch. Right?
I have no idea how the fuck did I wound up working in the restaurant industry with an attitude like that. Working in restaurants is about nourishing people, hospitality and a sense of home. But I had made a habit out of ‘starving out’ my boyfriends. I thought I was so clever and funny for never offering breakfast to my boyfriends – if they were hungry, they’d have to leave to eat, which was fine by me because I wanted them gone anyway. Not eating was a way for me to validate my self loathing, and it was also a great way to push away people that I liked to fuck. No wonder I attracted men who didn’t respect me.
But all of that has changed. After a recent break up, I decided that it was time to become a bomb ass cook. I decided that I was going to eat protein every day, and not just when I started to feel light headed and woozy. I decided that I was going to use the culinary skills that had made me a well respected and award winning bartender to feed myself. It was time to face my demons in a way that I didn’t know I could: I learned how to cook.
And I fucking loved it.
I have discovered a certain joy and comfort in cooking that I didn’t know was there. There’s a simple passion in cooking, one that makes me feel both beautiful and invincible. In cooking, I have faced my fears. I am neither fat (or, rather, unhealthy) because I cook. Nor have I leaned into cooking because I am desperate for a man’s approval. I am, simply: nourished. There is something about casually whipping up a complete meal for lunch on a Wednesday that makes me feel whole. Like I can do anything. There’s a satisfaction to be had in picking out spices, turning on the oven, waiting for my food to cook, and cleaning up. It’s a process of patience and reward. There’s a calmness to the contentment of feeding oneself and feeding oneself well.
But I’m sure you already knew that. Which is what makes me sad about all of this. I thought that cooking would somehow make me ugly or cheap. Even though I feel more beautiful than before. My self esteem, my self confidence, my sense of self worth – it’s all so much better than before. I just didn’t know any better than to use food as an instrument of self harm. But, now that I know: never again.