FOOD ESSAY #1: From Food Network fan to major foodie

IMG_4320When I was a kid at home, my sister used the show Giada at Home to reel me into watching The Food Network with her.

The host, Giada De Laurentiis, is this gorgeous Italian woman who displays a lot of energy and passion in the kitchen. She makes these delicious-looking Italian dishes look super simple to make, you can’t help but keep on watching.

Watching Giada became a tradition of my sister and I’s. This started probably around the time I was in middle school and she was still in elementary school. The routine was, come home after school, watch half an hour of Giada. Whatever she was making, we would sit back and dream about making ourselves. We always tried to convince our mom to buy totally unfamiliar ingredients at the grocery store, without being able to promise an actual meal in return. Failed experiments were more of a commonality in our household.

But I swear, you learn so much from your mistakes. The experiences sear lessons into your conscience, so that you remember the next time you want to make pancakes to set the stove to that perfect medium setting.

Over the years, we started watching shows like Alton Brown’s Good Eats, Sandra Lee’s Money Saving meals, and even Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. We argued about which episode to watch first, the yogurt episode or the bread one? We freaked out and called our parents over whenever an Atlanta restaurant was featured on Triple D.

Fast forward a few years, my sister and I have approached an age where our parents trust us to start using the stove-top and oven by ourselves.

We hop right into this new-found freedom, with my sister dropping $40 of her hard-earned money on a Giada recipe book and me eagerly making grocery lists every week, scouring the internet and TV for inspiration. We tried making gingerbread, potato bacon pie, black bean brownies…

By high school, I was helping my mom out in the kitchen, even eventually starting to take over whole dinners for myself. My kitchen skills slowly improved as I became more efficient at prepping ingredients, tending to the stove and not trashing our kitchen, altogether. But a busier routine restricted me, and as I grew absorbed into debate and my blog, I didn’t want to make time for cooking. I still watched Food Network as a way to unwind after school, and even got into watching food videos on Youtube. I discovered Brothers Green and Sorted Food, and started to grow more passionate about simplicity and innovation.

And then I came to college, and my food routine completely transformed. During my freshman year, I ate in dining halls and out at Evanston and Chicago restaurants.

It’s really easy to make a bad decision if temptations are lying in plain sight. In dining halls, junk food is literally just sitting out there. Sugar laden desserts abound, processed food popping up in the most unexpected of places.

But I digress.

And then sophomore year came, and I moved to an apartment, and my relationship with food has changed so much since that happened.

For one, food has started to play a larger role in my life  I willingly make time to try new things but also develop and testing out variations of old staples.

But at the same time, I have more control in deciding every meal for myself. I control how much I eat, what I put into my body and how much I save on groceries. When I realize that I’m spending too much at the student center on lunch and eating out at too many restaurants, and when my body begins to react badly to the junk that I put in it, where do I retreat? First, to the grocery store, and then the kitchen.

My school has a few grocery stores near campus. There’s D&D’s, a small grocery store that sells slightly overpriced, not very fresh food. I shopped there for most of fall quarter because it’s close to where I live. There’s also a Whole Foods that I’ll only spend money at if there are good deals on produce, and there’s a Trader Joe’s pretty far south of campus. Walking there from my freshman dorm at the north-most end of campus took 45 minutes last year. While I’m a huge fan of the Trader Joe’s brand, I just can’t justify spending all of my grocery money there.

Recently, what I’ve been doing is biking to the Jewel Osco just a bit further down the street from Trader Joe’s. Jewel is essentially the Midwest’s version of Kroger. Everything’s really inexpensive, and I’m pretty content with the freshness and quality of what I buy, so I try to bike there once a week and make a big grocery run for produce.

My kitchen has a lot of interesting things.

I only have two cups. A fat Santa Claus mug that I’ve had for a really long time and a pink mug that Natalie gave me, which says “Crazy Cat Lady”. In addition to those, I have a plastic fruit basket that I bought for like 99 cents at a Vietnamese grocery store off the Argyle L stop. I also have an apple corer that I praise, and Lisette brought an initially frustrating, but now pleasantly simple can-opener. Over winter break, I bought a dish scrubber with a built-in soap compartment, and I swear, it has changed my life.

My cabinets house tapioca pearls, instant coffee, mirin, pork floss, and 39-cent ramen from a Vietnamese grocery store off the Argyle L stop.

Cooking has turned out to be a great way to relieve stress. You get preoccupied chopping vegetables, music playing in the background, alone in the kitchen. You’re bustling around, pouring all of your efforts and emotions into a delicious end goal.

Time and money constraints have forced me to get creative, and I’ve learned how to roast different foods – a great way to make a delicious meal if you just plan ahead – as well as how to make quick marinades and sauces – I have a few key ones that I do slight variations of.

Weekly meal prep is such an effective way to get by, simply because I don’t have time to cook before every meal. Meal prep coincides a lot more with my on-the-go lifestyle. I’m eating in between classes in our student center, or before meetings that always happen at around 7pm on campus.

While each meal prep session is quite long (~2 hours), you only have to make time for it about once a week, whereas I’d have to allot maybe 20 minutes to cook and clean-up before every meal. There’s usually a huge load of dishes to do, but you’ll look back in your fridge proudly, with pruny fingers. Totally worth it.

Cooking and then eating a meal alone is a period of me-time that I’ve really come to cherish. It’s relieving to just make myself something quick, not having to worry about meeting someone else’s expectations. Then I just sit alone in my living room, phone in the other room, just thinking to myself. It’s an essential 15 minute silence, and I’d say that everyone needs a time like this at least once a week. It could be going on a walk, riding on a train, lying in bed at night. Just 15 minutes of you thinking, distraction-free.

So I’ve told my food story. Your turn.

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4 thoughts on “FOOD ESSAY #1: From Food Network fan to major foodie

  1. The best cooks are the ones who have interest,passion and patience. I have learnt so many new things from my mistakes over the years. It’s good to hear that you are too. Have a great time cooking and make awesome meals! 🙂

    Like

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