When the pandemic first took hold, dozens of my social media friends began to accelerate their postings, if for no other reason as to give them some meaningful connection to the outside world. At the time, I was distracted with a few more pressing matters, like determining what I was going to do with the rest of my life after surviving a near-death experience. So I didn’t post a lot, but I did notice what others posted. And a lot of them posted pictures of meals they cooked or wanted to cook.
I often joked–if only to myself– that people who insisted on sharing their menus with the world were the epitome of self-absorbed and bored. I’m glad you thought enough about a dish to memorialize it before you devoured it, but it’s not like you created a work of art or anything unique. One long-lost friend of mine from high school would post pictures of whatever he made for dinner. I knew he lived alone, in the same house he grew up in, had a marginal job with nominal advancement over decades of service and was very much a traditionalist. So when he’d post a picture of beef short ribs or lasagna on a paper plate, it honestly looked like a cry for help to a more cynical version of me. A few equally bored Facebook friends would offer a “yum” or a like, but we’d otherwise not react. I wasn’t one of them. I thought I was above it.
As 2020 evolved into a year of isolation and, for me, a year of personal transition, I’d see more and more foodie posts. When I was still connected enough to the media research community at large I was invited to a zoom iteration of a conference I would attend in person religiously and occasionally even run. These conferences were wonderful opportunities to network with competitors, vendors and sometimes their families and get to know them on a personal level. The Media Insights and Engagement Conference was my personal favorite, with many of my peers from colder climates eagerly savoring the chance to head to Florida, Arizona or LA in the dead of winter to desperately work on suntans to break up the monotony of their often endless winters. As a California resident, it wasn’t that big a deal to me, so I often didn’t race to the pool or beach as quickly. Seeing pasty white legs oiling up in panic mode as soon as the morning session ended was frequently humorous for me.
The virtual iteration of this conference, devoid of this bonding opportunity, seized upon the dramatic possibility of “seeing your friends once again!” as the hook. Of course, it was only on zoom. And most of them were in serious lockdown mode, with families they felt they had to protect and no vaccines yet to mitigate. The subject of our first breakout “session” was to share pictures of what we’ve baked over the past few months. There were a LOT of banana bread pics shared. I didn’t cook, so I clicked out early and ordered take out to drown in my sorrow of isolation.
Over the past few months, I’ve become a bit more sanguine about the reality of living within my means as well as trying to find outlets to keep my mind working. This blog evolved over that span as one way. As more serious issues begin to get resolved, I’m now open to others. I walk a lot and work out frequently, but I can’t be a gym rat. Cooking can be creative, cheaper than take out and for someone who wasn’t even allowed in his own kitchen previously, some sort of revenge.
So I took the plunge and invested in a few Home Chef meal kits. You know, the ones that turn up in the sponsored posts next to the pictures of the food your friends post? Because Facebook algorithms are that smart? The temptation of deep discounts on your first orders was too much to pass up on. So one of my New Year’s resolutions was to finally heed the sage advice my sister gave me when I struck out on my own. Learn to cook . Meal prep kits are a wonderful evolution for klutzes like me. You are given the exact ingredients pre-measured in a bag along with the recipe. All you need to do is follow directions. Or so I thought.
This chicken parmigiana attempt was one of my first go-rounds with Home Chef. Be gentle; it’s my first food post. Right; not great.
I could practically hear Gordon Ramsey cursing vehemently at me. I got to be in a couple of episodes of HELL’S KITCHEN when I did work for ITV Studios a few year’s back. When you are on set you are divided into red plate and blue plate sections, with the knowledge that you only get fed the main course if it actually gets made. I was looking forward to the show’s signature Beef Wellington. My team never made it past the appetizers. My wife and I would leave famished and pull into In and Out on the way home. What a letdown.
So I was doubly motivated to improve. And improvise. Chicken is more difficult for me to cook; salmon a bit easier. In noticing the recipes with a bit more scrutiny they offer you ways to customize your recipe. So I ditched the tougher meat for the healthier fish. I actually followed the instructions for plating. Actually used their recommendations for mixing bowls to make the lemon dill crema sauce and the arugula salad. Added extra lemon juice to give the sauce some body.
The act of cooking can be remarkably therapeutic and zen-like. While far too many people in my world passionately cling to the belief that it’s still not safe to even have an outdoor coffee, I have to find some creative outlet. I have to begun to realize why so many of my peers turned to cooking early on just to stimulate their brains. Calm their anxiety. It really does work. You feel a connection to the food that you are compelled to share zealotically. Now even I can’t resist food posts.
Here’s what I cooked last night. My second online food post.
OK, so maybe it’s not quite Hell’s Kitchen material. But it’s objectively a step in the right direction.
I’m slowly getting hooked. I invested in a Prepdeck, a remarkably compact combination of chopping board and ways to organize food bits and scraps that bodes to make cleanup far easier. I’ve gotten some microwavable cookware to help facilitate prep of (gluten-free of course) pasta and rice. I got a set of knives for different cutting functions. I may even get an apron.
My one sadness is that I continue to cook for one. Yes, I get multiple meals out of what I make (oh, I also invested in storageware to keep the second helpings fresh). But for as much as I love the joy of cooking, there are other joys more desirable. The joy of sharing. I’m looking forward to cooking for a special friend soon. With any luck, it might lead to other joys.
Until next time…