Cooking: Bondage or Freedom?

I realized in the last few weeks that a major part of my frustration while here in Venezuela came from my inability to cook the way I cooked while in New York. When I first arrived in NYC my cooking consisted of boiling noodles, throwing cheddar cheese on top, and calling it a day. I was being healthy if I didn’t add butter. I subsisted off of spaghetti noodles, cheese, and McDonald’s chicken nugget meals.

Salt and pepper fled from my baked chicken. I wanted to flee too. In a word, my food was nasty. I still ate my cooking though because I had just spent money on buying the needed ingredients, stood on my feet making the meal, and then had to clean up the mess. I hated standing on my feet to cook after I’d been on my feet all day teaching. So, I rarely cooked. I lived in walking distance to an Applebee’s and Target while in NYC. If it wasn’t frozen, Applebee’s, McDonalds, noodles, or cheese, I probably wasn’t eating it.

I can’t remember why now, but I finally turned a corner and took an interest in cooking. I was talking about it enough that for my my 25th birthday one friend gave me an apron while the other gave me Mark Bittman’s cook book How to Cook Everything. Thus began my quiet romance with cooking (and baking). Cooking became my creative expression. I had slowly stopped writing (which I see now as a warning sign of how unhappy I’d become in NYC), and cooking took its place.

By the time I left NYC I had ventured into hipster territory (I’m not a fan of hipsters), aka Williamsburg, and taken five wonderful cooking classes at Brooklyn Kitchen. I was fielding requests from co-workers, students, and neighbors for banana cake  (thanks to a recipe I got from a women’s leadership group I was involved in in college) and banana nut bread (thanks to Granny and Momma). I was making fluted lattice top pie crusts from scratch, blueberry pies, apple pies, sweet potato pies, lasagna, baked macaroni and cheese, and the list goes on. I was actually saying “when it’s in season” as a reason not to cook or bake something. I used to look at my grandma with the utmost sadness whenever she said those exact words to me in response to my November requests for peach cobbler. My favorite website became that of a food historian who travels around the world: Jessica B. Harris and My Welcome Table.

I knew I had improved when my parents expected me to cook whenever I returned home to visit. Like my grandma, cooking became my way of showing love. I was happy to cook for loved ones. If someone enjoyed my cooking I felt as if an oven had been turned on low inside of me: warm and ready to cook up the next meal.

Thus, when I came to Venny (my new nickname for Venezuela) and couldn’t find salt the first two times I went to the grocery store; could smell gas when I turned on my oven but didn’t know how to light the pilot (still don’t); knew my knife and pot sets were in Texas instead of within easy reach; and became an unwilling vegetarian because all raw meat looked suspicious to me, the frustration set in. I felt like I’d rewinded five years to Year One in NYC.

I have.

Slowly, I’ll get back in the swing of things.

I’ve found my new favorite foods: boiled yucca, plaintain fried in sugar and butter, and arepas with black beans, cheese, and beef (it doesn’t look suspicious when it’s fully cooked!). But, I’ve caved and started ordering school lunches (they’re good, trust me) because I know they taste better than my bland, basic, nutritionally unbalanced meals.

This article in the New York Times reminded me of how freeing cooking can be: Cooking is Freedom.

Yes, many women the world over have been shackled to a hot stove with spatulas, soup spoons, paring knives, societal expectations, and a perpetually hungry stomach. I, thankfully, was freed by them.

We’ll see how my cooking comes along here. A new environment with new foods to cook will be the real test of my culinary capabilities.

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3 thoughts on “Cooking: Bondage or Freedom?

  1. Chica! Veggies are not very common for the local cuisine (I imagine Venny is similar to Colombia) but the good news is you probably have AMAZING fruits well within your reach. Stuff that is literally not available in the states so please — on behalf of all of us who cannot — INDULGE!

  2. You are so right! It’s funny because back home when cooking I was usually so set on making the main dish I rarely made veggies myself. When my mom or grandma would ask what what was my veggie I would look at them and say–I just made (insert carb and meat here)!

    I have a new fruit to try today and have been eating more fruits than I usually do. I love the Farmer’s Market for that. You don’t have to tell me twice. I will definitely start indulging! 🙂

  3. Pingback: Cooking with The Brooklyn Kitchen | (Im)Migrating with a Purpose

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