Anything but Ramen: Mission statement

Food columnist Aaron Pellish on embarking on a culinary adventure.

When I was a little boy and my mother would cook food, I would think for what felt like long periods of time about exactly how it was possible.

I mean, I knew that she would bang pots and pans in the kitchen and then scream that dinner was ready, but everything in between was a bit unclear. So when I asked her how she made food, she had a fairly simple explanation that almost knocked me out of my seat.

“Well, I just take food and mix it with other food, and make it warm and put it on a plate.”

“That’s it?”

“Yes, Aaron. Now eat your noodles before they get cold.”

But I couldn’t eat my noodles. I was shocked by how simple it all seemed. She made cooking seem as easy as turning on the TV or kicking a ball (those were the only two things I had ever done up to that point). But her answer left me with more questions than I had before. Why did it take so long? What were the pots and pans for? Why was it different every time? How do you turn Cheerios into candy? Is my mom a witch?

I have never asked my mom any of these questions (except the witch one, which she suspiciously avoided), and even though I answered them with common sense as I grew older, my fearful fascination with cooking remained. The culinary arts have intrigued me in the darkest, most mysterious way possible, like a horror movie, or the Grand Canyon. As I grew older, I nurtured my attraction to cooking from a safe distance, mostly through the Food Network and "Top Chef" marathons, but I never really learned anything from those shows, and that was fine with me.

Before I left for college last summer, my mom bought me a cookbook designed to teach teenagers how to cook simple meals for themselves as a “hint” as to what college might be like. She is not a subtle person.

Her gift might have been helpful if I didn’t panic and bury it under a stack of old books. My mom had made the implication that I will have to cook meals for myself, which was something that had never occurred to me until that moment. I was mildly terrified. She tried to explain that it wouldn’t be that big of a deal to learn to cook. I told her that I needed some time to think about my life.

That was nearly a year ago. Now, as I make plans to move into an apartment and truly live independently (so long, dining halls; I’ll never forget the times we shared…), I have decided to finally conquer my incredibly irrational fear of cooking and learn how to make meals of decent quality without resorting to leaving my home or overpaying at a restaurant. This decision was predominantly motivated by my even more irrational fear of resorting to eating ramen three times a day next year and dying of high blood pressure before spring break.

My goal is to be able to cook breakfast, lunch and dinner for at least three people and have it actually taste good without lighting something on fire, bleeding or crying. Hopefully, I can go home for Thanksgiving break and actually contribute a dish to the meal, only so I can see the look of shock on her face when I transform into a young Bobby Flay in her kitchen and chop a tomato so well that doves fly out of the blades of my knife. Or something like that — I haven’t really thought about it too much. All I know is that I am determined to learn how to cook, and I want to share my experience with you so that, when you learn how to cook, it won’t be as big and scary as it is for me.

And, if all goes according to plan, you will have learned my secret recipe for how to turn Cheerios into candy.

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