How I Cook: Year 2

Since I started this blog, I’ve been cooking not only more frequently, but I believe my cooking has changed in many ways. When I wrote the first How I Cook post, I wanted to tell the readers about my food and cooking background. More than that, I wanted to make it clear that this food blog was not written by a skilled home cook, but rather a home cook who was not all that confident in the kitchen.

For the second How I Cook post, I want it to be more about reflection. In fact, I want How I Cook to become an annual ritual, a time to chronicle the changes and reflect on my culinary development.

So this is how I cook now:

  1. My cooking has a clearer purpose and direction. I had initially wanted to improve my cooking skills and gain confidence by following recipes that interested me and that I thought were doable in my tiny kitchen. You can see that during my Cooking Genius Recipes challenge, my cooking was kind of directionless. I just picked 10 random recipes I wanted to try. But that challenge was the start of my realization that I would never improve if I didn’t start cooking from recipes or step out of my comfort zone. Recipes were a way out of that comfort zone, but also a safety net. Then my cooking gained a bit more of a direction with the One Small Kitchen, Many Small Victories challenge. There, I chose a cookbook—Julia Turshen’s Small Victories—that was great for beginners because the premise of the book is that if you know how to cook one thing, then that knowledge can be applied to a bunch of other things. Then, I started to use cooking to steer the direction of my day towards productivity. That’s Wake Up and Cook, which began in early August and has no end date. And finally I decided to go back to basics, in my own way, through The Kitchn’s Cooking School. Now, I cook not only to improve, but to learn. I am a home cook and a student of cooking.
  2. I am smarter, therefore I am braver and more excited as a cook. This is a major step for me. My cooking is no longer guided by fear and doubt. Because of the confidence I’ve gained through these cooking projects, I now get excited about trying new recipes and exploring different aspects of cooking, like pickling and baking, making everything from scratch. And because I am braver, I get more experimental and creative.
  3. I love to read cookbooks. I love to study recipes. I’ve grown as a reader in general over the years. I still read books to entertain and educate myself, among other reasons, but I’ve also learned to read better as a writer. Books are no longer just someone else’s expression for me. It contains possibilities. That’s how I feel when I read a recipe: it’s another possibility.
  4. I am an impatient cook. Well, I am an impatient person. I mean, I do have a perfectionist streak in me. I love being meticulous with certain things. But I still mostly cook to feed myself, so hunger and activities I have to attend to each day naturally influence the way I cook. But in a way, that’s what started Wake Up and Cook: I want cooking to be a practice of patience and mindfulness—another way to meditate in the morning.
  5. I am an easily distracted cook. Like many people of my generation, I find it difficult to resist the lure of constant stream of information. I love to cook while music, a podcast, NPR, or a YouTube video is playing in the background. What that does to me is that whenever I get to turn away from the stove or the oven, I get lost in the Internet and sometimes forget about what’s simmering on the stove or roasting in the oven. I find that I cook best when the kitchen is silent and I bring my mind to focus on the task in front of me—and only that. I keep falling back on my bad habit and Internet addiction though. Just as I struggle with meditation every morning, I struggle with focused cooking every time I cook. Since I watched the Chef’s Table episode on Buddhist nun Jeong Kwan, I’ve been fascinated by the connection between the mind and the acts of cooking and eating. The TedxRainier talk by Cynthia Lair, entitled “How to Cut an Onion,” intrigues me further on the subject of cooking and silence. I plan to write more on this topic sometime in the future. But more importantly, I sometimes try my very best to cook in silence and be in the present with my food.
  6. I cook to write. As a writer, it’s a given that I read to write. As a theatre critic and journalist, I go out to watch plays to write, research to write, and interview artists to write. But it’s a new thing for me to cook to write. When I started this blog, I initially thought of it as a space to reflect on books I had read and on my memories related to food. I didn’t think it was going to become a blog about cooking because I was not experienced enough to offer anything useful on that matter, hence the name Eat, Read, Record. I even kept Cooking Genius Recipes off the blog and made a visual diary out of it on Instagram. Little by little, cooking became a source of inspiration and my main raw material for this blog. Food bloggers out there might be thinking, “Well, duh!” But this is new to me as a writer because I’m so used to writing about other people and their creations. To write about myself and what I create and to have cooking be the activity that informs what I write are a completely new way to write for me.
  7. Grocery shopping has become fascinating for me. I used to be fascinated only by farmers or outdoor markets. But here in Bangkok, I’ve made peace with the fact that I hate the stinky wet market near my place and that I prefer to shop at fancy supermarket chains like Gourmet Market and Villa Market. They are clean and carry a wide variety of products. These supermarkets are actually where you can support organic and ethical agriculture and artisanal products. And for produce that comes from conventional farming, there are signs that tell you their provenance. It’s one of the places I get inspirations and ideas for what I want to cook (and write about). It’s where I plan my meals for the week. These days when I shop, I look more carefully at what’s on the shelf. And many times I find things I don’t even expect them to carry.
  8. I still struggle with meal planning. Part of it has to do with time management.  If I take half an hour or an hour each week to do that, I’m sure I would shop and cook better. The problem is I don’t always use my time wisely. But this is one thing I want to do better in the future.