People who have seen photos of things I cook on social media are always surprised to learn that I’m a picky eater. I’m not “picky” as in no additives or arbitrarily restricted items, but “picky” as in I don’t like a lot of foods. I cook for my household of 2, and my husband isn’t a fan of eating the same thing every night, lol, and so I’m a picky eater in an omnivorous household.
I learned to cook from my mom at home. My sisters and I would sit at the kitchen table and peel and chop vegetables, or measure oil or sugar for cake batters, or grease baking pans with the wrappers from sticks of butter. We learned how to cook in an organized, fun way and we are all good cooks now.
I started cooking new things when I went to grad school. I had a few classes, the class I TA’d for, and lots of reading and free time. I used that time and my meager budget to master the basics—because while we were sous chefs for my mom, she was very protective of her stove and didn’t want us making a mess on it. I had a great cookbook too:
I have no idea where I got it, but I’m pretty sure I still have it.
From there I went off into the working world for a bit and moved to Boston. I ended up at a job where we loved to socialize outside of work together (a great group of scientists at Tufts Medical School). I invited the group over for dinner in my tiny studio and began to meal plan since one of my friends was a vegetarian who also ate fish. So I made filet of sole and a big pot of ratatouille. The one difficulty was that I don’t like vegetables, so I had to cook the pot solely via my nose. Everyone was amazed that I made it without tasting it. They absolutely loved it and insisted I bring the leftovers to work the next day since I wasn’t going to finish them myself. The rest of the lab got to taste it, and my informal career as a cook of things I don’t like to eat was launched.
Then it was back to grad school in DC and once again I had classes, a TA workload, and a ton of reading, so I perfected my tomato sauce, became an ace cookie baker, and mastered Arista di Maiale, a Tuscan pork roast studded with garlic and herbs, which became the centerpiece of my annual New Year’s Eve dinner. One year I was crazy enough to make my own buche de noel (Yule log cake) from scratch. And I bought my first popover pan. By this time I had traded the Penny Pincher cookbook for The Joy of Cooking.
Eventually I traded in school for work, and my cooking became minimal again, except for pots of bone broth that I’d make from the bones of the chicken breasts and thighs I ate just about every night. And then I moved from DC to the eastern panhandle of West Virginia after I got married and my 3 hour each way commute took away all of my cooking time, even after I got a few telework days each week.
When my workplace downsized and scores of us lost our jobs, my husband and I decided I’d lose that terrible commute and I began cooking again. I had an annual New Year’s Day dinner where I worked on my reverse sear prime rib roasts and began making popovers again. I roasted lots of chickens (and made lots of bone broth—after all, “waste not, want not”).
I started going to our local, excellent farmer’s market and learned how to cook with the various kinds of produce I didn’t see in the local grocery store. I made strawberry-rhubarb compote (that I didn’t like to eat), learned you could roast radishes, made pickles, peeled kohlrabi for salads, and learned to cook the leafy greens of the American south that I wasn’t exposed to growing up in a Polish-American household in Connecticut.
Because I wasn’t exhausted from my commute, I had time to become active in my church. My parish loves to eat. And we love to cook, so I once again started making things I didn’t actually like, but I knew others would. One of the prettiest dishes was an egg and cheese tart with vegetable rosettes.
And I also reinvented the ratatouille had been making from my Boston days, taking it from a stove top dish to an arranged baked dish that is now one of my signature dishes (along with my squash pancakes, which I also don’t eat, lol).
When the pandemic hit it became harder to get complete grocery orders, so when I was able to get everything I needed for a new recipe, it felt like a victory. This salad was one of the new salads I made since we weren’t eating out at all. Finally getting a mango was to make this mango/tomatillo/tomato/jalapeno salad was like finding the Holy Grail.
Local heirloom tomatoes called for making this crustless tomato tart.
Cooking colorful, beautiful dishes has been a way for me to deal with my anxiety during the pandemic (how bread making helped is another post). I won’t stop cooking food I don’t actually like after it’s over, but least then I’ll be able to share it with friends. I look forward to that day. Joy be with you all.
[The cover photo is the hot sauce shelf in our fridge. I thought it was funny since I ID as a picky eater. It’s also the banner of the blog I started but never pushed on because I don’t like recipe sites that function as diaries and until a friend posted this site– https://www.justtherecipe.com/–I didn’t think it was a kind of blog that people would want to read.]