All is Well

How Learning to Cook for Myself Changed My Relationship with Food

by Junne Grajales

I’ve always been the eater, never the cook. I grew up watching my older sister make her own pasta and mayonnaise without the fancy kitchen equipment. She used to grow her own herbs from her tiny garden way back when it still wasn’t considered cool to do so. Everything was fresh, foreign, and beautiful. My sole job in the kitchen was the character-building task of washing the dishes.

The only form of “cooking” that I have learned over the past years of living alone was whatever was easy — frying or boiling everything forever and shoving ready-to-eat anything in a microwave.

The ongoing pandemic has forced me to truly embrace cooking at home. After all, I had the luxury of isolation, which has allowed me to practice and experiment with various food textures and how to balance flavors. Salt, fat (butter), acid (lemon), and heat (chili) — just like the Netflix food show — became essential to my culinary journey. 

Homemade pesto with Strascinati, a southern Italian pasta. Cherry tomatoes, fennel sausage, and Parmesan cheese with pesto: basil, garlic, olive oil, and pistachios (instead of pine nuts). 

Notable British chefs: Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, and Heston Blumenthal, as well as the popular cooking shows: Iron Chef, Top Chef, and MasterChef have taught me how to cook. Even though I am not the type who would follow recipes to a T and measure ingredients, I cook with good intentions. Being healthy while still eating well is extremely important to me. Fresh herbs, vegetables, and aromatics (garlic + onions + ginger) are vital to my every meal.

Rock lobster with Japanese Udon noodles. a mountain of garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, flat-leaf parsley, chili, Parmesan cheese, and lemon juice.

My travels around Asia had a big impact on my palette. Asian food — whether it be Vietnamese, Thai, or Indian — is a favorite. The layers of sweet, sour, savory, and spicy flavors all in the same dish have made me curious and “hungry for more” as the late American chef and hero of mine, Anthony Bourdain had repeatedly declared in his food show No Reservations. I have nothing but pure admiration for Asian cuisine, as you can taste the respect for the ingredients and all the hard work poured into the food. I would gladly choose homemade stock and noodles than their packaged and store-bought versions, any day.

Fried okra with chicken and garlic breading mix and dips. Chunky avocado guacamole with cherry tomatoes, and a spicy Roma tomato salsa with basil, lots of fresh lemon juice, cilantro, and toasted cumin seeds.

My home-cooked Indian Chicken Keema, South Korean Kimchi Rice, and Thai Massaman Curry have all enabled me to travel the world through my humble single induction stove. My small kitchen became a sanctuary where nothing hurts. What I was doing was honest and made sense.

Aloo Gobi, an Indian curry made with potatoes, cauliflowers, tomatoes, cilantro, lemon juice, and Indian spices: cumin seeds, curry leaves, as well as turmeric, chili, and coriander powders. It was paired with Jeera rice or Basmati (long-grain rice) with cumin seeds

It’s awesome to be able to still smell and taste the pungency of garlic, the nutty flavor of toasted sesame seeds, and the subtle citrus notes of cardamom in my morning coffee. It’s solid proof that I was still COVID-19-free despite the constant threat of coughing foreign neighbors. 

Medium temperature Brazilian steak with avocados, turmeric and garlic rice, zucchinis, and alfalfa sprouts.

Cooking has reawakened my long-lost passion for creating something valid by using my hands and instincts. I was no longer completely reliant on convenient greasy food. My food journey thus far has instilled in me the courage to be patient with myself, to take control of my wants versus needs, and to learn how to say no and absolutely mean it.

Fried Cod fish with butter, garlic, pink salt, lemon juice, and a salad of spinach, avocados, and cherry tomatoes with honey and olive oil. 

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