Relearning to cook

I used to be a solid cook. I could make decent, if not fancy, meals easily and for large quantities of people. I liked cooking.

Then I started having food allergies and food intolerances. Things I used to be able to eat and now can not: red meat, dairy (which includes CHEESE, the utter horror!), coconut, onions, anything cured or fermented… The list goes depressingly on and on. Losing red meat is sad, but cheese is devastating. I am the child who would not eat school lunches until the incredibly kind school cook just started making me a grilled cheese every single day. Then I would eat. I love cheese like crazy. Grilled cheese, mac and cheese, cheesy toast, cheese sticks, cheese and crackers, bagels and cream cheese…. Mmm an everything bagel, toasted just so, with a quick slather of tangy cream cheese….

A cheese board was my annual indulgence at thanksgiving: sure, you all go ahead and have turkey and dressing and sweet potatoes–I made a cheese board and I’m gonna eat it all up. Purple Haze goat cheese? Don’t mind if I do. (Seriously, this cheese is the best! I miss it, go eat some for me.)

What I’m saying is that cheese was my go-to meal starter, my default food.

So for the last couple of years, it’s been resentful cooking of bland chicken and random vegetables at best or meals that I knew would make me sick at worst. (I miss ice cream and why did Haagen Dazs discontinue their lemon sorbet!)

I have not tested the cheese alternatives; they’re a little too pricey to want to experiment with. If you have recommendations, I will gladly take them. (Oat milk chocolate is an abomination, just FYI. Texture is right; taste is … oatmeal.)

Recently, I’ve just accepted that I have to start over with my cooking. It has always been heavily slanted toward tex-mex and americana; now I need to branch out.

So far, it’s been Asian inspired foods. I am lucky enough to have a tasty poke restaurant in town, which has given me new ideas about how to make food appealing. Hard to feel deprived when you’re eating poke. I’m deliberately stepping away from the types of foods that might have dairy in them. I don’t want to play with substitutions which make me aware of what I’m missing. I want to be excited about ingredients. Things I love immoderately now: thai basil, sweet chili sauces, surimi (the texture!), and oh so many types of rice.

The other day I sat down and planned rice bowls. Sounds dumb, but it felt exciting–the same basic sort of foods, in so many interesting combinations! No dairy? Who cares? (I miss cheese, dammit.) But I miss it a lot less when I’m having poached salmon over a rice blend with gingered sweet potatoes or green beans on the side.

Trying to choose new foods as basic meals reminds me of being a teenager and being given free rein in the kitchen. It also reminds me how time-consuming preparing meals really can be when you have to learn new techniques and new recipes.

I’ll figure it out. In the meantime, wish patience for my poor roommate and friends who keep being handed small plates of random foods and told “Try this, any good? Should I keep this recipe or ditch it?

So far, what I have learned is that my small dog Ursula will commit any act of athleticism to get to a bowl of freshly made fried rice.

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