Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Hippocrates May Have Been On To Something

I learned to cook out of necessity, and I didn't always enjoy it. It was a chore; I didn't have any real skills or knowledge, so I used a lot of prepackaged foods, and there was inevitably a huge mess at the end of preparations that no one wanted to clean up. Oh, the humanity.

As a child I rarely helped in the kitchen, save for shucking corn or peeling garlic, which I enjoyed mostly. I also was in charge of the crescent rolls on holidays, which felt like an awesome responsibility, though they were the pillsbury kind in the tube so the hardest part was remembering to set the a timer while they baked.

As I got older, and particularly after I moved out and was able to rebuild a real relationship with my stepdad, he and I started shopping for groceries and cooking together. We made lasagnas and soups and ravioli and potatoes au gratin, and I learned to clumsily chop vegetables (I insisted on using a steak knife for ages) and how long to cook them. I made complicated, intimidating dishes by simply following the steps of a recipe, and I learned how to tweak that recipe to suit my own tastes.

I started experimenting a little more in my own kitchen, but was still shy of herbs and spices, and rarely touched the cookbooks on my shelf, instead relying on boxes and cans and plenty of oil for frying. Most of what I made tasted good, and got me more motivated to learn, because I am nothing if not picky about how food tastes, so gaining control of that ability was like magic to me.

But what really got me cooking was getting sick. The more I read about migraines, the more I realized that the preservatives, processed foods, and artificial ingredients I was eating could be having a direct affect on my head. I was embarrassed to note I hadn't intentionally eaten a green vegetable in who knows how long, besides perhaps the occasional dressing-soaked salad.

I wasted so much produce that first year. Cooking it badly, forgetting about it, or being too sick to cook for a week or more and finding it rotten soup in the fridge far too late; I hated throwing food out, but this was not food anyone could eat. My turning point was the discovery of green smoothies, and I went through a phase of several months of drinking my liquefied greens every morning, with fruit to taste of course. It was a revelation, and my body felt so much healthier. I resolved to learn to cook better, despite how bad I was at it or exhausting it was or how big a mess I had to clean at the end of it all, because I really liked feeling stronger, and it was clear food had a power that I'd never credited it with before.

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.


So, I kept cooking and I got better at it. It took a few years of accumulated knowledge - of reading cookbooks, taking nutrition classes, hours and hours of internet research, and even more spent in the kitchen making mistakes - for me to be as comfortable and confident with food as I am now. I'm able to improvise and try new ingredients without a hint of fear. I know how to fix mistakes and when to toss it and start over with no regrets. I'm still endlessly searching the internet for techniques and ideas, new and improved or old and perfected ways of cooking that will make my mouth and body happy. I would even like to take classes, under the right circumstances. That's the best part about this hobby, besides the edible rewards, there's always something new to learn.

I consider myself really lucky to have the comfort I do with cooking, especially after being diagnosed with IC. So much of this illness revolves around diet, if I didn't know how to cook I'd be miserable. Either I'd be eating nothing but questionable veggies and rice or I'd have given up entirely on the diet and gone the route of drastic medical intervention. I'm not trying to judge or look down upon people who do live like that, because we've all got our own circumstances and make our own choices, but I'm truly appreciative that I'm able to manage my IC (and my migraines, for that matter) the way I do.