What's Cookin': The struggles and successes of not having a meal plan

Growing up with a mother who is an incredible cook is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, there was a tasty, home-cooked meal on the dinner table every night. On the other hand, any time I asked if I could cook an entire meal, my mom was hesitant because she always wanted to be the one to make dinner (and make it quickly, for that matter).

It's not like I had never touched a stove prior to coming to university, it's just that I am far more used to getting my hands dirty with the KitchenAid mixer and a pound of butter than I am cooking meat to the right doneness.

Anyone who knows me knows I love to bake. In fact, one of my classmates from freshman year physics remembered me for the remainder of high school as "the girl who makes really good red velvet cupcakes" (of which, I recall, he ate seven of).

I'm literally a walking bake sale.

Unfortunately, I can't live off of cookies, cupcakes, and brownies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (but I sure wish I could!). So where does that leave me? With a flat full of mismatched food items stuffed into a tiny fridge, an electric stove that scares the bejeezus out of me (I'm more used to gas), and a strong affinity for putting an avocado into every dish.

As much as I'd like to think I'm the next Giada De Laurentiis, I most certainly am not. That being said, learning to cook for myself (and sometimes my flatmates) has been a huge learning experience- even after just two weeks.

Fangirling over that one time I met Giada. She even told me my name was "beautiful" (!!!)

What I cook really depends on what I have in the fridge and how much time I have, rather than what I'm really craving. I'm also generally one of those people who likes to follow a recipe to a T, rather than improvising on the fly. But I've definitely had to learn how to trust my culinary instincts more, and how to "make do, and do without" as my mom likes to say.

One of the hardest parts of cooking so far has actually been navigating the grocery stores. At home, I know Whole Foods like the back of my hand. My mom wants me to grab that really specific ingredient, that just has to be a certain brand? I'm on it in about 30 seconds (except, for some reason, I can never find the bag of lemons).

But here in Edinburgh it's different. Because I'm living in a major city that's not in America, the stores are much smaller and the type of food they sell is actually surprisingly different from what I can find in the US. My local Sainsbury's didn't have the light brown sugar that I needed to make Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies the other day, so I panic-texted my mom asking her if I could use demara sugar (which I had never heard of before) instead. While the alternative worked in a pinch, it definitely gave my cookies a crunchier texture and a more "soggy bottom" (as they would say on the Great British Bake Off).

Bake-off innuendo game strong.

So now that you know a little bit about how I've struggled as I learn to cook for myself, I might as well share a few of my relative successes in the kitchen. 

One day I decided to make way too much couscous and ended up eating it with different flavor combinations for basically every meal. Couscous is great because it's a more unusual base for culinary creativity than pasta, but still fills you up. I love to keep feta in the fridge at all times because it takes weeks before it finally goes bad. Cucumbers and tomatoes keep this couscous salad fresh, and a squeeze of lemon on top adds flavor without the countless calories of a store-bought dressing. 

I always complain to my mom when we have pesto at home, because I think it's too boring. But since she sent me over here with a little mason jar filled with her homemade pesto, I've definitely changed my tune. I added a little bit of chicken to this dish for some more protein, and then heated the tomatoes in the oil and butter that the chicken was cooking in to add even more flavor. It was delightful. 

And while having homemade meals seven days a week would be lovely, it's not particularly realistic. Not only are leftovers a constant presence in my life, but there are some nights when I nix cooking all together, break out some bread and cheese, and pop open a bottle of rosé. It may not be fancy or time intensive (especially given that I'm mostly likely drinking a screw-cap bottle of wine), but it certainly does the trick. 


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