The Creation of Dinner

I’m standing in front of my stovetop, holding a spatula and watching my beautiful omelet turn into a charred mess. I let the kale sautée for too long and I didn’t leave enough room for both eggs—I was impatient.

Cooking is not, and has never been, my forte. Luckily, growing up I was surrounded by great cooks who were happy to please my bottomless pit of a stomach. My childhood memories are swarmed with exotic dishes from across the globe that my dad prepared when I got home from swim practice, and gourmet twists on home-cooked classics that my uncle made at every family birthday party and barbeque.

However, now I’m alone in Boston, trying to take care of myself and maybe be a real adult. One integral step in this process is cooking my own healthy food. Every time I go to the grocery store, I analyze each item before placing it in my cart: is it organic? Should it be? What’s the difference between organic and free range? I like to pretend I know what I’m doing, even though I really just end up throwing random bags of spinach and tofu into my carriage.

After a series of omelet disasters and sad lunches comprising of Pop-Tarts and whatever else I could scrounge up from the back of my shelf in the fridge, I decided to step up my game a little. When other people cook for me, it becomes a piece of art‒even more so than when I order a dish at a restaurant. There’s an emotional response in the process of cooking for someone, and I’m trying to find that when I cook at home.

The first step is picking the ingredients. I choose tomatoes that are the brightest shade of ruby that Stop & Shop has to offer. Then, there’s the spinach‒deep emerald that creates a harsh contrast with the tomatoes and lend tones and shadows to my frying pan. Finally, I throw some tofu‒colored like sand on a tropical beach‒into the mix, and I find myself pleased with the trio of colors.

The second step is waiting. This is hard for me. As a person, I am a fundamentally impatient, so as a chef I’m hopeless. I can’t stand waiting even five minutes when I’m cooking (hence my love of the microwave,) but I’m trying to change that. While I watch the stir fry in front of me take shape, I am left thinking: when did everyone in the United States get so impatient? In other countries, making a meal is a key part of culture. This isn’t necessarily true in the U.S., where you can get anything fast and to-go. Here, an art form is slipping away. You can’t rush a masterpiece, which is what I’m trying to convince myself that I’m capable of preparing. Taking the time to choose good ingredients in order to make a meal that I’m proud of has become my goal this semester. Hopefully, with each dish I make, I get closer and closer to being able to express artistry and creativity in a new aspect of my life.

As an exercise in self-control, I try to take my time cooking this meal and notice all the nuances in my process. What’s the best way to cut these little tomatoes? How long should I sautée the spinach before adding the other ingredients? I let myself appreciate each different color of the vegetables and the shine of olive oil sizzling in the pan.

Eventually, my stir fry is finished, and the final product isn’t half bad. Sure, some of the spinach is burnt and I bought the wrong kind of tofu, but I’m still proud of it. I made this meal for myself, I took the time to thoughtfully choose wholesome ingredients, and I stopped my impatience in its tracks while letting myself sink into the rhythm of making a simple meal into an artistic experiment.

Words by Isabel Crabtree

Illustration by Julianna Sy