Joe Woodard

Paul Wellman

Joe Woodard

Confessions of a Late-Blooming Cook

When the Cooking Bug Bites After Decades of Barely Even Doing the Basics

There may or may not be a time in your life when, after having viewed the kitchen as a supply room to pass through and forage for quick-fix food and drink intakes, the cooking instinct bites you.

After a few, ahem, decades of relying on the kitchen-working kindness of others and making nothing more elaborate than rudimentary foodstuffs — heating up/zapping prepared good, making mutant eggs (my shambling half-baked version, charitably dubbed “dad eggs” by my kids) — the cooking bug bit me fairly seriously about five years ago. Now, chunks of my spare time are spent perusing recipes within my grasp. I believe I have graduated from beginner to intermediate by now. Is there a test for this?

It started with appetizing photos luring me in Real Simple — an aptly named and very fine place to start — and I moved on to, New York Times recipes (thank you, Melissa Clark, Sam Sifton, Mark Bittman, Nigella Lawson, and former Santa Barbaran Jeff Gordinier), assorted cookbooks (who knew there were so many out there?), and any and all sources where tasty dishes may be lurking. What tastes good tastes better when you make it yourself and get the thumbs-up from others. Never mind that following recipes is akin to paint-by-numbers kitchen action.

Admittedly, it can be a bit intimidating and sheepish-making to go culinary in a town so resplendent with foodies, those in the epicurean know, and restaurants operating at an altitude of sophistication that makes me envious and a bit dizzy. But that’s no excuse to stay outta the kitchen. Is the term “foodie on a budget” an oxymoron? Not entirely. Get thee to the kitchen, in a serious, time-consumptive, taste-seeking way.

What is it about cooking that can so obsess a late-blooming kitchen hanger-outer? In part, it’s a great escape from the tyranny of screens and life in the digital and virtual realms, where I, like many, am forced at work-point to spend obscene amounts of time. Simple acts of chopping and slicing, working with real, physical ingredients connected to nature (and the animal kingdom), dealing with running around to find said ingredients — sometimes to a few different stores, often winding up at Gelson’s or the international market by K-Mart for the more exotic items — and navigating a recipe’s equations of heat, time, and mixology all become part of the project and the gestalt of the process.

Enter Blue Apron. The advent of while-you-wait meal kits — with savory dishes and each measured-out ingredient delivered to your doorstep, and Idiot’s Guide instructions to lead you through it all — has struck a chord with people seeking foodie-esque quality on a tight schedule. We gave it a try one recent week and achieved sufficient palate delight in the Meatball Ragout, Nepalese Chicken Tarkari, and BBQ-Spiced Salmon & Roasted Sweet Potato on that week’s menu (feels a bit like a pre-planned school-cafeteria-menu ethic coming back to haunt).

But is this going backward or forward in the cooking apprenticeship game? In a way, the ease of the Blue Apron enterprise reminds you that recipe making is still a by-the-numbers affair — and that’s still where I live and eat. For now.

Kitchen matters and the life-sustaining hobby show no signs of letting up any time soon. Just don’t ask me to make it up as I go along.

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