Sometimes I get sick of eating exotic cuisines on my travels. I hope a handful of you can relate. I LOVE FOOD, and eating local cuisine is one my favorite aspects of traveling – maybe even more so than seeing famous landmarks. There is, however, such a thing as too many tacos in Mexico, too much pizza in Italy, and too much ramen in Japan. My digestive system does not react well to sudden change and tons of large, delicious, juicy, crunchy, savory traditional meals. So I learned to cook. But I did not just learn to cook. I learned to love cooking.
Spain became my classroom. I was living in Madrid, and had to keep myself on budget if I wanted to travel once a month. I was the person known to serve raw spaghetti to people before…But in Spain, I began to notice how food does not have to be complex to be delicious (granted, there is nothing complex about spaghetti, but let’s be kind). I learned to work with a few quality ingredients, and put them together in a way that made sense to the taste-buds. I still remember the moment I realized I was beginning to enjoy cooking. I was boiling some cheap ravioli, and decided to add fresh carrot slices. It was not a combination I had ever had before, but I noticed I liked the color contrast, and it was peaceful to peel and slice a fresh vegetable from the local shop.
During those 2 years in Spain, cooking became an experience, a mindfulness practice that relaxed me after a long day at work. Spanish cuisine is all about a really good quality olive oil, wine, salt, bread, peppers, goat cheese, or jamón serrano. I remember a Friday night I spent blogging, and decided to put together a dish of tomato, jamón serrano, and green olives for a light dinner. It was not exactly cooking, but it was the start of my appreciating being in the kitchen.
Eating out was common. Meals were never rushed (with a whole 2 hour lunch break at work and all). At first, I did not know what to do with so much time to eat. It took me less than 15 minutes to swallow my meals. By the end of my 2 years in Spain, I was a pro at chewing slowly, appreciating the small things (olives, olives, and olives), and letting myself make the food in front of me part of an experience. Lunch time was about community. It was about sharing a glass of wine and engaging in conversation with coworkers (totally socially acceptable to have a glass of wine with your lunch on a workday, by the way – I believe it actually made me better at my job). Lunch breaks were about playing cards, and sipping coffee after eating, while we were digesting whatever we just had.
So that experience began to leak into my kitchen. My friend, Ariena, visited me in Madrid, and I remember making us dinner after work one day. I loved it. It made me feel like I was able to take care of someone I cared about. My cooking in Spain was very simple. It was mainly about putting things together, and using ingredients that were good quality. Once I moved to Mexico, practice really started to show results (though I am still no chef, so please don’t come over to my house and try to test me)!
In Mexico, eating out became less of an experience and more of a convenience, much like it was for me in the U.S. I would order in because I was too tired to cook, or because my living arrangements made cooking at certain times impossibly awkward (too many not so great roommate experiences). Eating was more rushed. It was more of a “Let’s get full quickly, so we can keep working.” But once I quit my job, and started working remotely instead, my love for cooking kept on growing.
Suddenly, I had the time to make a proper breakfast, and perfect the fluffiness, texture, and seasoning of things. Not to mention I got increasingly bothered by digestive issues and intolerance to dairy and gluten. So I had to start learning to make things that would satisfy all the cravings without making my stomach upset. Cooking was now, not only an experience for myself and loved ones to share, but it was also medicine. It was medicine for my mind as cooking became a meditative practice. Sometimes when I am really stressed out, I cook, and I feel so much better. It was also medicine for my body. I started learning the effects different vegetables have on the body, and making dishes that would address different things: inflammation, fatigue, constipation to name a few.
Not to mention the fact that I LOVE making things beautiful. Watching shows like Chef’s Table, and eating in restaurants around the world made me notice the beauty in food. The colors, sizes, textures, and flavors of different vegetables became tools to create art in my kitchen. In addition to everything else cooking was doing for me, it also became a creative outlet for the Theater major in me.
So if you’ll excuse me, I am off to make dinner for my partner and I, listening to Frank Sinatra and sipping some red wine. I will make vegan chorizo, broccoli, and quinoa. It is nothing out of this world, but I will enjoy every minute of the experience with him.
Do you find yourself cooking more these days or ordering in? Let me know in the comments, or share your favorite dinner recipe. 🙂