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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on the topic of food. Honestly, I think about this a lot. A lot a lot. I love food. I love everything about it. I love how it’s grown, I love how it’s brought to my kitchen, I love how it’s cooked, I love how it tastes and feels, I love my body’s reaction to it (most of time time anyway) and I love sharing it and repeating the process all over again. I love prepping and cooking and learning and experimenting. I love it all!
When I was growing up, my mom did pretty much all of the cooking, and every now and again she would even let me help – especially with the baking! But as I got older, I began to think that I could cook because I could follow directions on the backs of boxes and bags. Now, we weren’t very affluent by any means, so I will not judge my parents who bought what they could afford and innocently believed it to be good for us all. Mostly, that came out of a box or can. Don’t get me wrong, my mom makes some really great dishes from scratch, but all the sides and everything generally came out of a box, bag or can.
As I went into university, I took this with me. But with an over-time schedule of studying and rehearsals and shows without an end in sight, it was only natural that I began to bless the $5 foot-long at Subway – half for lunch, half for dinner! Then something amazing happened to me – I spent a semester abroad in London. If I thought money was tight in Florida, boy was I gonna learn a lesson!
A couple months into the semester, the friends I lived with discovered a great market about a 30 minute bus ride away where we could get lots of really great and cheeeeap produce if we went at the end of the day when they were trying to get rid of everything. So we’d go about once a week all together, buy a bunch of cheap but awesome food and then be good for at least that week. I started to get really creative and would prep veggies for sauces and put them in the fridge and then take them out as needed for easy dinners. Talk about a learning experience in cooking! But, if I hadn’t had that basic knowledge from my mom, I know this would have been a lot harder to grow and expand upon.
When I got back to the US, I kept this idea and it helped me a lot. By the time senior year rolled around and I was living with my now husband, I was already cooking a nice dinner for the two of us a few times a week at least – trying new recipes and buying in bulk and spreading it out throughout the week. And because we were living together and he was earning a monthly salary, we could actually afford it!
Then I moved to Vienna, and it was like my whole culinary world just blossomed. I got really, REALLY into food and cooking. I consider myself a serious hobby cook. You wanna know where to eat in this city? I can tell you. You don’t know where this vegetable is from or what to do with it? I can tell you. Spices and herbs? Take a look at my huge collection that is slowly taking over my counter top – I got this.
Now I can make awesome, homemade meals that are nutritious and delicious in 30 minutes or less, and when I want to have people over for dinner, we’re talking a three-course deal.
I don’t buy boxed, frozen or bagged meals anymore, and I’m very picky about my jarred and canned goods. I make everything from scratch, and it’s sooooo much better! I plan my time out for the week and my menu. I know which dishes to cook when I have x amount of time. I know where to buy the cheapest and best produce basics and I know I can make a million different things from them throughout the week, depending on what me and my man want and have time for. I am a kitchen ninja! Random stuff in the cupboards and pantry? I’ll make you a creative gourmet dish of awesome. I buy seasonally. I buy as local as possible (although, since I’m from Florida and so much was imported, I have a looser idea about “local” than my husband. Yes, most of what I buy comes from Austria, but I think if I buy it from Italy or Hungary that it’s still not coming from too far away and I’m okay with that!).
Where I’m going with all this is – it’s important. Food. Cooking. And I didn’t realize how many 20 somethings can’t make basic things outside of pasta and eggs. Guys – learn! One of the Top 5 things I’ve learned in my 20s is how to cook, and how to understand my personal relationship with food. You want some tips and advice? Send me a message. Maybe I’ll make a blog about my recommendations for starting out. But don’t be afraid to ask around!
Through cooking, I have learned about patience and timing. I’ve learned time management. I have learned the importance of quality over quantity. I have learned how to attune myself to my surroundings (i.e. walking away from something simmering on the stove or baking in the oven and not forgetting it, or knowing by the smell or sound that it’s done). I have learned how to notice and appreciate details and colors and smells and sounds. I’ve learned how to maintain health and how to heal myself and others through nutrition and food. I have learned the importance of communal meals and the healing power of a well-made meal for one.
I have also learned about the social and environmental impact of being aware of how food is made, where it comes from, how it travels and what it does to the ecosystem and to our own body systems. I have become aware of the microcosm of my body and the macrocosm of my Earth.
All of this has undoubtedly made me a better person. Will I ever go into the restaurant industry or food politics? Probably not. But will I travel the world and eat my heart out knowing the basics and asking questions? You betchya. Will I always have a healthy relationship with food and teach my children how to have one too? Yup. Do I think everyone will walk away with the same lessons? No, but do I think more young people need to learn how to take care of themselves and each other via food? With all my heart!
P.S. For those of you who want to travel the world, a little advice: The most important set of phrases to learn are “Hello”, “Please”, “Thank You”, “Where is the toilet?” and the most important set of vocab words to learn in a foreign language is always food – it’s the one thing we all have in common – we all need to eat! 😉