I’m not a particularly good cook. I once managed to set spaghetti on fire while trying to it was in the pot with water and everything... don't ask I’m not confident that I knew how to cook eggs before 2020. However, when covid first hit in the spring of my high school senior year, I decided that I was done with school and would instead on myself and learning how to be a functional human being. A big part of this was learning how to cook and bake. I tried a couple of elaborate recipes that year, but for the most part I just spent time getting the hang of simple things that were easy to make and tasted good. I spent all of 2020 cooking for myself, starting from when I was living at home during quarantine to when I went to live alone abroad for my remote freshman fall. I got pretty good at it, at least compared to the negative cooking skills I had had before. Then I got to MIT, and more or less lost my habit of cooking regularly, despite living without a meal plan for all but one semester.
This summer in Berlin, I lived alone again, with a kitchen all to myself and lots of free time and mental space to allow me to actually get groceries regularly. So, I told myself that I would once again cook regularly, and managed to stick to that with surprising ease. Now, I’m not a big foodie, which is something I’ve come to realize in comparison to some of my foodie friends. One of my closest friends is actually starting a fine dining pop up series at MIT this fall. Compared to them, my taste in food is distinctly… part of this is also definitely cultural. i have low expectations for the flavor profile of any food I eat This is something that will become exceedingly evident as you look at the photos below. I tend to think of food as fuel first, taste in 1.5th place (I still want my fuel to taste good!), extravagance and variety last. I have ingredients that I know I like, and I stick to them almost religiously. If I want to change it up, I’ll just go out to eat instead of cooking. This is why all the photos look the same….
Exhibit 1: the basics. When I want a big and filling meal, I like to follow the formula of picking a carb base, a protein, and adding some vegetables and greens for a bowl-like situation. Here’s the list of the core ingredients I’ve been cooking with:
- carbs: spaghetti/noodles, rice, or bread. on rare occasions, potatoes
- mushrooms!! (sauteed with onion) they get a category of their own because I love mushrooms, I include them in almost every meal
- greens: I buy a mixed baby salad pack from the grocery store and add it to everything. I also love green onion and cucumber, so I add them as garnish to pretty much everything I make
I love the texture of a runny yolk over pasta
and boy is Germany good for sausage...
- there’s this one particular sausage I bought a lot, called it's the pinkish ones in the photos below it reminds me a lot of type of russian sausage, sardelki, which I loved as a child but wasn’t allowed to have too often because they’re “unhealthy.” perks of being an adult include feeding your inner child :)
Exhibit 2: breakfast-type food (not always consumed for breakfast). Sometimes I want a heartier breakfast than just yogurt. Other times making pasta for dinner is too much effort. The solution, inevitably, is eggs. I’m a if you couldn't tell yet... of eggs, in all of their forms, and I’ll combine them with breakfast classics like avocado toast or smoked salmon.
Exhibit 3: slightly more inventive dishes. Occasionally, I would feel adventurous, and spend some extra time cooking a more involved dish, or buy an ingredient I don’t normally bother with. Generally, though, these meals would still follow the same formula of base+veggies+protein. To be honest, most of these meals turned out thoroughly underwhelming. I struggled a lot with getting the texture right, and I was too cheap to buy elaborate spices when I was only living somewhere for 10 weeks.
- fried rice: I tried making fried rice, without looking up a recipe for it. it tasted okay, but the texture was wrong – too clumpy and too moist.
- chicken stir fry: I have a chicken stir fry dish that I know how to cook pretty well, but I couldn’t find the sauce I usually use at the local asian supermarket. I also oversalted it, so this definitely wasn’t my best work.
- “ragout”: this isn’t actually ragout in the normal definition of the word, but it’s what I would call ragu in Russian: a hearty mix of potatoes, vegetables, and meat. I had never really cooked this before, and it definitely showed: I overboiled the potatoes and the broccoli, which made the whole dish unpleasantly mushy. and I made so much of it too, I had to eat it for a week…
Special feature: this wonderful meal. Finally, I want to highlight I already mentioned it in my blog about misti, but this post wouldn't be complete without it I cooked on a whim one week. Unlike my attempts at more involved meals above, this one actually tasted really good. I bought a head of cabbage and texted my mom, asking her for her braised cabbage recipe. I also bought some chanterelle mushrooms at the supermarket and mixed them with my usual mushroom dish. This made me really happy, since I’d never seen fresh chanterelles in a supermarket outside of Russia. Finally, I had some leftover potatoes, so I fried those, then added an egg for protein. This meal is a testament to the fact that, when left to my own devices, I do actually cook a fair amount of Russian food. This isn’t something I necessarily expected when I pictured myself as an adult, but it’s an oddly comforting realization.
In conclusion: cooking doesn’t have to be hard or take a lot of mental energy! In my experience, the formula of carb+protein+vegetables goes a long way to a balanced diet. Each day, you can just fill in the blank of which carb, protein, and vegetable will go into your meal, and bam! dinner’s cooking. Looking ahead, I’m moving into Burton-Conner, the dorm this fall, which has as opposed to EC's floor-wide ones suite kitchens. Because of this, and because I don’t think any of my friends will be on no one to borrow swipes from anymore... I foresee myself cooking more than I did last year at MIT. We’ll see if that actually happens.
- it was in the pot with water and everything... don't ask back to text ↑
- part of this is also definitely cultural. i have low expectations for the flavor profile of any food I eat back to text ↑
- I love the texture of a runny yolk over pasta back to text ↑
- and boy is Germany good for sausage... back to text ↑
- it's the pinkish ones in the photos below back to text ↑
- if you couldn't tell yet... back to text ↑
- I already mentioned it in my blog about misti, but this post wouldn't be complete without it back to text ↑
- Burton-Conner, the dorm back to text ↑
- as opposed to EC's floor-wide ones back to text ↑
- no one to borrow swipes from anymore... back to text ↑