Thursday, December 27, 2012

Un-inventing yourself

If there is any activity that encapsulates the concept of "getting started", it is cooking.  It is a daunting task, it is both science and art, it can carry heavy connotations, and no matter what you do it will never be perfect.  These are among the many reasons I have avoided cooking for the majority of my life.  A few others to add to the list: it makes me feel like a housewife, there are a million steps involved and thus a million opportunities to screw up the entire thing, and I failed the measurement conversion section of Home Ec in high school.  Seriously, I did.

In spite of all of this, I figured that I'm in Hong Kong, I am trying a lot of new things, why not add cooking to the list.  It's the perfect example of something that you can sit around all day worrying that it won't be perfect, but all you need to do is take the first step.  Plus maybe it will be fun.  It's like an art project, but you get to eat it at the end.  That's not so bad, right?

Well, actually, it kind of is that bad.  Let me tell you the reasons why:

  1.  Though I am one of the lucky few in Hong Kong who actually has an oven in the apartment, I am not quite lucky enough to have a fully functioning one.  My oven has only two options, or only two options that I could figure out: broil, and lukewarm.  After hours of inhaling way too much gas and sticking my head in the oven multiple times, I went with broil.  
  2. That failed measurement conversion quiz really came back to bite me in the ass.  I can just picture Ms. Ioli nodding and saying I told ya so, Ms. Baum.  Not only do recipes require conversion from Celsius to Fahrenheit  but they don't sell regular measuring cups here.  I was working with 3 options: 100mL, 15mL and 5mL.  There are 250mL in 1 cup, but that's a dry cup not a liquid cup, blah blah blah.  Considering the recipe called for 6+ cups of certain ingredients, this added significant amounts of time to the process. (Yes, I went to Harvard.)
  3. Apparently, they don't sell brown sugar in Hong Kong.  Note that if it looks like brown sugar, smells like brown sugar, and feels like brown sugar it is NOT brown sugar.  Apparently it is called red sugar.  This resulted in me going to 3 different grocery stores and purchasing 3 other brown sugar imposters before I finally figured  it out.
  4. No food processors, or mixing tools.  This meant whipping eggs and grating 6 cups of carrots by hand.  Luckily, it also means that this little project doubled as a workout.

The advantage of being historically outspoken about avoiding cooking like the plague is that when you actually do get around to making something for someone you love, they know you must really love them.  To put it simply in the context of my relationship, if you cook for him then he will know how much torture you're willing to go through to make him happy.  Yes, that's absurd and passive-aggressive and immature, but I did think about it that way.

Unfortunately, my plan of holding my boyfriend emotionally hostage for my voluntary sacrifice to the kitchen gods backfired when, in spite of all the reasons above, I actually enjoyed this ridiculous farce of a process.  It really was like an art project, and I love art projects.  There were so many reasons whatever I cooked would probably suck that I was forced to let go.  I could actually enjoy the moment and relish in the excitement of improvisation.

The fact that this was actually fun was mildly disturbing, and ultimately led me to wonder -- why had I so openly hated on cooking in the past?  Sure, I am impatient, and I am a perfectionist, thus it makes sense that I might not like it.  However, it was much more about what cooking represented and not what I actually thought it would be like.  I had taken "hates cooking" and incorporated it into my identity.  I joked about it, I talked about it, and purposely never did it.  It made me different.  Cooking is a stereotype.  Cooking is something that society expects from women.  I refuse to be defined by society or stereotypes, thus it followed that I must never cook.

The beauty of moving to a new place is you have an excuse to reinvent yourself.  Or, in my case, un-invent yourself.  Reinventing myself would mean declaring that now I am a master chef, putting pictures of food I've cooked on my Facebook profile, changing my favorite hobbies to "Baking", and buying myself an apron that says #1 Housewife on it.  Un-inventing myself means forgetting all of that and just being me.  I am realizing that I don't have to be "Allison that hates/loves to cook" or "Allison who does/doesn't let a man tell her what to do".  In the past, I've allowed these qualifiers to define who I am, what I like to do and what I don't like to do.  Whether or not they all fit into a stereotype, they have still defined me and that's precisely what I have been saying I hate.

So, yes, even though it was a comical nightmare, I enjoyed making dinner the other night.  I did it because I wanted to, not because I had to prove how much I love my boyfriend, not because I wanted to make him feel like he owed me something.  I might not always enjoy it, and I am pretty sure I will never do it every night.  But maybe I will, and that would be okay.