To Feed the Family

           It was about five o’clock in the afternoon when I decided to make the call. It was one of my few nights off from work and nothing else was going on. I was sitting around a bit bored until I sparked with an idea. I picked up the phone, went into the contacts and tapped “Mom.” As it was ringing I thought to myself “what the heck am I getting myself into?” She answered the phone and immediately I told her “I’m cooking tonight!” Stunned, she questioned if I was serious about this commitment. As soon as I let her know I was, her demeanor became joyful as she realized wouldn’t have to worry about ordering out on her night off from cooking. It wasn’t until I hung up the phone I realized the gravity of the situation I had just thrown myself into.

           Before this day I had only cooked for myself before. Throughout my first semester at college I had gotten tired of using a meal plan so I decided that upon the start of the second semester, I would start cooking for myself whenever I had time. When word spread about this, I was gifted a slow cooker with a recipe book from my Aunt. I was also able to a few recipes of my favorite foods that my Mom makes. From her spaghetti recipe to chicken croissants I asked her to write down how she makes each. Once everything was in order, I waited for the semester to start anxious to test my unknown cooking skills. Little did I know, cooking wasn’t as easy as reading a recipe.

The day had finally come. I was ready to follow my newfound ambition to become my own chef. Laying in front of me was a box of spaghetti noodles, frozen ground beef, tomato sauce, paste and some spices. It was time to start. I warmed up the stovetop, grabbed a pan and tossed a perfectly measured amount of canola oil into the pan and started to open up the beef package. I only needed about a quarter of the beef that was there. As I opened it up it suddenly struck me, how am I supposed to use only some of it when it is frozen solid? I looked over at the directions my mom had written for me and saw the word “thawed” and immediately my joyful cooking ambition was struck to the ground and stomped on. After making a few calls and asking Google some questions, I came up with a solution.  I went into the freezer and grabbed a TV dinner, popped it in the microwave and began cleaning up the spaghetti ingredients as I slowly accepted defeat.

On the second day I was prepared for battle. I pulled the thawed beef from the refrigerator and slapped it in the pan, as it cooked I started to work on the noodles. This was the easy part, I had cooked noodles before and knew only an idiot could mess them up. I turned on a stove burner, threw some water in a pot and tossed the spaghetti in. I set it on the burner and stood back, gleaming with accomplishment. I started to work with the beef and make sure it cooked evenly. A few minutes had passed and something smelled like it was burning. The beef looked fine and I didn’t think it could be the spaghetti. As I looked into the boiling pot of spaghetti, I realized the problem… It wasn’t boiling. I had thrown the spaghetti in the pot right when I put it on the burner. I cursed at myself as I drained the pot and refilled it with water. I wasn’t accepting defeat this time. This time I got it right. Some time passed and I was finally done. I slopped the spaghetti on a plate and took a mouthful. This is what victory tastes like.

That first meal was a lesson for me in more ways than just cooking. It was an indicator that through perseverance I can still complete what I set out to do and that things often aren’t as simple as they look. This introduction to cooking was a tough one but after overcoming this basic feat of cooking for myself, I knew that it would be simpler from now on from the lessons I learned. Most of all I learned that even though the spaghetti tasted like any other spaghetti using that recipe, the thought of all of the effort and time that I put into accomplishing it, made it the best spaghetti I had ever eaten. Sorry Mom.

This thought of accomplishment was lingering in my mind until I woke from my daydream and realized that I needed to start the meal soon. I started thinking of all the different avenues I could take. I could make an incredibly fancy meal with all kinds of spices that is healthy and unique. Or I could make a fun food that’s delicious, quick to eat and probably would ruin someone’s day on a weight watching diet. I thought of my favorite food that I made for myself that my family had never tried and it immediately came to me… Pizza in a Pot! This was a recipe in the cookbook that I had made several times and loved. It was very simple to make and I had added a few of my own twists to it, perfecting it to just how I liked it. I went to the fridge, opened my bag of food that would go back to college with me and pulled out the ingredients. It was about five thirty and I knew everyone would be home around a little before seven, so I had to work quickly. I warmed up the slow cooker, turned on the stovetop and began to throw ingredients to their respective locations. As I went on with this, I thought back to the first time I had cooked this for myself.

I was in my apartment’s kitchen and had all of the ingredients in front of me. The recipe was fairly simple. It starts with spiral noodles boiled and layered into the slow cooker with ground beef, mozzarella cheese, peperoni and a tomato sauce.  The ground beef is cooked on stovetop with sliced onions, green, yellow and red peppers. I readied my apartment’s stovetop and plopped the beef into the pan. As it started to cook I started to slice the peppers. I cut the red pepper in half then sliced it into smaller strips which I threw into a bowl. Then I went to start the green pepper, in which I also cut in half. I was getting a little anxious so I started to cut a bit quicker. I sliced it a few times until suddenly, something felt wrong about one of the slices. I looked at where the knife had unexpectedly stopped and saw that it had hit some weird red colored item. I pulled the knife away only to realize that red colored item was my finger, covered in a decent amount of blood. Whoops! I had nearly cut a chunk off of my finger from not paying attention while cutting. I grabbed some first aid items and patched myself up quickly, knowing that the beef was still waiting for me to stir it. So now, with one hand in a fist applying pressure to my wound, my stomach growling and the beef burning. I had to push forward and finish the meal with one hand. I sneered at the knife as I grabbed what I had already cut and put it in with the beef, stirring it as I prepared my mind for the battle of finishing the meal one handed.

Here I was, back at home ready to mix all of the ingredients in the slow cooker. This time I was able to use both hands to start layering the food inside of it. As I finished the last layer and closed the lid, I looked over at the time. Six thirty, everyone would be home in thirty minutes. Then I remembered that this takes about an hour and a half to be ready. This situation called for an appetizer.

I stood in the kitchen thinking, with the dog sniffing for scraps at my feet and Mozart playing from a speaker in the other room. What is a quick finger food appetizer I can make that goes with this meal? Almost immediately it came to me… Pizza! I scoured the kitchen looking for some ingredients that I had bought the other day to try. I found a precooked pizza crust and some Buffalo pizza sauce. As I slathered the sauce onto the crust, I thought about what cheese to use for the topping. I knew the answer immediately, Colby jack and pepper jack cheese. I ran to the refrigerator to grab the cheese when I realized that I needed toppings. I didn’t want to use peperoni since it was already being used in the other part of the meal. I scanned the refrigerator looking for the perfect topping. Then I saw it, wrapped in a plastic bag sitting in the middle of the shelf by itself was a small amount of leftover spaghetti noodles. As I pondered in the ridiculousness of what I was thinking, I knew I had to try it. Back at the pizza, I knew no one would eat it if there was spaghetti on the top, so I decided to put it under the cheese. As I placed the final piece of cheese on, the oven announced that it was preheated so I eagerly placed my concoction on the center rack and closed the door.

Again I looked at the clock. Six fifty, ten minutes left until everyone arrived home. As I looked around I realized something was missing. While we never usually make it, I figured since I am trying so many new things I might as well try making a desert as well. I quickly looked to see what I had available. Inside the refrigerator were uncooked croissants and some strawberries. I scoured the internet looking for something to make with these ingredients. I finally found something promising but was missing a key ingredient. With my fingers crossed I searched our cabinet hoping we had it. After a minute of hopelessly searching, I froze as I saw it, hiding in the dark corner, clueless to the fact that it was about to get consumed by a family of four. It was a vanilla pudding mix that I was extremely surprised to see that we had. I quickly readied the croissants, threw the mix into a bowel and began to mix it. I quickly walked over to the oven and opened the door. As it opened the smell of freshly cooked pizza surrounded me and to my surprise, the pizza looked like any other normal pizza. I placed the croissants in the stove where the pizza was and closed the door.

Several minutes later, as I was covering the croissants with the pudding, I heard the dog barking like a madman and scrambling his way to the front door, which generally is his way of saying everyone is home.  As my Mom walked in I could hear her let out a sigh of relief, seeing that the kitchen was only slightly a mess. I cut the pizza and like a kid showing his parents macaroni art, gleefully presented my masterpiece to each of them, not telling them what was in it of course. I was proud of my pizza, but not a daredevil, they can try it first. Each of them said they liked it a lot and before they ate the rest I was able to scavenge a piece for myself. When I tried it, I knew it was the best food I ever made.   Finally one of them was insightful enough to ask what was in the delicious pizza and I eagerly answered. The response was exactly what I expected. Blank stares looking at me like I had just spoke in another language.

The night went on successfully with the other foods I cooked and everyone ended up enjoying the not-so-fancy meal. For me, the night was not just about proving to myself that I can cook enjoyable meals for other people but also that I was able to cook a meal for my parents. Since they had been cooking for me for my whole life, it felt nice to be able to finally cook a meal for them, and was an even better feeling to know that they enjoyed it.

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