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Half-Baked: A Reluctant Cook At Home

Navja Sol

I’m surrounded by foodies. My friends, my family—they go out for long, elaborate meals where they order things like pork belly and wild mushroom sorbet, close their eyes to taste it, sigh with contentment, and then turn to offer me a bite, which I invariably refuse. For me, dining out is merely a way to avoid cooking and eating is merely a way to avoid starving. It’s as much a chore as doing laundry or cleaning my bathroom but worse because if I procrastinate for too long I’ll die. 

When I tell people I don’t like eating, they often think there is something wrong with me, but I can’t help it; I just don’t. Given the choice, I would take all my nutrition in liquid form and never chew again. And I’m not just a reluctant eater, I’m a picky one: I was one of those kids who only ate white foods—mostly variations of starches, like French fries dipped in mashed potatoes that I would get at the Hardee’s down the street. A few years ago, I found out that there may be a physiological reason for my limited palette: I’m a “super taster,” which means that I have more taste buds than the average tongue, and because of this, I experience taste more intensely than other folks. Sweet is sweeter, salt is saltier, and bitter is just bad. There’s a way to measure this bydying your tongue blue and counting your taste buds, but if you’re in my family, your dad may happen to havePTC strips lying around, which are extremely bitter to supertasters and tasteless to everyone else. My family tried them at Christmas one year, and my mom, brother, and I ran to the sink to wash our mouths out while my dad and sister, by far the most adventurous eaters in the bunch, tasted nothing. But whatever the reason, food has just never interested me, and before moving to Charlotte to work at WFAE, I subsisted mostly on microwave burritos and other peoples’ cooking. Every once in a while, I might walk to the market, grab a few healthy-looking ingredients, and stew them together in the one pot I owned, but the results usually tasted like the mash served at a Food Not Bombs rally, and I’d end the night by ordering a pizza.

My usual manner of dining was neither the most healthy nor cost-effective, but I was okay with that because I was too busy to care about food. I worked all day, ate out of my office vending machine, and spent the rest of my waking hours devoted to the all-important task of hanging out. Who has time to cook when there is hanging out to do? I certainly did not, but when I moved to Charlotte, a city where I didn’t know anyone, my hours devoted to porch-sitting with my best buds were suddenly freed up. I needed a hobby. I considered taking up running but it turns out running is really hard, and one night while icing my shins and ordering yet more Chinese take-out, I kept looking around the unused kitchen in my new apartment, imagining what it would be like to have a refrigerator full of home-cooked leftovers that I could take with me to work the next day. Think of the benefits! Not only was cooking something I could do in the evenings that didn’t require icing my shins, I’d probably feel (and look) better if my diet weren’t 50 percent lo mein and 50 percent burritos. Yes, I decided, I would learn how to cook, and instead of taking a class or watching cooking shows, I would turn to that most trusted source of information: public radio. I‘d take recipes from cooking shows likeThe Splendid Table andAmerica’s Test Kitchen, recreate them in my own tiny, poorly-stocked kitchen, take beautiful, high-resolution photos that would make Martha Stewart jealous, write about the experience, and post it here. Not only would this give me something to do, I  would be a sort of recipe guinea pig—if a novice cook with a tendency to not read instructions can follow this recipe, then so can you. And if I can’t? Well, you probably can anyway.

So that’s what this blog is—the culinary trials and tribulations of a reluctant eater. Everything I make might not be edible, but I hope, at least, it’ll be readable.