For the love of food

I hate cooking. I look at my food and think if I don’t eat, I’ll turn into a hangry beast that no one wants to be around. Sometimes I wonder if Hangry Alex could eat a human. I wouldn’t put it past her. I’m not entirely sure where my deep-seated hatred of cooking comes from. My grandmother was a great cook, and so is my mother, but anytime they asked me to help out in the kitchen, I would either watch, steal whatever I could to nibble on, or help my dad fix whatever was broken around the house.

I used to think my disdain for cooking came from my negative outlook on food. Before I found out I had celiac, eating was painful. Eat, get sick, repeat. It makes sense why I find no joy in preparing food that makes me ill. But even after all the doctors finally figured out I had spent a lifetime poisoning myself, I still hated cooking.

No one ever explained that the most challenging part of being an adult was figuring out what you were going to cook–every day–for the rest of your life.

I now understand why so many people just eat out.

Unfortunately, I do not have the means for such a lifestyle, plus having celiac and eating out is risky. The only choice was to adult up and make dinner.

In college, it wasn’t that hard because I ate whatever I wanted. A loaf of bread and a pound of asparagus? Sure. Chicken wings that have lived in the fridge for so long that I didn’t remember ever ordering them– Go ahead, They’re fine. I’d destroy a pint of ice cream, along with my stomach and the noses of anyone sitting next to me the following day. Not my problem. Sadly I no longer have an indestructible 20 year old’s stomach. Now in my mid-30s, just reading about my dietary choices makes my body hurt.

Not only do I need to be careful about what I consume, but I also have two little people I care for. I now need to start crafting the same healthy meals my mom did for my brother and me. Only I don’t have the same love for food that she does. I wonder if my kids can taste it? I know I can. It’s like there’s a missing ingredient.
I do not like planning meals. Grocery hunting is already a chore, and searching for the substitutes I need to make my meals g-free just makes things worse. I get resentful for having an autoimmune disease and being forced to abstain from so many foods other people take for granted. But worst of all is the feeling of isolation from my family while I’m cooking. My kids run around having fun while I’m trapped in my closed-off kitchen, hidden from them by walls. Pre-pandemic, my husband would be walking through the door the moment dinner was finished.

Because of the lockdown, my husband no longer commutes to work every day during rush hour. Since he started working from home, he has been helping me in the kitchen by planning out the menu for the week, finding new flavors to explore, and different methods of preparing our food. What I saw as a chore he found immensely pleasurable, and quickly our roles began to shift.

I became his sous-chef, dicing, prepping, making sure everything was ready for him to cook while he took the lead on the meats and sauces. Food started to taste different. Maybe it was the love he put into his cooking. We started food shopping together to gather all of our ingredients and a million other things we shouldn’t be eating but would snack on once the kids were in bed, and shopping no longer felt like a chore. Cooking was now something I got to do with my best friend.

About three months ago, my husband talked with his mom, and she told him she had signed up with Hello Fresh, the meal-kit delivery service. I’m not going to lie; we were skeptical about the idea of food being shipped to us in a box that wasn’t pizza. Our recent cooking collabs made us very discerning about the quality of our ingredients, especially our meats. We weren’t looking for prepackaged, ready-to-eat dishes, but his mother assured us the meals were nothing of the sort. It was literally a box of ingredients.

I did like the idea of avoiding the store where we constantly got suckered into buying things we didn’t need. But I still had questions like, would they offer enough variety? Or were the vegetables going to be fresh? We pulled up the site and went through the recipes. That alone had me ready to sign up. There were so many things we would never have tried, primarily due to one offshoot ingredient that would be too expensive to experiment with randomly. What finally sold me and made us both agree to give it a try was the price. We’d be saving a lot of money and time.

When our first box arrived, the first thing we noticed was how they conveniently organized everything. There were brown bags labeled with each meal’s name that held all the produce, spices, and starches. The meat was kept separate, which was much appreciated. I always keep my produce and meat separate in the fridge in case of leaks. Next was planning the order of our meals for the week. I liked knowing that everything was already there, and I wouldn’t have to run to Publix in the middle of cooking because an ingredient I thought I had was missing.

Having the recipe cards has improved our timing, so the side dishes and entree get completed simultaneously. It has all the steps like a standard recipe and has detailed instructions on when to start making the side dishes, so you don’t get overwhelmed or confused. My daughter, who will be 4 in a few months, likes the cards because they have pictures alongside the directions. She mainly uses the pictures to tell me why she won’t want dinner and instead will need a “peanut butter with bread.” She still gets dinner, but I can’t fault her for trying.

After making our first Hello Fresh meal, I realized two things. When my husband plates food, it looks like the picture and the proportions were smaller than what we were used to. Though there are four of us in our family, I tended to prepare enough food for dinner plus three days of leftovers and still have some for the freezer. It took food delivery in a box for me to finally master cooking proper meal proportions. This meant less food waste, and for that, I am forever grateful. But the downside of appropriate proportioning is the lack of extra noms. Let me tell you; these meals are sooooooooooofuckinggood.

Meals like

  • Balsamic Fig Chicken with Sweet Potatoes and Mixed Greens
  • Sweet ‘N’ Smoky Pork Tenderloin with Apple Carrot Slaw, Mashed Potatoes & Cherry Sauce
  • Beef Bulgogi Meatballs with Roasted Carrots, Ginger Rice & Sriracha Crema
  • Chicken Sausage, Kale & Sweet Potato Soup.

tend to make me want 2nds and 3rds. They have the kind of flavor that makes you want to overeat and regret it the next day. But that’s not an option.

One evening night, while we were cooking, my husband turned to me and said, “You know this is my favorite part of the night.”

I was confused. “What is?”

“This, us cooking together. We get to talk about our day and spend quality time with each other.”

I felt my face flush, and I kissed him. When I went back to chopping onions, I thought about what he said. Just a year ago, I had dreaded making dinner. The planning, shopping, and chopping alone in the kitchen isolated from my loved ones was an unwelcome but necessary chore. However, now I get excited when a new box arrives. We plan our meals out as far as it would let us go that sometimes I forget what we’ve ordered but know no matter what, they will be delicious. Thanks to the magically little box, what was once the worst part of my day has become my favorite nightly routine.

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