twenty years of making lunch

[think kit. day fourteen.] MY BED // CHICAGO — When I was in grade school, I had a blue, insulated lunch box that came with a little yellow cooler. The whole thing perfectly fit a pb&j, a chocolate milk and a fruit cup, if I felt so inclined to ask Mom to buy them. I enjoyed the occasional tiny bowl of diced peaches. I mean, who doesn’t?

That lunch box carried the same meal — pb&j, chocolate milk, possible fruit cup — from the day I started first grade through my last lunch as an eighth grader. My lunch didn’t change much in high school, except I opted for the brown bag (lunch boxes are for kids, amirite?) and no longer packed milk, as a result.

The habit goes on: I ate pb&j and an apple for nearly every lunch at most of my internships in college. I even brought peanut butter to Rome and made pb&j for my work lunches there till I ran out of my American treat. As I started living on my own, I developed a dinner version of pb&j: rainbow rotini. (For the record, breakfast was always cereal.)

So I’ve got some pretty solid meal habits. This is not news. An interesting thing happened as I started having to make all my own food: I discovered I sort of liked cooking.

I say ‘sort of’ because it took me a few years to nail down exactly what it was about cooking I liked, because I definitely didn’t like many aspects of it.

This discovery process began after college. I had been responsible for making all my meals for years, but full-time employment exposed me to a new adventure. I could now afford groceries beyond bread, pasta and fruit, and oh, what a world I had to explore beyond carbohydrates.

I went through the usual milestones of learning to cook, like making disgusting food, learning what the heck it mean to sautée something, figuring out how to navigate grocery stores in search of obscure ingredients, and so on. I loved planning the week of meals, browsing cookbooks and recipes online and eating home made food. I really only hated one thing: physically preparing food.

It took me a while to realize this. I thought the frustration and dread that came with compiling a meal was in the nature of cooking — something I just had to deal with and get used to.

For some reason, this year, I realized cooking doesn’t have to suck. And so the lunchtime revolution began.

I no longer felt tempted to try a tasty-looking recipe if the ingredients list was too long. I started meal planning with a single dish, playing with the same ingredients to make future meals, so I didn’t let things go bad and end up wasting money or food. I tried to be more sensitive to seasonal produce, because it tastes better and makes shopping easier.

When I set some boundaries for cooking — cook time, ingredients, etc. — I found it much more enjoyable. Now that I truly like it, I do it more often, and my meals are more interesting than pb&j or pasta. (Pasta is still my “oh shit I have to make lunch” food, of course.)

A coworker started asking about the different things I brought for lunch, and we joked about how I should start a food blog. I ended up doing that, because it was actually the easiest way to share my ideas and favorite meals with friends. So here’s that: recipesforjason.com

[think kit. dec. 14 prompt: By telescope or microscope, or no scope at all – what did you discover? A new aspect of yourself? A favorite artist, musician, or variety of cheese? Did you discover something about a loved one? A familiar or new-to-you place? Be broad, be narrow, or be surprising.]

{image: pomegranate seeds are my new favorite thing to add to salads, and they’re kinda fun to work with.}

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