This week I am at the Oregon Coast spending time with my dad. I very much enjoy getting to hang out with him and just be a part of his routine. The big highlight of our day is usually walking into town to get the mail.
When I am visiting, I try to cook a few of the evening meals to give Dad a break from cooking for himself. He’s vegetarian, but very easy to cook for, because his favorite food is meals that other people have cooked and he’s willing to eat leftovers for several nights in a row.
I’m not as easy to cook for as he is because I have a long list of foods that I can’t tolerate well. Top of the list are onion and garlic. Since onion and garlic form the base for most savory vegetarian food it gets a bit tricky to cook savory dishes that we can both enjoy.
When I first figured out that onion and garlic were not good for me, it was very stressful. I was super-sensitive to minute quantities, which meant that I had to avoid almost all pre-packaged savory food.
I wasn’t much of a cook at that point in my life. I had about three dishes I could make, and I tended to set fire to things accidentally, or make a major spice errors so my food was inedible.
I started to get interested in cooking, partly in self-defense, partly because I took it into my head that I should be able to cook and the only way to become a good cook would be to get cooking. It helped a lot that my roommate came up with a way to create the savory flavor of onion and garlic that I could use as a replacement in many dishes.
We have a saying in our house: “It goes faster if you start.” It comes from working on craft projects. There is only so much thinking and planning one can do, eventually one needs to start work for the project ever to be finished.
Once I started cooking, I never looked back. Cooking confidence led, in turn, to baking. After years of trying to get bread to rise and learning to watch my bakes so as not to set fire to the oven, I can now reliably bake bread and pastries. I have even developed a sense of timing and can wander off and do other things and come back to the oven just as the timer is about to go off.
All of this work has given me the ability to look a recipes and plan how to alter them so as to get results that not only I can eat (because they cater to my own limitations) but that taste good to other people.
So this week, my dad mentioned liking Vietnamese Phở and I was inspired to come up with a recipe that was both vegetarian and onion/garlic/ginger free. After reviewing several recipes online, I made a list of ingredients and substitutions, went grocery shopping, and spent the next several hours cooking.
Dad and I had the final result for dinner, and it was very tasty. I don’t know that it is anything like real Phở, but it is at least Phở adjacent.
While I was working on the various steps to make the Phở broth, I thought about how impossible a task this would have been for me ten years ago. What is easy for me now, would have been overwhelmingly complicated for me then.
However, if my past-self hadn’t suddenly decided that cooking as A Thing I Should Know, I wouldn’t have the skills I do today to alter a recipe on the fly and have the result be edible.
Every journey starts with a single step and every project (learning skills included) goes faster if you start.
The thing I have found myself saying most often in my life is: “Why didn’t I do X sooner?” There is almost no example of a project, skill, or activity that I wish I had postponed starting for a longer time. Once I made the transition from thinking about the idea to actually doing the work, I more often wished I had gotten started sooner.
Everyone is different and at different stages in life. However, in my experience, time waits for no one. Procrastination is frequently fear in disguise, but my fears come true so rarely that I’m really trying to learn not to listen to those fears.
If I had put off learning to cook because I got discouraged at how often I set off the smoke detector or made inedible spice choices or because I feared that no one would ever like my food; I wouldn’t be where I am today, having fun adventures in Phở.
Kristin Fontaine is an itinerant Episcopalian, crafter, hobbyist, and unstoppable organizer of everything. Advent is her favorite season, but she thinks about the meaning of life and her relationship to God year-round. It all spills out in the essays she writes. She and her husband own Dailey Data Group, a statistical consulting company.
© 2019 Kristin Fontaine