Self-Care through Food

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I’ve always hated cooking. Growing up, my relationship with food was tied to my middle class lifestyle. Costco pizza was an easy and cheap meal for the family. At school, you were the cool kid people wanted to be friends with if you had extra spending money to buy the Corn Nuts from the vending machine. School lunches were high in sugar, low in nutrition, and I grew up relying on easy, fast food because honestly, who had the time, patience, or money to eat anything better?

When I was a little older, my parents insisted I learn how to cook, associating the pressure to provide a family meal with cooking. Cooking was a chore, something I was supposedly to do to help alleviate family stress. Anytime I dared to experiment with online recipes, the meal would usually end with “Well now you know how to cook, why don’t you cook all our meals?” This guilt-tripping created tension that backfired, and needless to say I didn’t actually end up learning how to do anything.

College me lived off of Food 4 Less and Hot Pockets. Moving from one apartment to another every few months, I didn’t have the space or mental capacity to accumulate kitchen utensils, cookware, or spices, let alone meal prep. If there was free pizza at some event, I’d attend. If I had homework to do, I’d microwave Dino Nuggets. I didn’t care enough to grocery shop for ingredients, maintain a well-stocked pantry, plan meals, prep food, cook them, and then wash the darn dishes. I didn’t understand why people loved it.

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Fast forward to now. Young adult me decided to get over the intimidation and make a salad for the first time about a year ago. I’d finally settled down into my current apartment, with a kitchen big enough for me to actually store groceries and cook in. I started reading books about paleo diets and listened to podcasts about vegan eating. I watched Youtubers who advocate for cleaning eating and make easy to follow videos of wholesome recipes I enjoy. I’ve tried the Whole30 challenge and eating paleo. Currently I’m trying to transition into a more plant-based diet.

Fridge, sink, stove, repeat.
— I love that kitchen work triangle


But beyond nutrition, I’ve really learned to enjoy cooking. Cooking helps me focus on what’s right in front of me. Fridge, sink, stove, repeat. It’s calming and therapeutic. It brings me into this manual world that acknowledges this basic human experience that has connected people for centuries. Cooking alone helps me relax, and forget about the stress of my day. It allows me to be creative, regain control of my life, and reward myself at the end with a tasty meal.

Most importantly, cooking is self-care, something I’ve been neglecting to allow myself to indulge in for a very long time. When I was in school (going through a mental healthy journey), or suffering during my stint in New York, I felt undeserving of health, indulgence, or anything of high quality. Thankfully, over this past year, I’ve learned to discover joy through cooking, find peace and fulfillment in the kitchen, and nourish my body and soul.

The cooking journey’s been a long time coming, especially for someone who’s never really smelled or tasted the different between different qualities of food. Now I care just a little bit more, and take pride in knowing I’m feeding myself good nutrition and quality food.

I’ve definitely tried (and failed at) making many things this year, but here are some of my favorite recipes I found.

Sweet Potato Fries

Berry Crumble

Sourdough Focaccia

Matcha Mille Crepe Cake

Japchae

Healthy Granola Bars

Chicken Tacos

Instant Pot Shredded Chicken

Chia Seed Pudding

Any and all healthy smoothies

Thank you to my cooking friends, roommate, and coworkers who encourage me with their amazing food instincts, spend quality kitchen time with me, and are willing to eat my concoctions, even if the vegan jackfruit “pulled pork” ends up tasting nothing like pulled pork. Thank you to my internet teachers, Downshiftology, Pick Up Limes, Just One Cookbook, Minimalist Baker, and so many others gracious enough to share their recipes with the world.

I’m still such a beginner, but getting my hands dirty in the kitchen has taught me that it really isn’t hard to start learning how to cook. You just try it, and find the joy in whatever sticks. If I could I’d love to tell my younger self not to be so intimidated. Once you’re confident enough you feel like you could try making just about anything. I even attempted mooncakes this year, and shared my process with my fellow subtle asian friends.

 
Lots of food coloring experimentation and pretty molds. Food photography dreams come true.

Lots of food coloring experimentation and pretty molds. Food photography dreams come true.

 

I feel I’ve always relied on what I’m good at to express my creativity, but discovering the magic of cooking and baking has opened me up to a whole new medium of creativity. I’m so excited about the literal endless possibilities and I’m beyond overjoyed to have found this new hobby. Check me out, mom!