How I learned to stop worrying and love the skillet

When I was in junior high school, I was required to take home economics, and to put it mildly, it was not my best subject. Let’s just say there were some, well, incidents in the school kitchen that resulted in some very bad feelings and at one point my forcible ejection from the room. Curiously, for some unexplained reason, all of these incidents directly involved butter. (Discuss.)

As a result, for many years afterward, I was convinced that I could not cook, and indeed, wouldn’t even try. I considered making spaghetti (and we’re talking browning meat and pouring Prego over it here) the very limit of my culinary abilities. Preparing anything that had more than four ingredients, or following a recipe with a single French word in it (“what the hell does ‘saute’ mean?”) was nigh unthinkable. So when I got to graduate school, that meant I ate out. A lot. And that made me poor and fat. (Okay, poorer and fatter.)

Then along came Joel. My roommate claimed that he didn’t know how to cook either, and that he was just experimenting himself, but by the time he moved out earlier this year, he had founded and organized the Local Foods small group, created his own barbecue sauces, and catered gourmet dinners for dozens of people on multiple occasions. Let’s put it this way: whenever he was in charge of preparing Thursday night dinner at the Wesley Foundation, the attendance noticeably increased.

I guess I just learned by osmosis. I played the sous-chef (having first looked up what “sous-chef” meant), and learned what “saute” meant, and generally got over my French-word phobia (though “julienne” still gives me the willies). And now that Joel has moved on to greener pastures, I bought some spices, a deep skillet, a nice chef’s knife, and a few cookbooks. A few nights a week, I cook dinner and seal up the leftovers for lunch. Okay, I’m not making souffles or anything here– basically my repertoire is still limited to cutting up meat, spices, and vegetables and throwing them on a hot surface– but I’m been able to prepare healthy, real dishes, and save a decent amount of money doing it. Now, if I could just cook with butter without violent flashbacks, I’d be all set.