Wednesday, October 7, 2009

270 Days UP - "Can't tell the difference between myth and man..."

Above: not my kitchen

I've discovered a new sanctuary in a place that for 30 years I actively tried to spend as little time as possible - my kitchen. Up until this year I knew how to make a handful of meals, all with probably less than 4 ingredients usually requiring minimal preparation time and a lot of sauce out of a jar. This year a couple of factors - lengthy unemployment and my "Dinner and Games" experiment - changed my perception of cooking, and as a result, I can safely say I now rather enjoy the process of making food.

What makes all of this all the more surprising in that besides just being generally lazy (something I'm sure more than a few men can be considered guilty of), I realized recently that when it comes to the finer details of a lot of man's greatest inventions/triumphs - architecture, machinery, the Kama Sutra, I generally don't spend more than a few seconds going "Gee, that seems complicated!" and moving on. For some reason the only things that typically catch my attention are mysteries, the unknown phenomena that still have people scratching their heads.
Please explain this in one word or less...

When I was a kid I remember reading about Stonehenge and being absolutely fascinated with it. I even planned a hypothetical trip there to go and not just see the site, but to solve the mystery that at the time was still plaguing scientists. Of course, after analyzing the stones, their size, their positions, and their age, my best guess at the time would probably have been "magic." And that's probably getting to the heart of it - I was interested in something so long as it was possible that the only explanation for it could be something mystical. I was never one for deep analysis or study. As soon as scientists get down to the nitty gritty and figure out exactly how or why something works, it becomes a snooze-fest for me. (Side note: it's funny - as a lifelong agnostic/atheist, I NEED science to explain everything that's out there, but so long as it eventually gets explained, somehow the actual details typically don't interest me)

With games, I only learn what is necessary to play them. It's more a means to an end than something to ponder. And even then - as my two failed attempts into programming have proven - I simply don't have any interest in learning specifically how to make them.

Back to being in the kitchen - cooking real adult meals involves forcing yourself to become one of those lame-o programmer/designer/
scientists, and fully committing yourself to the tiny little details that go into the creation of something. You can't help but get invested every single detail of the process - from purchasing the ingredients, to preparation of each portion of the dish, to the actually cooking of the meal - and notice how small changes anywhere affect the final product. Since the results are going to be your sustenance for the next few hours, it definitely pays to not half-ass your way through it, (as is often my instinct) lest your taste buds and stomach suffer as a result.

The best part about all of this is that you quickly realize the FUN you could have improvising a meal once you get good enough at the basics. When I first started I was following cookbooks as strictly as possible, but as time went on I developed an instinct as well as a taste for what I wanted. I'm a big quesadilla fan (its basically an E-Z-P-Z pizza, because yeah, I am still kinda lazy - but in my defense, they're delicious), and I've made a different version of it every time I've decided I wanted to eat one. And recently, long time friend and new time favorite blogger Matt Stillman showed me true versatility and confidence in the kitchen when he told me to pick up a protein and vegetable and we cooked one of the best dishes I've ever had, Chicken Rollatini, on the spot using just what I had in the kitchen.

Food I helped (and learned how to) make!

So cooking has opened my eyes in more ways than one. Not only that, but it's obviously saved me a pretty penny as well. I recommend spending more time in the kitchen to anyone who:

A) feels like they are bored with everything they eat (I had a rotation of Chinese Food/Pizza/Fast Food/Pasta Dinner that I went through for what I'm sad to admit was most of my 20's)
B) feels like they aren't particularly great at anything (not so much my problem, because, you know, I'm totally awesome, but whipping together a nice meal definitely makes you feel like you accomplished something - and more like an adult, too!)
C) wants to lose weight (its MUCH easier to keep track of what you're eating when you're making it)
D) wants to save some $$$ (this is well known)

And if you don't fall under any of those categories, then hey, pat yourself on the back there, mister - life's going pretty ok for you and your non-cooking ways!

Thanks to everyone who's been a part of my "Dinner and Games" experiment this year - I hope to continue it indefinitely, and I also hope to spend lots of time in the kitchen on my own, allowing myself to discover what 'real magic' is like. Since I've decided against blogging after each D&G, I'm going to post them all here (eventually) and update as I do more and more of them. I'll list the meal, the people who taught it to me, and what we played.

-Matt

Currently Playing: My gaming time at home has been split between defending my cores in Defense Grid: The Awakening, and Shoryukening some skulls in Street Fighter IV, while my gaming time away from home has been split between solving some puzzles Professor Layton (and the Diabolical Box)-style, and saving the planet, Final Fantasy VI-style. I have to say, it's a nice balance. I recently secured a free copy of Fable 2 from a friends who apparently hated it so much he felt the need to get it out of his house, but I'm sitting on it for now, afraid of the hours I anticipate it sucking up. Still awesome to get it for free though!

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