Cooking anxiety: cooking AND anxiety

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Ahhh, Gordon Ramsay.

I know I don’t want to be on the receiving end of any of his scolding because as it stands I don’t do well with confrontations. As terrifying as he can be, I view cooking that way, as an inner angry Gordon Ramsay kicking my ass across the room spewing criticism right and left about almost everything I do in my life, except his criticism are exceptionally unfounded and beyond rational. My daily sparing consists of smothering that voice with a pillow and other times it has a vice-like grip around my throat.

I remember at one point that staring with tears in my eyes and with a growing panic at all ingredients in the fridge or even buying them was my daily struggle -nothing unusual coming from a person who hated and dreaded making phone calls and/or confronting people in general. It felt like I was interrogated or getting heavily scolded by a faceless and unknown entity.

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As I reflect on that fear I know it was irrational and stupid, I know that. IT’S JUST COOKING and not my my arch nemesis MATHEMATICS, I don’t need stupid complex calculations to make a dish! BUT hey my brain almost equated my traumatized hatred for math to cooking.

However, cooking never started from a negative place, in fact I loved it and only started dreading and hating it when I moved to the U.S.

In the dawn before time

Before I moved to the U.S I knew how to cook. I even enjoyed it as I cooked for my large family in Switzerland. It was easy, I grabbed a few ingredients from the fridge and freezer, made a pot of rice or pasta and mixed all of that and POOF that was it! As a middle-high school student I had mandatory cooking lessons provided by the public schools which did deepen my love for cooking and also for baking. It exposed me to many ingredients and spices. It was through cooking class I tasted the heavenly morel mushrooms.

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I much later realized it is a gourmet item often served in many European restaurants. Here’s a recipe I use that doesn’t – may they have mercy on their soul – throw away the morel broth.

Ultimately, I knew the ingredients, I knew how to put things together and more importantly I was very familiar and comfortable with my environment.

 

New place, new culture and new ingredients

When I moved to the U.S all my confidence crumbled into nonexistence.

Everything in the U.S.A is big which means your choices are infinite, which means you will spend hours in front of the frozen section probably checking reviews online whether ANY of these frozen goods are healthy, tasty or even edible. Also you will learn that your European taste buds are jarringly different from your American counterparts, so you will be on the endless quest for quasi-European quality food. (You will never catch me dead with a Hershey bar – I will never betray my country! Lindt or Lindor chocolate for life!)

I was paralyzed by the HUMONGOUS choices in ingredients (why in the hell do I need 500 different kind of breads, why is there 500 different drinks with various degrees of sweetness from insta-diabetes to borderline water and another 5000 different frozen goods from the Himalayas to locally sourced?! Just give me some basic but quality goods then I am great!.

I grew up in little Switzerland where the choices of ingredients and produce are within reason, you have maybe 2~3 brands (which were technically owned by one massive corporation in Switzerland, monopoly isn’t something unusual in Switzerland). I can go to the store and find one brand maybe two of ground meat or eggs, NOT 500 different kinds like in the U.S where you can get with x% less fat, sugarless, wards of vampires, cures depression, etc. And don’t get me started on the quality of frozen food. The food quality in Switzerland all the way down to the chocolate and bread is much better than the U.S, it’s a fact.

I married into my husband’s family and culture that does not use the typical western ingredients, blindsiding me more than I thought was possible and I was thrown into the unfamiliar world of wifely-housewifey duties. So pardon me if I sound neurotic.

And to make matters worse, my character, my needlessly complicated character and its flaws were HIGHLIGHTED like the beacons of Gondor in this foreign environment, painstakingly revealing that I would have to break every part of myself to fit in and survive.

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Me versus the hoards of personal issues.

My husband and in-laws non-western and traditional cooking style was so different in that they have bagillion of condiments written in gibberish that it would take a chemist to figure out the perfect mixing ratio. Additionally, their philosophy on food and diet is drastically different to what I grew up with, so that was fantastic. So, please shoot me in the foot twice.

And as I became a wife I was naturally tasked with cooking. My mother in law and husband helped a lot in the beginning which helped me somewhat get my bearings. However, it also made me more insecure about myself and my abilities to cook.

I was overwhelmed. It was an attack on multiple fronts, crippling me with extraordinary ease. I was easily overrun. I was ill equipped. I didn’t have enough ammunition, boots or a damn coat to shelter me from the bitter cold reality.

In my mind I was in the trenches in World War One and I was left paralyzed, not wounded, just overwhelmed and scared shitless of all the stuff being hurled at me without a single break.

Out of the trenches I go to conquer cooking

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This is from Blackadder Goes ForthIt’s hilarious.

Step by step, Jeanne.

Those are the great words of wisdom from my husband. It wasn’t applied to cooking specifically more so towards my studies, but I’ve come to apply it universally to anything I do. As someone who liked being in control, who anxiously strove for perfection and feared failure and disappointment coupled with high expectations, Life told me to chill the fuck out and dropped a husband and a kid into my lap to teach me to how to be a better person to myself.

Cooking is still daunting at times but step by step as I grow more confident with myself and give less of a fuck about what others think, the ingredients, condiments and produce look a tad bit more friendly and inviting.

I started meal planning, I shop at smaller grocery stores, I shop smarter and efficently (with groceries). I’ve become more focused and I do not freeze like a deer in the headlights towards all the overwhelming choices before me. I still can’t conjure out of the blue a meal with random ingredients I find in the fridge (my husband is a pro at that) but I plan ahead and slowly my mind is allowing me to create/imagine meals without screaming “ABANDON SHIP!” even though we haven’t taken in water or cracked the hull of the ship.

Conclusion

I noticed with the recent blog posts I’ve published I have made many connections (maybe some might think too conveniently so) that confidence is sometimes the be-all and end-all. It is true for me. When you go about your life confidently then life is great, wonderful and awesome but when life is made up of cracks in the ice and you are trying to navigate through it with extreme caution, you WILL be second guessing, doubting and paralyzing yourself with fears that are incredibly irrational because you imagined yourself walking on thin ice. Confidence comes with time, conquering your fear takes patience or you can speed it up by persistently hurling (or inching) yourself into its gaping jaws. For me, step by step works better and maybe one day I will hurl myself into its maws.

You can do it. Take bite size chunks and just go from there.

A film scene that perfectly captures my current state towards cooking is Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman climbing up the ladder in the trenches and gloriously charging across No-Man’s Land to fight off the enemies.

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Despite the rain of shells and bullets and overall chaos, I am the amateur version of Wonder Woman, braving through the storm the best I can, stumbling in the bog and maybe leaping to cover behind an uprooted tree trunk when the bullets and shells are too overwhelming. I know I have to keep pushing, I have to prove to myself that I am capable of handling life even something as minor as cooking.

Also, honestly, who’s else is gonna feed my tall frame, my tall husband and all my future offsprings?

So, happy cooking and I will see you in the next post 😉

PS: Don’t kill me, Gordon Ramsay. >.< I really like your shows but I also love how you have ascended into memes-dom. Uhm, I would totally try your food when I have the time and means >.>

 

 

 

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