William Dunbar: Adventures in first-time cooking

December 4, 2010 

Wiliam Dunbar columnist

It was about Monday night when I realized I could no longer take eating pre-packaged food -- it was time for me to make my own meal.

This realization came to me as I began to chow down on some chicken nuggets. I looked down at the plate before I consumed the meal and began to wonder if I could ever make anything like that using raw ingredients.

Mind racing over the possibilities, I called my roommate, who regularly experiments in our shared kitchen. We began to debate the possibilities of my first dish and the probabilities of my success.

The day when a student makes his own meal, forgoing the nuke of the microwave for the heat of the stove, can be seen as a sort of graduation.

When the student accepts the errors about to be made on the road to better food, he is ready to craft his own gastronomic destiny and create his own vision of dinner. I was no exception to this process.

"Should we try frying fish?"

My roommate shook his head, commenting on the difficulties that frying anything posed to a novice.

"All right, what about baking a pizza?"

He agreed with me that it was a good idea, but perhaps one for another time when our other roommate was around, in case of leftovers.

"Well, we could try pasta."

At this suggestion, my roommate's eyes lit up, and he proceeded to grab the angel hair pasta from the pantry. It was decided then that our dinner was to be angel hair spaghetti with red sauce and fried chicken, with broccoli on the side.

Once the proper groceries had been gathered and the kitchen cleaned up a bit, we set about our task. We put water on the stove to boil, and, while my roommate proceeded to grab the chicken out of the freezer, I grabbed the broccoli from the fridge and washed it off, prepping it for cutting.

My roommate had grabbed a pre-prepared bag of chicken, of all things, and heated it up in the microwave. His plan, a combination of both novice and experienced cooking methods, was to take the heated chicken from the microwave and fry it up, browning it for an extra crunchiness.

This seemed somewhat unorthodox, but also proved a point that you don't have to forgo the old methods completely, but rather work them in for an added benefit.

Meanwhile, I placed the spaghetti in the boiling water and set about cutting the broccoli.

Carefully maneuvering the knife, I managed to cut the broccoli evenly on my first try, albeit slowly.

As I worked with it, though, it became easier to cut as I managed both my hand and the path of the blade, and I finished it without too much hassle or blood.

As he fried the chicken, I took the spaghetti out of the water, setting it on the two plates we had out, and threw the broccoli into the still-boiling water.

My roommate and I also decided to pour the pre-made sauce from the grocery store into a pot to heat it up. Things were coming together as they came off of the stove, and soon enough, we had full plates that were beckoning to our empty stomachs.

I stood in front of the plate for a moment and realized that I hadn't done a bad job.

The smells of both the warm broccoli and the tomatoes within the red sauce mixed well together. In one moment, I saw the dish and its contents, a production of my own hands (though with the help of my roommate, certainly) and effort.

In another moment, I saw an empty plate and felt a full stomach.

Pizza, anyone?

William Dunbar is an economics major and Regent's Scholar at UC Merced.

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