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Cooking has always been something I avoided. I love to bake, but whenever someone would talk about cooking, I’d always say that I was terrible at it. I suppose that’s really just because I’ve never had to cook for myself, at least not all the time.

My internship this summer in Bloomington-Normal has been the first time I’ve had to either cook or starve. (You must realize I’m not the kind of person who can survive on microwavable dinners and eat out all the time.) And what I’ve found is that I’m not a bad cook after all.

What is challenging, however, is cooking for one. It’s incredibly hard to cook in one-person portions. Or I guess that should be Rowena-sized portions since I generally eat two people’s worth. My first week here I kept on wanting to just cook for lunch and dinner each day, but I’ve become more practical and now I can generally just cook once every 3-5 days, depending on what I’m making.

The other thing is that the stoves in my apartment are electric and having grown up with gas stoves, cooking on these took a few tries to get used to. The heat time on electric stoves is exponentially uneven. That is, it goes from 0 to 0 to 0 to 60 (so to speak in car terms) instead of heating up gradually like on a gas stove. Let’s just say some things definitely burned the first week and I got hit by flying boiling oil a few times.

My first legit meal here was shrimp & asparagus fettuccine. It was a relatively simple recipe. Boil fettuccine, saute shrimp and asparagus. Toss together. I did make one necessary change though – sesame seed oil – because I didn’t have olive oil and because it’s so much more flavorful than the latter. I figured since it was my first real meal I should document it. It looked better in person, I swear.

Just like when I bake, I pretty much always cook from scratch. No frozen dinners or boxed dinners a la Hamburger Helpers – that’s not real cooking, just like brownies from a mix isn’t real baking. Sorry if I’m offending anyone out there who thinks they can cook or bake because they can dump and mix all the contents of a box together.

I’m becoming ever more adventurous with my cooking. I’ve been looking at recipes just to get a general idea of what’s needed and how dishes like frittatas or casseroles are made and then creating my own recipes. The only dish I’ve made where I followed nearly all of the instructions was ratatouille. I’m also “freehanding” more. I’m using measuring spoons and cups less and less now, choosing instead to freehand it when I add spices and seasonings. And of course, I’m still the queen of substitutions. It’s amazing what you can make if you just learn how to use basic pantry items to make more complicated ingredients.

So what I’ve found is that I actually don’t mind cooking. In some ways it’s quite relaxing. It’s really just the clean-up that kills me. Recently I cooked for two and didn’t have to take care of the cleaning part and boy was that experience much better!

In the past three weeks I’ve made shrimp & asparagus fettuccine, tilapia & spinach wrap, veggie casserole, Moroccan Marrakesh  Vegetables (two variations), shrimp lo mein, ratatouille, vegetarian enchiladas, bean-less vegetarian chili (I also throw in shrimp), egg and broccoli casserole, and that’s all I can remember for now.

What are your favorite recipes? Send them my way and I’ll make them my own (or maybe even follow them!) sometime in the next few weeks. (Just remember that I don’t eat meat or poultry!)

Oh, on a related note, for those who know of my serial cereal madness, the cereal monster has returned. BEWARE, cereal, BEWARE.

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