On another, long-dead blog, there are photos of me making parathas. With parathas, you have to let the dough sit overnight — that is to say, you knead the dough, roll it out, wind it up into a cinnamon-roll shape, and let those shapes sit, covered, overnight until it is time to roll them flat and lightly fry them.
This was when I had a kitchen, but it was also when I seemed to have, for whatever reason, more time. I would make homemade bread every weekend, and wrap up loaves as holiday gifts. I would take the time to temper my spices before I added the cabbage I had shredded myself. I made vats of soup in my slow cooker and then portioned them out into freezer containers.
Last night I made myself a salad and some leftover whole-grain macaroni with tuna and cheese. The mac and cheese took 15 minutes to make, initially; now it took the same amount of time to reheat as it did to put bagged lettuce on a plate and add some strawberries.
When I cook for other people, I know how to make those thin strawberry slices that, with a slight twist of the thumb, rolls the strawberry out into a fan. When I cook for myself, that same thumb shoves itself into the strawberry to split it into two mangled halves; that’s all I need for this salad, and it’s all I need for this meal where the mac and cheese will still be cold in spots and I won’t care because if you care, you have to figure out how to change things.
I have yet to cook something in this apartment that takes longer than 30 minutes to heat, and I don’t think I’m an anomaly here; for a lot of us, if we do have a free hour in an evening, we don’t want to spend it peeling potatoes. I’ve stopped buying foods that you have to use a knife to peel, because there are so many faster fruits and vegetables that you can put your teeth right in, including the kiwi, whose skin is tolerable if you don’t think about it too much. (Alternatively, you can chop the kiwi in half and squeeze the innards out as if it were an avocado.)
I own a coffee grinder and I have a bag of free trade coffee beans and still I go to the QFC and buy pre-ground Starbucks because the coffee grinder takes up too many steps: you have to pour in the beans, you have to push the button, you have to get the coffee grounds out and portion them into the coffee filter, and then you have to wipe coffee grounds off the countertop. You have to lift up the coffee grinder and wipe off the coffee grounds underneath. Sometimes you find coffee grounds on the floor.
Cooking becomes a series of economizations; first, you discover that you don’t need a knife to slice your banana over your cereal — the spoon you’re going to eat the cereal with works just as well — and then you realize that it’s even faster if you just rip off chunks of banana with your hands.
I tell myself I am going to not work during dinner, but if I get an email that needs answering, I answer it. The faster I get that email out of the way, the faster I get to the end of my workday — and that’s how I think about cooking now, too; it isn’t self-care, it isn’t care for others, it isn’t mastering a skill and making the most delicious parathas possible, it’s one more thing that is keeping me from getting to the end of my workday.
If I were to figure out how to change things, the first thing I would have to shift would be my workload, but that is difficult because I’m trying to earn as much money as possible to shift the second thing, which is getting myself an apartment with a kitchen. But shouldering both the breadwinner and the homemaker role — even as a single person with no children — is unending, and I wonder how much would actually change. I don’t suspect I would slice my strawberries into little fans if it were just me eating them. I don’t need to show off to myself that I can do that.
What I need is enough time in the day to make cooking feel like an adventure again — the adventure of seeing what will happen if you leave the paratha dough out overnight, or if you add flaxseed to your weekly bread recipe. Or maybe I need to follow my friends’ examples and sign up for Blue Apron, which is kind of like having a tour guide help you through your adventure by sending you a refrigerated box of prepped, pre-portioned ingredients.
Because if cooking feels like work, I’ll always devolve to the person tearing apart strawberries and bananas with her hands. I just don’t have time for any more work than that, right now.
This story is part of our food month series.