My Year of Fast and Dirty Cooking: How I Lowered the Bar and Freed Myself

I started with a pasta dish I didn’t want to make with pasta, and a sandwich I wanted stuffed with chocolate. It’s one of my all-time favorite beginnings.

For most of my adult life, cooking and baking have been my haven and my creative outlet. I’m a sleepover person who composes meals in her head, and she has a Pinterest and 3-episode profile of favorite foods and inspiration. I’m also an incredibly tense, overextended, anxious person whose to-do list will explode in my face if I put something else on it.

In 2020, I wrote a few stories for a salon about the things I slathered together in my kitchen to get past—the appropriately named depression cake, 3-ingredient peanut butter cakes, and caramelized onions made in the slow cooker. I have written of my frustration and joy as the daily demands of family meal preparation have escalated due to the pandemic, and the ways in which cooking for me has turned into something both therapeutic and punitive. It’s resonated with readers like some of the things I’ve done in my career, and it motivated us at Salon to launch a weekly column dedicated to the kind of cooking that many of us do now – the quick and dirty kind.

I went out to breakfast recently with a friend who is a professional chef. We talked passionately and obsessively about the dishes we make, and the cookbooks we love. And even though his cultivation and skill level were higher than mine, he said something that resonated as the whole motivation for this pillar. “Everyone should know how to cook a meal,” he said.

In the same way that I’m uncoordinated and bad at math but exercise and keep on budget anyway, I also absolutely believe that everyone should know how to cook a meal. Everyone can. Life isn’t a competition and Gordon Ramsay wouldn’t smash our faces if our omelette didn’t turn out perfectly. We don’t have to be good cooks, and with every other commitment in our lives, who’s going to have the time to become anyway? But we can nourish ourselves and feed our loved ones in a way that pleases the stomach and soul. In our darkest times, that’s what sustains our lives.

Writing about food every week this year has challenged and changed me. It has made me accountable – responsible for pushing outside my comfort zone and trying new things, responsible for making sure the things I eat are good enough to tell others about. It really got me thinking about what my food looks like, not for futile Instagram perfection, but as a humble way of making a little beauty in a time that is often ugly. It also made me accept – no, cuddle – my seemingly permanently low expectations regarding my own cooking. Good enough is good enough, I’m all in.

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Writing about food has allowed me to have meaningful conversations with the people I love about the ways in which this is accomplished. You’ll be down for a highlight segment on My Life where she spoke to Nigella Lawson about the simple pleasures of browning food, with Frances Lappe on sustainability, and Eric Riper on spaghetti pomodoro. Sharing our insights and experiences, always connects us very deeply. It connects us with the entire human family, throughout the whole history, each of us only stands on top of our pots and stirs their contents.

And because everyone eats and everyone has opinions about it, that conversation also elicits strong reactions. The two most controversial topics I’ve ever written, and the two that have generated the most ruthless hate messages, are: laying hands, abortion, and pasta. I already knew that Roe v. Wade was controversial, and now I also know that if there’s any kind of pasta involved in the story, prepare for effect. Pro tip: If you use words like “cacio e pepe” or “carbonara”, even with “adapt to” in a column called “Quick & Dirty” Buckle up.

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Combined with getting a hamster and finally seeing “company” on Broadway, writing about cooking and baking—the real world, improvisational, sometimes wonderful and sometimes awkward cooking and baking and resentment many of us are trying to do here—was one of the biggest joys of the year. brutality. It has enabled me to look at cooking through the eyes of the best cookbook in the world. I would never have gotten the idea that Nadia Hussain could make the best bread pudding in the world using melted ice cream. I would never have discovered a Hetty McKinnon skillet chow mein, and now I can’t live without it. I never would have come up with the original recipes that I came up with, and now I’m like, yeah, granola candy, this is It could be my legacy. I’m certainly still a defiled pasta monster, but I’m also a more confident and knowledgable home cook, and I love it.

I know getting food on the table can be difficult, boring, and just a dull ache at the end of a day full of ache in the ass. It’s mine too. It’s work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be that hard. You don’t have to grab a pile of new cookbooks (although there are plenty of great ones) or try a new recipe every week. However, you can try more. You can try something you’ve never cooked before, or cook it if you’ve never cooked before. It’s a very low risk project, when just going to the supermarket seems very high risk. And he deserves it, really, really. Doing things with your hands is legitimately good for your brain, it makes others happy, and in the end you sometimes have something to show for your hard work. Sometimes it’s pie.

Quick and dirty recipes to try:

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