Adulthood caught me unprepared. I was yet another Millennial whose kitchen skills revolved around nuking canned soup or boiling frozen ravioli. Like my peers, I moved out of my college dormroom and signed a lease on an apartment with nothing more than one cereal bowl and a mug. My new fridge contained nothing more than whole wheat bread and sliced deli turkey meat.
As if stocking my first kitchen weren’t daunting enough, I simultaneously developed an interest in the Food Revolution movement led by Jamie Oliver. This meant the simple, artificial, low-nutrient, chemical-ridden convenience foods I had been trained to prepare no longer aligned with my goals. I was committed to whole foods, even if I had no idea how to cook them.
I tackled breakfast first. Every morning of my sophomore year, I prepared flavored instant oatmeal in my dorm room microwave. I noticed how artificial these packets tasted, not to mention the hit they took on my checking account. The tiny portions left me hungry and the fake fruit flavors made my tongue feel cheated.
Warily, I tried my hand at homemade porridge. I chose simple ingredients to mix in, like applesauce or mashed banana. My recipes lacked creativity at the time, but I mastered the basics first—adding the right amount of cinnamon, simmering the oats for the perfect amount of time, topping the final product with toasted walnuts and raisins.
Pictured above: early recipes, Dark Chocolate & Banana Oatmeal
and Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal
When you consume oatmeal every day for three years, picking up new cooking skills is inevitable. Slowly, my taste buds craved new flavors. I stewed an apple instead of just dicing it in. I acquired tastes for new spices like ginger and cardamom. I figured out which fruits complemented each other and which worked against them. I bought an apricot, rhubarb, and persimmon for the first time.
Pictured above: Persimmon & Coconut Steel-Cut Oatmeal
When I reflect on my cooking skills today, I realize how many of those tricks came from making oatmeal every day. I can multitask successfully, babysitting a simmering pot of oats while whipping together a quick berry compote to go on top.
I can make instant vegan buttermilk by curdling almond milk with apple cider vinegar.
I can combine textures, like creamy pureed mango with crunchy puffed wild rice.
I can caramelize a banana without butter or refined sugar, grill a peach until it has beautiful sear marks, roast an apricot until it bubbles and caramelizes, and puree a zucchini to make an egg replacer.
The same can be said about my dinner preparation. I started simple: homemade marinara sauce, pancakes without a mix, pureed soups from fresh veggies.
Pictured above: simple soups I made during my senior year of college, often
prepared from farmers’ market produce!
After enduring many a bland pasta dish or undercooked potato, my meals became more adventurous. I rolled out my own linguini (I didn’t own a rolling pin, and my pasta was about half an inch thick, but it was still awesome). I mastered healthy, delicious sides, like oven-roasted sweet potato fries.
I made pizza dough from scratch. I tried (meatless!) recipes that were completely different from anything I ate in my youth.
Pictured above: the most incredible pizza I’ve ever had/made – Roasted Butternut
Squash & Kale Pizza by Bev Cooks, prepared on homemade whole wheat crust
I grew my own herb garden on my balcony, allowing me to “kick up” my recipes and develop an understanding of the earth and its possibilities. I had fresh chive for potatoes, basil for homemade pesto or marinara, and mint for (ahem) mojitos. Also important. ^_^
With three years of oatmeal prep and five years of cooking under my belt, I can now assemble fresh and flavorful meals (often without a recipe) in half an hour or less. They include a variety of textures and flavors, and they’re enhanced with toppings like fresh herbs or homemade pico de gallo or sliced green onion.
P.S. Did you know my guacamole and pico are world-famous? Well, that’s what my roommate thinks anyway.
Five years later, I still credit my passion for cooking to my hero, Jamie Oliver. I would not be where I am today without his short series on ABC, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, or his helpful website, books, and FR community. The fact that he is now participating in Meatless Mondays and posting vegan recipes is the cherry on top of my diary-free sundae.
Don’t get me wrong; I have a long way to go. I still under-bake my potatoes. I still can’t make my falafel crispy. Sometimes, my oatcakes are still too runny and flat. I cannot–CANNOT–cook rice to save my life (just ask my boyfriend 🙁 ).
However, if I love every second spent in the kitchen and enjoy 95% of the meals I make, I’d say that’s a success. I wish everyone could have that same experience. My only advice: practice, practice, practice!