Back in primary school when we first started doing food-tech, I always looked forward to it. However, this did not mean I was a natural. If anything, it was quite the opposite. I had zero trust in myself. Every five seconds I’d be asking if my bacon looked cooked, if my dough looked right (it didn’t), and I once made a vegetable soup that quite literally looked like sick (but don’t they all?). No really, I dropped it in a Onestop and had to explain to the poor staff I hadn’t actually thrown up, whilst trying to hide how thrilled I was at not having to eat it.
Naturally, feeding myself at university was a concern.
In the first year, it was a LOT of ready meals; Pasta stir-ins; Super Noodles (because Pot Noodles are meh); Domino’s pizzas, even though that meant trekking to the bus stop as they didn’t come straight to halls for whatever stupid reason. I was too scared to use the oven for fear of either undercooking or burning my food. Thus, you can only imagine how expensive my weekly shop was. And worse, I was incredibly bored with my dinners.
In my second year, I was incredibly lucky to have some fantastic housemates and a kitchen that made my whole family envious. I actually wanted to spend time in the kitchen! The one meal I used to cook at home was a carbonara, which was an absolute hit so I knew I wasn’t completely incompetent. I just had no idea where to start. So I discovered the magic of spices and tried cooking simple pasta sauces from scratch rather than buying expensive jars.
Of course, my cooking adventures were cut short by the COVID pandemic. Sigh.
During lockdown, like many others, I spent a lot of time on TikTok. I didn’t have control over my meals at home and, to my surprise, I really missed cooking – that was how I found FoodTok, my godsend for new recipes, many directed towards students. During my hours of boredom, I found so many dinners that looked absolutely delicious and, even better, easy to cook. In my third year, I was determined to cook as many as possible.
And I did. Curries, risottos, potato bakes, pasta dishes (because some things never change). Had some friends over and cooked a pasta bake which is still raved about!
A moment of pride for me was, after having a mini anxiety attack due to a phone call, I reached towards the ASDA frozen lasagne and said “no”. Instead, I made myself spaghetti and meatballs from scratch. Not only was this absolutely delicious, but it was a welcome distraction from me dwelling in my thoughts. I no longer had any desire to eat processed food when I could make something better.
Something I used to find intensely stressful, a task that caused me more anxiety than joy, has now become incredibly therapeutic to me and one of my favourite hobbies.
When I moved out, I openly told my family I want a knife block and cooking utensils (hello slow cooker and air fryer!) so I can try even more new recipes. But, for now, I’m living at home, waiting to start my Masters degree, and I’m trying to teach my teenage sisters how to cook. Maybe then they will have a bit of a head start and skip the Pot Noodle stage…