How I started cool cookin’

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One of the fondest memories I have of the last couple of years is being told by someone close to me (constantly) “Rashid…you have a very poor relationship with food.” Wait, what? Me? The pickiest eater alive? The guy who, when he remembers to eat a meal, orders everything plain has an unhealthy relationship with food? Really?

Hm.

I guess that’s an understatement if you look at my eating habits. I used to have a really bad habit of not eating anything. Not because I wanted to lose weight, I was and still am very happy with my Buddha belly. It’s not even because there was a lack of options (even though there just aren’t a lot of spots with good inexpensive food these days) but because I just plain forgot. Since the end of high school, eating was always a social activity. I’d gotten into the habit of hanging out with my friends almost every evening, and after class or after work, what would we do? Go out to eat. I’d get a phone call from one of my homeboys that went something like:

Him: Yo, whats good?
Me: Nothing, what-chu tryna get into?
Him: I dunno, but I’m outside.
Me: Aight. I’m on the way.

20 minutes later, we’d be at TGIFridays, Red Lobster, Olive Garden or Applebee’s.

Faithfully.

Religiously.

Every night was a new place with the same items on the menu. Buffalo wings, fries and a brownie with ice cream. I’m an easy guy to please. I think I may have had more variation in my drink choices than my actual diet…I was notorious mixing different juices with lemonade.

This trend continued into my first year away from home in college. You have breakfast, lunch and dinner with your friends on campus. Having an unlimited meal plan was great, because since we were all dirt poor, it was just assumed if we were gonna kick it, we’d kick it in the cafeteria. It was a ritual. It was a show. It was what you did to meet new people. I can’t tell you how many friends I made at Temple just through hanging out in the cafeteria, but that formed my habits of eating.

Even though I lived in an apartment far from campus that you had to catch a shuttle to eat, it was still a ritual. Even though my mom would come through once every two months and take me on a shopping spree in the market, there was nothing like eating in the caf, and even though that’s where some of my earlier food experiments began…a lot of that shopping spree food went bad.

Flash forward, I take a year off, move to Baltimore and get back into the habit of hanging out with my friends every night where food dominated our social activity. I got a job selling phones downtown a bit later in the year, and it was again, a ritual to find somewhere new to eat. I had maxed out the bagel place, McDonalds, the Fudgery, Legal Seafoods (which I still think was ran by the mob), and countless other places, and I didn’t know what to do.

I’d moved back to Philly with some of my new found brothers that September, and since we were all without a meal plan, there was only one logical thing to do…eat out. My best friend at the time had a fried chicken diet…which is exactly what it sounded like. He ate almost nothing but fried chicken, and since I’m in the habit of eating when and where other people eat…so did I. Though I’d alternate fried chick with potato wedges or mac & cheese, our diets were pretty much the same.

Then some thing miraculous happened. Maybe the best thing that’s ever happened to my eating career.

I was broke.

Ok, not flat broke, but I wasn’t making very much money, so eating out became less and less of an option. The problem of course, was since I wasn’t eating out with friends…I wasn’t eating at all! I remember going for days on what my brother Matthew called, “An all candy diet”. It became very  normal for me to eat a pack of twizzlers as my daily meal. I couldn’t tell you how long this lasted, but I can say it was at least a semester. Probably two.

I can’t tell you when the change happened. I was losing weight…and fast..and not healthily. I was working out with my roommates pretty consistently, and I was riding a bike as my primary mode of transportation. It made sense to start eating a little healthier…which meant…well…eating. This was back when I had a pretty decent routine going, so it was easy to get started. I’d bike to the Hollywood video once a week to rent movies, and there was a Whole Foods in the same shopping center, so I’d stop by…pick up about 20-30 bucks  worth of food which would get me through (which isn’t very much in Whole Foods, lemme tell you, lol).

I don’t remember when that changed…but I want to say it was around the time I started dating my last serious girlfriend. I was too broke for us to eat out all the time, and since she still had a meal plan, she ate lunches on her own or with friends, but the more time we spent together, the less we hung out…or went out. So, it just made sense to start cooking. I’d try simple recipes’ at first and expanded until I was eating pretty consistent home cooked meals.

I couldn’t stop.

When I found  a recipe, I had to keep making it every time I ran out of it just to make it better. To try something new. My obsessive, probably Capricorn nature kicked into hyper-drive. I just cooked, and made everyone try what I made. I didn’t make a lot of food in that span of time, but what I learned to make was solid. Once I was able to make 3 or 4 different meals, I threw them in rotation and tried something new each time.

I remember the first time I tried paprika. I still don’t know what it does, but things seem to go better with it.

Flash forward to now, and I can’t remember the last time I ate out (ok it was last week, but before that….lol). While my eating habits aren’t that amazing, I’ve grown to really really enjoying cooking for myself and other people. I think my challenge is to learn other recipies and mix and match. This blog is as much a collection of stories on how we came to find these recipies as much as it is a collection of them. Each spice in any recipie I’ve ever made as a history, and what would be the point of us sharing this without that history…right?

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