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

It starts with a pasta dish that I don’t want to make with pasta, and a sandwich that I want to be covered in chocolate. It’s one of my favorite starters, ever.

Cooking and baking have, for most of my adult life, been my refuge and creative outlet. I’m a mealtimer in her head, who has Pinterest AND a 3-ring binder of cross-referenced inspirations and favorites. I’m also a stressor, overexertion, and extremely anxious, my to-do list would explode if I put one more thing on it.

In 2020, I wrote a few stories for Salon about the things I did together in my kitchen to overcome – a cake with scientific name is Depression, Peanut Butter Cookies 3 ingredients, caramelized Onion done lazily in the slow cooker. I wrote about my disappointment and joy As the need for daily family meal prep increased during the pandemic, cooking transformed for me into something both therapeutic and punitive. It connected with readers like I’ve done in my career, and it prompted us at Salon to launch a weekly column devoted to the kind of cooking many of us do today – Quick and dirty cooking style.

I recently went for breakfast with a friend who is a professional chef. We talked excitedly and obsessively about the foods we were making, the cookbooks we loved. And although his level of training and skill is much higher than mine, he said something that struck me as the whole driving force for this column. “Everybody,” he said, “should know how to cook a meal.”

Just like how I suck at math but still have to exercise and keep to a budget, I also fully believe that everyone should know how to cook a meal. And everyone can. Life is not a competition and Gordon Ramsay won’t embarrass us if the omelette doesn’t turn out perfect. We don’t have to be master chefs, and with every other obligation in life, who has the time to be? But we can nourish ourselves and our loved ones, in a way that satisfies the stomach and the soul. In our darkest times, it’s what sustains us.

Writing about food every week this year has challenged and changed me. That holds me accountable – responsible for pushing outside my comfort zone and trying new things, responsible for making sure the things I eat taste good enough to tell others. It has made me really consider my food, not for the sake of Instagram nonsense perfection, but as a humble means of beautifying a little during what is often ugly. It also made me accept – now, accept – my seemingly permanently lowered expectations of my own cooking. Good enough is good enough, and I am all.

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Writing about food helps you have meaningful conversations with people I admire about how they get it done. It will go down in the highlight reel of my life that I have talked about Nigella Lawson on the simple pleasures of brown food, with Frances Lappé on Sustainability, and Eric Ripert on spaghetti pomodoro. Sharing our insights and experiences always connects us deeply. It connects us to the entire human family, where throughout history we have all stood together on our pots and stirred their contents.

And, because everyone eats and everyone has an opinion about it, that conversation also triggers strong reactions. The two most controversial topics I’ve ever written, the ones that produced the most formidable hate letter, were, hands down, abortion and pasta. I already know that Roe v. Wade was controversial, now I also know that if there is any kind of noodle involved in the story, just try to make an impact. Pro Tip: If you use words like “cacio e pepe” or “carbonara,” even when combined with “adaptation of”, in the column named “Quick & Dirty”, seatbelt.

Want more great articles and recipes? Registration Salon Food Newsletter.

Along with catching a hamster and eventually seeing “Company” on Broadway, writing about cooking and baking – real-world cooking and baking, improvised, sometimes amazing, and sometimes confusing confusing and frustrating that so many of us are trying to do here – has been one of the real great joys of a brutal year. It made it possible for me to see cooking through the eyes of the best cookbook writers in the world. I will never get the insight of Nadiya Hussain’s light bulb in a billion years baji that you can best pudding in the world with melted cream. I will never find out Hetty McKinnon’s sheet pan chow mein, and now I can’t live without it. I’ll probably never come up with the original formulas I came up with, and now I’m like, yeah, granola candy, this could be my legacy. I’m definitely still a macaron of pasta, but I’m also a more confident, experienced home cook and I love that.

I know that putting food on the table can be difficult and boring, and just a sharp pain in the butt at the end of the day is nothing more than a pain in the butt. It’s also for me. It’s the job, yes, but it’s not that difficult. You don’t have to buy a stack of new cookbooks (although there are plenty of them) or try a new recipe every week. However, you can experiment more. You can try something you’ve never cooked before, or cook if you haven’t cooked before. It’s a pretty low deposit project, at a time when just going to the supermarket feels like a very high deposit project. And it’s really worth it, it’s really, really is. Do everything with your hands is legally good for your brain, it makes other people happy, and finally, sometimes you really have something to show for all your hard work. Sometimes it’s even cake.

Quick and dirty recipes to try: My Year of Quick and Dirty Cooking: How I Lowered the Bar and Freed

Bobby Allyn

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