Motivation and breaking out

I confess. I am a lazy person. I’d rather laze around with a good book than go socialising. My bed is probably my most used and favourite furniture. When I’m in comfort zone, I don’t want to move out.

Now, I’ve been thinking. Something that got me excited enough to start breaking out of my comfort zone and do things I originally thought of as impossible, has to be pretty amazing. I’ve met several people that inspired me. And inspiration is not their goal or their purpose. Rather, that inspiration and motivation is a by-product of sharing and friendship.

What started this crazy line of thought? Well, I’m thinking about my cooking adventures. It started when I started living on my own. In my late teens, pre-university days, how do I get my meals? I eat out, make arrangements with caterer to provide meals twice a day, 5 days a week. I cook instant noodle for midnight hunger pangs and I stock bread and jam and milk. That’s what I survived on for two years.

When I started my university days, I lived on campus with communal kitchen shared by 4 floors of co-ed students. It has a microwave, stove top, hot water dispenser and cold water dispenser. I brought my trusty pot and stock up on instant noodles. Then I got a toaster. Which I added bread and cheese to the mix. Before long, I was experimenting on how to cook with minimal equipment and cheap yet not-easily perishable goods. I had no allowance, which left me dirt poor, trying to stretch $300 to last as long as possible. My bank account never went above $400 line, from the occasional times I begged money from a family member. But that’s what started my cooking adventure.

With a microwave, bottled pasta sauce and cheese, I could make a meal with relatively balanced nutrition and actually taste pretty good. I hate cooking hard-boiled eggs as much as I love them. So I popped one into the toaster over for 5 minutes. Turned out pretty good. I was eating hard-toasted eggs for 2 months. The thing is, I would never have done all of those things at home, in my mother’s kitchen. Necessity was one reason I did what I did. But there is more. It’s the perceived freedom to experiment. To make mistakes and to do things without being judged or fear of being judged. Campus life gave me a new freedom. I had so many kitchen mishaps; some funny, some scary and some dangerous. I didn’t edit myself, restrain myself by saying it’s not the proper way or it’s simply not done. And I think that is important, when I want to try new things. Do new things. It’s part of the reason why I’m such a private person who do not share most of my interests with others. And it’s even more important to me, when I find someone who, not only encourage, but inspire me to do all these crazy things. It wasn’t the parties or classes or lectures or exams that I remembered best from my campus life. It was my kitchen adventures with my fellow neighbours.

When I moved out to single, professional, fresh-grad living, it was to the ‘rental’ apartment sharing mode. With a better equipped kitchen, I went back to conventional cooking, except when it comes to rice. Well, you see, rice can’t be cooked in single meal portions. It has to be cooked, at least for 2-3 persons. And leftover rice is not nice when re-heated, spoils easily and messy to clean up. That’s when I picked up a tip from my house mate about rice (aka carbo) substitute. Mostly, bread. Stir-fried veg tastes even better with white bread. Not something you would serve to guests, but hey, as long as I can eat it, it works for me. I’ve since added potatos (toaster-baked, boiled, mashed), noodles, hashbrowns, frozen waffles and tortilla wraps.

I have since expanded my cooking skills to include lasagna, stews, soups (both western and eastern) and other. Mostly, I don’t follow recipe. It’s more of I have this in the fridge, let’s put that in. My style is partial imitation of what I observed from my mother and what I read off the ingredients list on frozen food. I wouldn’t call it Asian cooking. Nor would I call it Western. It’s more like … random convenience sort of cooking. I looked forward to it when I reached home at 9 or 10pm. It was a time to wind down and relax, a de-stressing routine, while I hum my way in the kitchen.

When I moved to another apartment, my ex-housemate left me some kitchen appliances. A rice cooker. Which I then decided to use to cook soup in. It was her idea too. She cooks all kinds of things in rice cooker and slow cooker. And they were good.

Around this time, a friend went to study in Australia. And started posting and telling me about her cooking adventures. She went traditional, cooking asian dishes that even my family do not cook at home. In fact, when we want to eat those dishes, we’d eat out and consider that a treat. I would never dream of being able to cooking those things myself. But hey, she gave me recipes and exciting looking pictures. I have the tools and ingredients. I just had to try it. Bought a blender and seriously big frying pan that doubles up as wok. I made nasi lemak, malay-style bubur, otak-otak, chicken rice, roti jala, chaikoay, lambchops … it was mind-blowing, when I stop to think about it. These things that I thought were impossible, turned out to be quite easy and simple. They were not perfect, some were utter failures at the first few attempts and probably most, I can’t serve to guests … but damn, they were good enough for someone homesick for some local taste. They do wonders to my personal self-esteem.

Finally, there is one more source my sudden motivation to break out. I’d been watching Iron Chef (Japan) on youtube recently. And as I watched them experiment and trying out new ideas, I thought … it can’t be that bad. They were pretty much doing what my friends and I do everyday. Use part of their experience, learned skill, observe others’ techniques and ideas. Absorb, assimilate, and transform. It was good healthy fun.

So, just have fun and ‘allez cuisine!’

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