Zoe Binder is a sophomore English and environmental studies double major.
As we begin our ninth month in quarantine by continuing to attend online classes and spend too much of our time glued to our screens, many of us are still constantly adjusting our routines to accommodate the virtual world in which we are now working. For many, this switch has caused enormous amounts of stress and frequent periods of burnout. While keeping up with our online classes should be our main priority, it is crucial we maintain a balance between our virtual and real lives. Personally, I found I best detach myself from work through cooking.
In May, I decided to spontaneously try a brownie recipe that my grandma sent to me. She has a hard-won reputation as the best cook in the family, so I knew the brownies would be delightful. Following the recipe closely — because, unlike my grandma, I am not known for my baking skills — I carefully measured the ingredients and went step by step. As I went through, I noticed one major ingredient that elevated these brownies over others I had made in the past: over-ripe bananas for extra sweetness. Needless to say, they turned out perfectly fudgy and rich, and this has become my go-to recipe.
From then on, I began experimenting with all kinds of recipes from my family’s old cookbooks, and with millions of recipes online. I started out with dishes I knew I would not mess up, like simple pasta or rice recipes. The more I cooked, though, the more I realized that taking liberties with ingredients tunes your natural instincts for flavor combinations. I started being able to recognize which spices were appropriate for meals without having to refer to any guidelines. I also began to understand the importance of balancing textures, flavors, and food groups. For example, the creaminess of an avocado blends beautifully with a pinch of chili flakes and salt, but a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a teaspoon of sugar brings out its natural sweetness and makes for a delicious snack for a sweet tooth. Cooking has become my favorite creative outlet over the past few months and has made me happier than most other pastimes I enjoyed before.
Though my cooking skills have improved tremendously over the course of the pandemic, there are still times that I seriously butcher a recipe. On Halloween this year, I wanted to share some festive spirit with my neighbor by making her spooky treats. I had seen a recipe for pumpkin spice cookies in a magazine and was certain they would be easy to master. A couple of pounds of ingredients and an hour later, I had proven myself very wrong. Sometimes, a good recipe does not ensure a good outcome — the success of it depends on where you are sourcing your ingredients from, and the specifics of each ingredient’s consistency. In my case, the brown sugar I used was not granulated enough, causing just the upper crust of the cookies to bake, and leaving raw dough underneath.
Breaking away from our school work can be hard when all of our responsibilities are constantly beckoning us. One thing we certainly cannot deny, though, is an empty stomach. Now, whenever I am hungry, I make an effort to treat my snack or meal as a fun break. I turn on some of my favorite music, line the ingredients up, and start creating. The best part is that cooking is a double win: the creative process allows our minds to relax for a short time so we can indulge in a satisfying dish. For an even more rewarding experience, share your creation with your family or roommates!