Most of my adult life, I wasn’t much of a cook. I didn’t really have to be. During college, I got food to-go at the dining hall or café. When I finally began cooking dinner for myself after college, I was a vegan, so I kept it pretty simple with salads, vegetables, or already-cooked vegan proteins like Morning Star burgers (yum). I never bought or cooked meat and wasn’t keen on recipes that I considered “complicated” (anything that took longer than 10 minutes).
Note: I’m the bomb at baking, though. I make a mean pumpkin muffin.
I never cooked for my husband, either, because he worked overnight as a chemist before joining the Army. He would eat eggs and toast at 6 pm, and would take George Foreman chicken and peas to work in tupperware containers for a 3 am meal. Predictable. If we did eat dinner at the same time, we’d choose from one of the endless options for Columbus take-out: Indian, Thai, Chipotle, Mexican, Asian, and the list goes on. When I started working at Whole Foods, my desire to cook was lessened even more. Why bother cooking when I could get amazing prepared food on my break? It was much more economical to buy small meals than to buy ingredients that I would probably end up wasting anyway. It’s shockingly hard to cook for one person!
So, it was a little weird moving here, where I can’t get Chipotle or Whole Foods mac and cheese. There’s a Burger King in the PX, but let’s be honest… yuck. We can get pizza, German food, and some Turkish food delivered to our door from a local restaurant in Hohenfels called the Golden Adler (Golden Eagle). It’s the only delivery option for us, and it’s pretty good food, but it costs €20-25 for the both of us, and even more if we get the hearty Turkish entrees. For take-out, there is a great place in Parsberg called Stella’s that serves Italian, Indian, Thai, and German food. The pizza is fantastic and we like to treat ourselves once in a while (usually after a long run for some carb replenishment!)
Unfortunately, we can’t afford to order pizza every night. So, I had to learn a new skill.
It was kind of a daunting idea at first. Cook dinner every night? From scratch? With ingredients? I’ll admit I didn’t even know what to get at the grocery store. It took a lot of googling and meal planning, and my husband let me take the reins on this one. Luckily, I have the freedom to practice every night. And you know what? Cooking isn’t so bad.
I’ve experimented with all different kinds of meals–from homemade pasta sauce, to Thai coconut curry, to roasted honey-glazed sweet potatoes, to spicy peanut sauce–and the results have been surprisingly good.
The German grocery stores sell just about everything I could wish for, and I’m always able to find deals. One of my favorite places is Aldi. I can get bulk packages of fruits and veggies, often organic, for super cheap. Honestly, I wouldn’t even consider buying produce, or anything perishable–like dairy or meat–from an Aldi in the U.S. Here in Germany, it’s so much better. They’ve got a great selection of European cheese (love me some Brie), quality meat, and fresh bread. Not to mention all that fancy Italian wine that never exceeds €4.
One of the biggest hurdles was learning how to cook meat. Until a few months ago, I didn’t know how to pick meat at the store, and I certainly had no idea how to prepare it. I’ve always had an inherent “yuck factor” any time I thought about touching raw chicken. Let’s just say I was way too concerned about undercooking meat and getting a parasite (sad, but true). The first couple times I made chicken I overcooked it until it turned into Gandhi’s flip-flop. Gordon Ramsay would definitely not approve.
With persistence and practice, I’ve managed to master several methods for cooking chicken. I’m even starting to venture into beef and pork territory, and I’d better get comfortable if I live in Germany because pork is super popular. I have to say, squishing raw ground meat with your hands isn’t the most attractive feeling in the world, but the results are worth it.
Another struggle was figuring out the best ways to keep fresh herbs, mostly parsley, cilantro, and basil. I’m absolutely obsessed with basil, and I find an excuse to put it in everything. We were buying it from the commissary (American grocery store on post) for a while, but that was a very bad life decision. We were replacing moldy basil every two days. Now we get fresh Basil at Rewe (higher-end German grocery store) and keep it growing by our kitchen window.
I consider myself a researcher and an independent problem solver. I’m far more likely to use trial and error than to directly ask people for help. It can sometimes be disadvantageous to go about life that way, but I’ve always felt that I learn more by taking the slow, investigative route–especially when it comes to cooking. I could look up recipes and follow them by the book if I wanted to save time, but I think that would make me less of a cook and more of a really good direction-follower.
There are times when I give up and sit on the couch with a cup of Easy Mac, but little by little, I’m getting there.