Over the last two years, I’ve learned a lot about cooking, become a much better cook, and even purchased my first cookbook (I know, very adult of me – I think so too). But before living on my own, I was an absolute terrible cook. My mom is a fantastic cook, so it doesn’t really make sense why I’m so terrible, but for some reason, the whole “cooking instinct” gene just wasn’t really passed down to me. For a while, it was so bad that I would even ruin specific recipes, and my mom would have to watch me the entire time to make sure that I didn’t accidentally screw something up.
Luckily for me, I’m not the worst cook in the family (shout-out to my little brother who somehow managed to ruin boxed macaroni and cheese four different ways). With that said, my family will never forget the time that I ruined the sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving four years ago. To be completely fair, it is a long recipe (it involves: peeling, chopping, boiling, mashing, baking, and garnishing), and it’s a recipe that my mother just has notes jotted down for, so there’s no actual full-length recipe.
Most Thanksgivings, I’m in charge of the exact same three dishes that I’ve always made so that they’re sure that I won’t screw anything up, but at 16, my mother decided that I could contribute more for once and make the sweet potatoes. I should also probably mention that I’d only ever peeled regular potatoes; I’d never been trusted with the actual cooking or mashing of potatoes, so it was really a very foreign vegetable to me.
After peeling the sweet potatoes, my mother told me to boil them so that we could mash them in a dish before throwing them in the oven to bake. Okay, that seemed easy enough. I peeled the sweet potatoes, filled a large pot full of water, and dropped the five sweet potatoes into the water. My mom informed me that sweet potatoes are harder than regular potatoes, so they’ll probably take a little bit longer to soften. Every 5-10 minutes, I stuck a fork into the pot and checked the potatoes. Unfortunately, after 45 minutes, they were still solid rocks, and at this point, I was completely panicking.
“Mooommmmm, the potatoes are still super hard! The fork barely goes into them!”
“How long have they been boiling?”
“I don’t know, like 45 minutes?”
“What?! How are they still solid?! Are you sure they’re boiling?! Let me check!”
At that point, my mother stuck a fork into the large pot of boiling water, pulled out an entire potato, and realized that I had put five whole sweet potatoes into the pot without chopping them. It was then – while she pulled each potato out, chopped it, and lectured me – that I learned that potatoes must be chopped into small squares in order for them to soften enough to mash (otherwise, they just disintegrate in the water and never soften, in case you’ve never tested it). It was then that I also learned I am the least observant person to ever enter a kitchen.
Today, I sat and thought about the career that I have ahead of me, and in a lot of ways, it reminds me of my first experience cooking sweet potatoes. When I was 16, I had a list in front of me telling me to boil sweet potatoes, then mash them, then bake them. Now, I feel like I have a list that says, “get experience, try new things, take chances.” Even though I so desperately wish I knew where life was taking me, I still don’t have an exact recipe for what’s going to happen. In fact, I don’t even know what’s going to happen next week, much less next year.
It’s four years later and sweet potatoes are one of my favorite vegetables to cook; in fact, I know how to cook them in about five different ways (I told you – I’ve really come a long, long way). I sure hope that in four years I can say that my career has come as far as my cooking abilities, but for now, I’ll just keeping taking chances and praying that my mom doesn’t have to bail me out every time.