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Have I ever really helped anybody but myself? To believe in the power of songs. To believe in the power of girls. Though the point we’re making is gone, played stripped down to my bone.
I’ll shut up and carry on. A scream becomes a yawn.
You asked “Can we keep her?”
I said “What kind of man would I be?”
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I wrote this for normal people who want to go to Coachella. Not starlets who are rolling VIP and whose sole involvement in the festival is watching the headliner from backstage while swilling a vodka cran and texting. Not party people who never leave their Palm Springs hotels. This is for the music fan who is probably a little bit sensible. The one who’s a little bit anxious. Maybe you’re in college and have always wanted to go. Maybe you went a few years ago. Hell, maybe your kids want to go and you want to take them. You want to see some good music and have a kick-ass experience, but you don’t know how you’re going to survive or what it’s going to be like.
I’m 28 with a full-time job and grownup responsibilities. 2013 will be my 8th Coachella. My way ain’t for everyone - some people drop E at 9:00 am and spend the day dancing in the Sahara. I’ve been neighbors with those people. They’re great, but that is just not who I am. I want to see great music, make friends, have stories to tall - and I want to remember it. This is how I’ve made it work for 7 years.
I carry a Ziploc bag with some essentials – sunscreen, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, Advil, moleskins, baby powder, and mini TPs. Those mini TPs are a godsend if you can find them (look in the travel section of Target or a drugstore). Just knowing that you’re always covered regardless of what porta potty you step into is awesome.
You need a towel. YOU NEED A TOWEL. You can sit on it, dip it in water, dry off your hands, use it as a blanket or pillow - the options are endless.
Keep applying sunscreen throughout the day. You know that already.
Finally, be good to yourself. There will be some times when you’re so exhausted that you just want to sit down with a frozen lemonade and not move for a couple of hours. You might feel pathetic, but let yourself do that if it’ll help you feel better. Coachella isn’t the time to have a mentality about what you “should” be doing.
*Unless you’re missing the Postal Service. In which case, you monster. Stand up and power through it.
Coachella is uncomfortable for everyone. Maybe not for the people who show up at night wearing black leather. But everyone who shows up while the sun is out will be uncomfortable.
Your best bet is to wear something breathable, lightweight, and light in color. In real life I favor black, red, and brown, but in real life I also don’t have the sun beating down on me for 14 hours. A long dress is ideal because you can move freely in it, and it’ll keep your legs covered when you sit down cross-legged. I’ve also worn gym shorts and graphic tees or tanks. Shoe-wise, some people swear by flip flops but I tend to go for sneakers (double up on socks or use insoles for extra support) or ankle boots.
One thing that the dudes have been doing for years is wearing a bandana around the neck. I’ve finally seen ladies starting to do the same, and it’s a lifesaver. You can and should soak the bandana in water as much as possible to keep your neck cool and protected from the sun.
A hat is another no-brainer. Do it and you’ll have shade wherever you go.
On the purse front, scholars have debated about this for years. At normal shows, I carry only the necessary items in my pockets, bra, or boyfriend’s pocket. However, this is Coachella where I’m some sick hybrid of Inspector Gadget, MacGyver, and Mary Poppins. I’ve previously mentioned the big Ziploc full of supplies. Add to that a wallet, cell phone, camera, and bottle of water, and that’s definitely more than you can haul on your person without the aid of a bag. I usually rock a huge bag that I should have thrown out years ago but save exclusively for Coachella each year. It’s not super comfortable, but I like having all of my creature comforts at my side each day.
There’s also the option of renting a locker if you can get to it before they sell out. Plenty of people swear by this, though I’ve never done it myself. If you’re buying a lot of merch, or will want a sweater for later in the evening, you should do this.
FOOD AND DRINK
It helps to have a plan. When you’re on the field with a dizzying array of entertainment options in front of you, you can easily forget to eat in all the excitement (or worse, realize mid-set that you are going to die instantly if you don’t get food immediately). Plan meal breaks during set changes or when there’s nothing else going on.
Coachella has a myriad of food options and there will be something for everyone. I am a fan of lean protein with carbs, like Mediterranean wraps or teriyaki bowls. I love Spicy Pie and never have a bad reaction to it, but I can’t in good conscience “recommend” that anyone else eat it. Oh, and for breakfast one day last year my boyfriend had some sort of bowl concoction with bacon, potatoes, eggs, and god knows what else. Yikes. Ordering that while drunk in the Jack in the Box drive-thru I could see, but at a festival in 100 degree heat? Didn’t seem smart to me.
You should drink as much water as possible throughout the day, multiple bottles if you’re marathoning several sets in a row. Frozen lemonade and date shakes should be purchased in the afternoon when the sun is at its most merciless. Finally, never purchase only one bottle of water at a time. Get two, just in case.
I’m not going to get into this here, since there’s no way I could cover everything you need to know. The Camping section of the messageboard is a great place to get information and ask questions. As a camping veteran, the only words of wisdom I have are to bring shade. Seriously, you cannot go without some sort of EZ-up.
Take advantage of the things that are available to you. On Day 1, do a walk-through and be aware of every shaded space, cool down zone, and corporate tent. Know where the bathrooms, beer gardens, and charging stations are. I’ve seen tons of people crowded around charging stations when next door, one of the air-conditioned corporate tents had their own charging area which no one knew about.
Don’t be a jerk. Most people at Coachella are really cool. Don’t mess it up.
Re substances, PLEASE don’t pick Coachella as your first time to try a drug. Know your limits and don’t overdo it. You want to remember the experience, right?
Try to have a good attitude. In the days before Coachella, you might have a sense of anxiety. Just trust me that once you get there, the good vibes will wash over you and you’ll be filled with excitement. Some stretches of time will pass and you may feel bored, exhausted, or overheated for parts of it, but I promise you that on Sunday night as you exit in the crush of people, you’ll be so sad it’s over and you’ll miss it so much.
2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013
You got a soul - use it.
You know what I mean.
Ate at Masa and went to Portlandia Live at the Echo.
Went to Savannah, GA on business, got stuck in DFW for 6 hours, and ended up at a converted-garage breakfast place the next morning, making the whole thing worth it. Ate filet, malbec, calamari, crème brulee, had a Mudslide while staring at the river. Accidentally blasted Katy Perry’s “Firework” to a crowd of 300.
Saw A Silver Mount Zion (welcome to 2004!) and ate at a restaurant whose name I forgot until I looked it up just now. Mercato Di Vetro. Soooo trendy and overpriced. Not my thing.
Went to a stop on a book tour in Pasadena, ate vegan cupcakes.
Went to Palate in Glendale for Valentine’s Day.
Celebrated my 27th birthday with a week of parties, including a decadent weekend in Vegas. Won $350 at a slot machine, saw the Neon Boneyard, ate foie and shortrib.
Saw Wye Oak, went to CoLAboration LA at the Belasco Theatre and an Oscar party at Dana’s.
Went “somewhere” that had dancing ladies and cried (no joke) when it was time to leave. Saw Clueless at the Echo (UniqueLA) and had a Kir Royale for the first time.
Finished Mad Men and made old fashioneds for the premiere.
Went to a bachelorette party at the race track, wore a huge hat, drank a ton of beer and gambled.
Planned a surprise party for my coworker at Vino Wine Bar in Encino. We got the back patio. 30 people showed up and about 10 of us stayed until the end of the night, after they’d turned off the fire pit. Went to the Watts Towers; got burgers in the ghetto.
Went to Coachella for the 7th time! Camped, shot Captain with our neighbors, made friends with everyone and sweated way too much. Drove back on Monday morning exhausted, but stopped at Morongo for a hot breakfast and flush toilet.
Helped throw a huge work party, took the Expo Line to First Fridays at the Natural History Museum (Father John Misty), danced at my friend’s wedding, had tacos and cupcakes at Barnsdall Art Park, took the red line to Blue Cow and the Walt Disney Concert Hall for Death Cab and Youth Lagoon. That was all one weekend.
My boyfriend graduated! Took the train to the ceremony at the Shrine with his folks, then ate at Mas Malo.
Saw the first Cinespia screening of the year – Strangers on a Train. Made a great picnic. We actually did that several times throughout the summer: Strangers on a Train, Sabrina (I fell asleep), Bringing Up Baby, Terminator, Dirty Dancing. All of which it was just the two of us except for Dirty Dancing, when one of our couple friends joined us and we shared wine on the lawn.
Saw two female friends at the Thirsty Crow in Silver Lake and then saw a male friend’s band at the Silver Lake Lounge. Went to Two Boots afterwards.
Got an apartment that was pretty much exactly what we were looking for. Had a whirlwind move-in experience. All new furniture. Next time will be easier.
Saw the Beach Boys at the Bowl.
Celebrated our one-year at Verdugo Bar, where we first met, then on the actual day went to dinner at Cliff’s Edge.
Got last-minute tickets to Jenny Lewis, where Ben Gibbard came out and they played an acoustic version of The District Sleeps Alone Tonight. Saw the Avett Brothers at Nokia, saw Rob Delaney at the Improv and saw Voltaggio walking across the street to Ink, where we ate a meal so amazing I said “What have I done so right in my life to deserve this meal?” Went to a beer dinner at the neighborhood gastropub.
Saw Beach House at the El Rey, went to Tony’s for beer, sausages, and pool on 4th of July. Watched “Shut Up and Play the Hits” and went to the Rose Bowl for our 2nd Street Food Fest.
Finished Breaking Bad.
Went to San Francisco on a sunny July weekend. Took a food tour of the Ferry Building, took the ferry to Oakland, went to SF MOMA and ate a ton of food.
Had a housewarming party, went to the Craft Beer Crawl (our second.)
Got a dog, named him Scooter.
Went to the LA Times The Taste, one of the best food events I’ve attended. Went to the Book of Mormon. Saw My Morning Jacket and Aziz Ansari (separately).
Went to the Bowl two nights in a row (Sound of Music and Animal Collective). Went to a Dodger game, saw Wilco and Joanna Newsom (at the Bowl).
Went to the Chinese wedding of a friend I know from musical theater in junior high, ate a ton of food without knowing what it was. Saw Grizzly Bear at the Greek. Saw Miranda July at UCLA.
Went on a roadtrip for a week. Ate BBQ in North Carolina and shrimp and grits in Charleston. Got drunk 33 stories up in a Charlotte loft. Had champagne cocktails on a rooftop bar in Asheville. Listened to Blue Ridge Mountains while in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Hiked in North Carolina and stared at the Atlantic in South Carolina.
Helped my sister pick out a wedding dress, saw Dark Dark Dark, saw my friend’s band play Taix, went to ukulele class, went to a bar I’d been missing. Went to Disneyland.
Got my BF super drunk for his 30th birthday. Went to Temecula for a long weekend.
Celebrated the holidays, met up with friends who were in town. Spent NYE sick on the couch. It happens!
In addition, I started cooking every night (most nights), hiked, watched movies, played Scrabble, met friends for dinner, bowled, ate and drank at new places, played pool, explored neighborhoods, went to museums, went swimming, read books, heard so much new music, wrote every week, and flossed every night.
Woke up every morning with much to be thankful for.
You know the Bechdel test, right? (This is relevant, I promise.) The test of whether a movie has two women who speak to each other about something besides a man? There are TONS of great movies that fail the Bechdel test and are still worth watching, some of them with feminist themes. When we talk about the Bechdel test, we’re not usually trying to decide whether or not an individual movie is feminist, we’re looking at an aggregate trend that is *overall* problematic.
I think it’s the same here. There’s nothing wrong with an individual choosing to take her husband’s name for her own personal reasons. But it IS worth talking about when suddenly every woman you know changes her name on Facebook the next day (I’ve been watching this happen for the last two years). It’s an aggregate trend that I think we have to interrogate. It’s not about judging individual choices, it’s about thinking big picture about whether certain trends or effects indicate trouble.
Jezebel commenter BlueJeans put it perfectly. When my boyfriend and I talk about this stuff, and I point to the fact that every one of my Facebook friends except ONE has changed her name, he says “[Your Facebook friends who changed their name] are just traditional.” But it can’t possibly be that every single woman I’m Facebook friends with (with literally one exception) is that traditional. It has to be bigger than that.
No one’s asking me to marry them, for the record. It’s still something I think about. Right now, we hyphenate the dog’s name. It’s a start.
Sunday I caught a Southwest flight to Atlanta, direct nonstop. Haven’t flown one of those (for a cross-country flight) in a while. It was pushed back an hour and so far that’s the least catastrophic flight of the 4 I’ve been on this year.
Once I landed in Atlanta, I grabbed my bag, got on the “Plane Train”, and took a tram to the rental car area. $400 to rent a car for a week doesn’t seem that bad to me (different pickup/dropoff locations). I selected a red one with what I thought was a Georgia license plate, but was actually Florida. And then I drove to John’s Creek with the aid of my parent’s GPS. I arrived at the house and have never been so glad to have a piece of Papa John’s pizza. Then we went to sleep in incredibly uncomfortable twin beds.
Monday we woke up and I chatted with Cagney’s aunt and their Georgia dog, Tali. The house was beautiful but we had places to be, so we headed out on the road towards Asheville. I was eager to stop at Cracker Barrel, since it had been so long since I’d been there. It didn’t disappoint. We got back on the road, passing through tiny hickish towns and finally crossing the border and seeing some insane foliage. We were happy with the hotel and relaxed for a moment, then changed to go into town. We parked and stopped in a bar called Sazerac, which had a nice view from the roof and cocktails that were discounted because… well, I’m not sure why, actually, but I took it. We had a dinner reservation at Limones which ended up being really great. Plantains and guacamole, kale-squash enchiladas, blood orange margaritas, churros. It was a leisurely meal and things were sleepy when we left, so we headed back to the hotel after stopping at CVS.
Tuesday we got up in time for free breakfast, then made our way to the Biltmore Estate. As suspected, we were the youngest people there but we basked in the beauty of the scenery. We sprung for the audio tour which was really useful. After over an hour, we were done touring the house in all its splendor. We headed to the Library Lounge, which was your run of the mill hotel restaurant, only with gorgeous views. And the club sandwich was great. Lunch was done late, and we headed over to the winery for free wine tasting. Then I sat outside while Cagney went into another exhibit. I listened to a guy playing Heart of Gold and missed my boyfriend. A little later, as the sun got lower, we headed back to the hotel and then went out to Luella’s for BBQ. Pulled pork sandwiches, hush puppies, and local Asheville beer were great before heading to Sky Bar on top of the Flatiron Building. A young elevator operator warned us that they were 15 minutes away from last call (at 8:45 pm?!) but they were happy to serve us. Hendrick’s gin, strawberry puree, and champagne. We sipped cocktails and looked at the city below, and jazz played and I looked at the couple huddling by the fire and missed my boyfriend again. When it got to be a little later, we went to Lexington Ave Brewery and had peanut butter pie with an old fashioned.
Wednesday we were on a schedule. Somehow, we made it out of the hotel by 9:30, and headed to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Playing “Blue Ridge Mountains” while on the Blue Ridge Mountains is pretty incredible. The scenery was to die and we ended up at the Craggy Gardens visitor center, where a short hike led the beautiful views. I was bummed we didn’t have more time to explore, but we had to keep moving. We got back on the road, stopping at a Chick-Fil-A in Spartanburg, SC, before reaching Charleston. The word “balmy” was invented for them. We got ready and walked to dinner at Slightly North of Broad, where I had the most expensive meal consumed on the trip and probably one of the top 5 meals I’ve ever had, period. Nothing fancy - just bruschetta with burrata and heirloom tomatoes, 2 dirty martinis, and an expertly cooked pork chop with a mustard/balsamic glaze. We finished by ordering our own separate desserts (crème brulee for me, apple crisp for her) and then strolling over to the Gin Joint, a place I picked by the name alone. We sat on the front patio and watched drunk olds stumble out of Magnolia’s across the street. When it was late, we went back.
Thursday was the first and only day of the trip that we didn’t have any time concerns. We partook in the Hampton’s free breakfast, which was a pretty good spread, and then hung around our hotel room. At around 1:30 we left for Southend Brewery, where we were starting a food tour. We sat with the woman whose husband runs the company, and her affable aunt and uncle who retired young. We started with she-crab soup, shrimp and grits, and pulled pork. Then we headed to Leaf for grilled Cesar salad, smoked salmon, and steak and frites. Then some Italian place for caprese, soup, and mushroom ravioli. Finally, mercifully, it was time for dessert - we sat with a New York couple who had flown to Charleston the day before, were getting on a train to Savannah, then another train to DC, then home to NY for work on Monday. It was Thursday. The girl and I had bourbon pecan pie; the guy and my friend had the brownie. After we were done, we walked around for a little bit and got our tickets for the Preservation Society Home tour. ONCE AGAIN, we were the youngest people there by 30 years. But it didn’t matter. Some of the homes looked straight out of the 1700s - some looked updated and modern. When on the roof of one place, I said “What have I done so wrong in my life that I don’t have a place like this?” That’s why I stay away from design blogs - I covet too easily. The tour of 8 houses took surprisingly long, and we walked back weary and exhausted. Luckily, that night’s dinner spot was next door to the hotel. 39 Rue de Jean. Looked like every trendy place I go to in LA (reminded me of The Gorbals specifically) but it had a great bar and delicious food. The whole night had a “last night of vacation” feel to it, even though it technically wasn’t. We fell asleep easily.
Friday we got breakfast and checked out. We had to go to Charlotte, but we decided that there was no point in rushing to Charlotte just to sit around in some loft. We strolled the streets, hopping into vintage stores we’d passed the previous day, and wandered through City Market. Every city needs a touristy craft/food market. I’ve been to them in Boston, New Orleans, Portland, and San Francisco, and I love them all. We ended up sitting and staring at the water. I wished I’d had more time - it was gorgeous. Just google “lowcountry” if you’re curious. When we were done, we went to Lowcountry Bistro which seemed sort of touristy but in fact was delicious. The most expensive thing on the menu ($16) was chicken and waffles, with bourbon syrup. Yuuuuum. When we were done, it was around 2:00 and we headed back to the car and got on the road toward Charlotte. It was an easy drive that included a South Carolina truck stop, which was everything I’d hoped a South Carolina truck stop would be. We got to Charlotte and went to Karen’s loft - Karen is a girl Cagney’s sister went to college with - and it was beautiful and on the 33rd floor. We wandered the streets, feeling an acute sense of “this is the last night of vacation.” It was windy and the air was abuzz, and we ended up at some Universal Citywalk-esque place and got a table at a joint called the Blackfinn, which is a crappy chain with altogether not-crappy food. Blackened chicken alfredo. Haha. After that, I Yelped a place to go for drinks called Belfast Mills, in Charlotte’s “French Quarter” which appeared to be an alley. The place only had four taps, but was quiet and inviting. A little after 11, we went back to Karen’s and had wine, cookies, and girl talk. It was a perfect way to end the trip, and we both slept great.
Saturday we went to breakfast at a place called Harvest Moon, where I finally indulged in a real, fattening breakfast (not oatmeal). When we were done, we didn’t have much to do except wander back to the loft and get all our stuff together. We got gas (and pawned off the remainder of our water bottles to friendly Southerners who happened to be there). At the airport I was downright giddy at the prospect of returning home, and it was the most fun I’ve had in an airport in recent memory. Both flights home were as pleasant as 3-hour flights can be, and when we finally landed, my boo picked us up and whisked me home where I had many surprises waiting for me.
I have HBO. I have a dog who sometimes doesn’t behave when we’re away but is damn adorable. I have a boyfriend who I live with in a nice apartment. The apartment is walking distance from the subway, bars, and restaurants.
On Sundays we plan the menu for the week, then go to the grocery store. We like trying new recipes. As it gets colder I’ve started scheming about different cold-weather dinners to make, like chili and soup. Not to mention fall-flavored cupcakes and cocktails.
I have a job I find satisfying, with talented and cool coworkers. I have a boss who I respect immensely and who values my work. I know about an airport hotel around the corner which has the greatest bar inside, modeled after a bar in China. I go there after work with coworkers. The staff knows us.
I make a living planning events, something I would be doing anyway if I didn’t get paid for it. Planning gets me off. I am the social director around here - whether it’s inviting a coworker for drinks at the aforementioned bar, or 10 people to an outdoor movie screening, or 35 people to a housewarming party, I do it. I did all that this summer. I’m much more domestic these days (having a dog, Netflix, and a boyfriend will do that to you) but I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of going out and having fun. And when I can make fun happen for other people - that’s the best.
I also like to plan trips. In 2 weeks I’m going on a road trip with my best friend. We’re meeting up in Atlanta and driving through the Carolinas. I’m extremely excited, but nervous; I’ve never been on a proper road trip. Always wanted to, though. I try doing the things I want to do. I have visions of us being a couple of vagabonds, singing our way through the Blue Ridge Mountains, but we’ll probably be very comfortable and well-fed most of the time. I just want to live it as hard as I can.
I have a travel buddy in my boyfriend. We travel well together. I will admit that he takes longer in airport security than I’d like, but that’s about my only gripe. I haven’t thrown his boarding pass on the ground in anger before storming off to Auntie Anne’s Pretzels yet, so that bodes well. I would be going on this trip with him, but he doesn’t have any paid vacation time yet, and I have a ton. I would always rather travel with him, of course, but that not being a possibility this time around - what was I going to do? Take the time off and have a solo “staycation” which would really just amount to a week of staying at home with the dog, watching TV, eating bad food, and feeling oppressive loneliness? No thanks. I was kicking around going to Panama, which would have kick-started my re-learning Spanish like I’ve been claiming I want to do for years. Then I texted my best friend to see if she’d want to go anywhere. She responded that she was already going to Atlanta for a wedding and I said, Hey, perfect, why don’t I join you. It worked out great because planning, as noted above, gets me off. Going on Trip Advisor to look up hotel reviews is my idea of fun. She couldn’t be more the opposite, so it’s been really easy to just text her and say “This is the plan.”
My boyfriend is a planner like me and on the three vacations we’ve been on in our mere year and four months together (Portland, Vegas, SF, not counting overnighters to San Diego and Mountain View to see concerts), he has played a big role in the planning process. Maybe he’s even been more into it than me? He hasn’t really been many places. Hawaii a few times (on his parents’ dime) and random family vacations to Wyoming and Florida. Almost no independent travel on his own until we got together. As an adult, I’ve sent myself to Nashville, Texas, New Orleans, Seattle, Vegas, Portland, SF a few times. I’ve also traveled to San Antonio, Minneapolis, and Savannah for work. My parents paid for high school choir tours, multiple trips to and from Boston when I was in school, and more dance-related vacations to Ireland, Philly, Ottawa/Montreal. I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s a nice start.
Places we talk about going are Napa, Mexico (on a cruise through the Riviera), Chicago, and a Mediterranean cruise. On a more concrete note, though, we are planning some sort of local getaway for his upcoming 30th birthday (possibly Temecula, Santa Barbara, or Los Olivos), and another Vegas jaunt for my slightly further-away 28th birthday in February. Though to be honest, I’ve been missing Vegas like crazy but I don’t know if it’s just that our first trip there was so amazing and I’m trying to re-live it.
A couple months after my birthday is Coachella. We already have our tickets on layaway and a reservation at Indio’s finest Motel 6. This will be my 8th year. His 4th. Our 2nd together.
My sister is getting married next summer. I am the maid of honor, so I get to throw a bachelorette party. I have been saying that I’m really excited, but I recently found out that some of the girls are under 21 so I have to throw an alcohol-free bachelorette. This crosses of my front-runner idea (wine tasting) but I have backups: dinner at a fancy restaurant, Cirque du Soilel Iris, the shooting range. Will keep you posted.
And that’s my life now, more or less.
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I grew up eating three squares a day (except for breakfast, because I was never hungry for breakfast until I was in high school or so.) My mom was the domestic type, so she cooked most nights. We had pizza or fast food occasionally but most of the time, it was mom’s cooking. And this was before the internet/taking pictures of everything you cook, so meals tended to be basic. Lots of baked chicken, lots of grilled meats. After the 1994 Northridge earthquake, my parents discovered the joy of salad in a bag, which meant a lot of iceberg lettuce salads. I was an insanely picky child so I didn’t like dressing. I choked down plain iceberg lettuce, which horrifies me now.
In 7th grade one of the elective classes was “Foods.” It was only a quarter long, but it provided some solace during the confusing, horrible time that is junior high. I liked the teacher and it turned out I liked cooking, so I enrolled in the yearlong “Creative Cookery” elective for 8th grade. 8th grade is somehow even more awful than 7th, and the teacher went through some major life changes that made her a holy terror, but a love of cooking had been instilled in me. That’s how I went through the next 13 years claiming that I liked to cook even though I barely picked up a skillet.
At 16 I went on a trip to Boston and Washington DC which jolted me out of my awkward/surly teen years. I began to eat salad. I tried escargot and chilled strawberry soup on a cruise ship. At 19, I visited my uncle in San Francisco and started noticing the food. Butternut squash ravioli. Burritos with avocado. My first exposure to aguas frescas. When I moved to Boston at 21, my grocery budget each week was around $20 for some yogurt, granola bars, boxed rice, kettle chips, soda and french bread pizzas. I had a bagel or two every single day. When I moved out of my parent’s house for good (knock on wood), I got whatever I wanted from Trader Joes but, more often than not, ate pizza and In N Out for dinner.
At 24 I spectacularly failed at making ravioli (with pre-packaged wonton wrappers!) and ended up ordering Round Table pizza.
At 26, on a first date with a guy, I mentioned that I didn’t really go to restaurants. On our next date we went to a hipster sausage place where I had spicy mustard for the first time. A month later we ate sea urchin tostadas. He took me to a lot of great restaurants. I ate foie gras, pork belly, and lamb for the first time. On my birthday we went to a steakhouse in Vegas where I ordered short rib. We talked all the time about how we should cook, but we just kept buying pre-packaged and frozen food from Trader Joes. I made him a meal when he had a break from school and he said “You’re a good cook.” There was hope.
When we moved into a new apartment and left our respective bachelor pads behind, I knew a lot of things would change. In a new place where we both felt ownership, there was an organic decision (which we never actually discussed) to make our home more like the homes we were raised in. We were finally adults, so we’d better start cooking like it. Within a couple of weeks, we made it a habit to sit down on Sundays and plan out our meals for the week. And though we’ve only been doing that for a couple months, it has worked beautifully. I can’t imagine going back to frozen pizza and spaghetti every night.
Every Sunday we plan what we’re going to eat for the week. Generally, we’ll have a pre-existing concert or social commitment, and one or both of us will be off with friends one night, so we’re looking at 4-5 days a week where we both will be home and have to feed ourselves. So we hit allrecipes.com and pick out some stuff to make. We favor recipes that will give us leftovers for another meal, because we like cooking but don’t want to do it every day. The best part about the process has been realizing that we can make whatever we want - there are so many amazing-sounding recipes I come across every day, and so far we haven’t repeated. I will literally be at work toward the end of the day, excited to try a new recipe. And when food you’ve prepared turns out well, there’s a special satisfaction. I recently got excited about chicken that was basically nicer shake-and-bake - but who cares? It’s food you’ve made and it’s something to celebrate.
I think about how confusing it was before we started menu planning. We went grocery shopping every week, but we were aimless (other than essentials and lunch/breakfast items). Now, once we plan the week’s menu, we make up a grocery list and buy only the items that we need for the week. Not only is grocery shopping much easier, throughout the week we never have that nagging feeling of “What am I going to eat for dinner tonight?” It’s one less thing to worry about.
I also love that we always have ingredients. Condiments, flour, butter, all kinds of spices. It allows us to improvise a little when we want. Last month, we made a summer salad and threw in kalamata olives, dried cranberries, and sun-dried tomatoes, all of which we happened to have laying around. A couple weeks ago when the pot roast was too dry to put anything else in the slow cooker, he roasted red potatoes with some olive oil, garlic salt, and parmesan, and made carrots cooked with honey.
The lows? When food doesn’t turn out well, that can be disappointing. I made a chicken marsala so unpalatable it depressed me. There’s a lot more to cooking than “knowing how to read a recipe” and there are a lot of skills that we just don’t have at the moment. We are still getting the hang of not overcooking meat, a problem which will hopefully diminish with use of our newly-purchased meat thermometer. Also, there are dishes. So many damn dishes.
For the most part, though, it continues to be a worthwhile endeavor. I like experimenting. I like getting good at things. Everyone has to eat to stay alive. You might as well have fun with it. My horizons have been broadened exponentially in the last year, and I have a feeling that trend will continue. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going home to make pork chops with raspberry sauce, garlic mashed potatoes, cinnamon cookies, and mint-gin cocktails. The occasion? Wednesday.
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