Back when I got out of the Army in 1985, I decided to learn how to cook real food. That’s one of the things that sucks about being in the Army in that you get what you get for food. If they’re having baked chicken and hamburger day, then that’s your choices. If you were late for a meal you missed it. You ate what you were served and you got there when they told you to get there.
Of course, I was in college right out of service, and I was broke. Learning to cook what little I could afford wasn’t hard. There was a short list of affordable ingredients, and a shorter list of things I could experiment with. Yet I bought a cookbook, and I bought a measuring cup. The cup was a one cup cup, smallish, and cheap plastic. It survived my first attempts at cooking, survived half a dozen moves, and finally one day, about ten years ago, a girlfriend asked me, “Why the hell do you have this dinky plastic measuring cup?” and I realized I could do better. The plastic cup was demoted to measuring dog food, and I bought two nice glass Pyrex cups, one was the two cup size.
Wednesday, August 28th, 2019, the plastic measuring cup broke.
I remember dropping it right after I bought it and it bounced like eleven times and ricocheted off a chair. I was sure it had broken then, and back then, losing something that cost a dollar was a big deal to me. I rarely threw away leftovers because there was so little to eat. When I got a real job and could afford more, I was careful with it, and I kept the little plastic cup as I continued my quest to learn how to cook, and learn I did.
A few things did learn, in this journey. First and foremost, Garlic is of the Gods. A good garlic press is like having a Holy Relic. Never enter a kitchen without one. Next, vegetables should be steamed, not boiled. Third, instructions from a cook book are suggestions only. You have to learn on your own. And finally, salt is widely abused, and too much used in America.
I remember trying to cook brown rice for the first time. Having my little cup and my one saucepan, and a bit of butter, I was stunned to find out rice took forty minutes to cook. Surely that wasn’t right. But I learned how to cook brown rice, and realized very early in life that rice was a wonderful and versatile thing.
Things, objects, instruments and tools, should be valued, but not loved. They’re expendable once their use in gone, and there is no sadness in this. I’m not the skinny twenty-something that was counting pennies on the counter to get a measuring cup and I haven’t been for decades now. Yet at the same time, I think that was one of the best buys I ever made in my life, and I did learn how to cook with what little I could afford.