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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

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Derek Wolfe: Cooking is chemistry

By Derek Wolfe, Columnist
Published September 2, 2014

Coming back to Ann Arbor last week was definitely a reality check. Not because of school starting or leaving home again, but rather, I had to start cooking for myself again. And I guess this is a column on my love for food. However, to be clear, by no means am I a foodie. I’m just a hungry college student who occasionally has some time on
my hands.

During the summer at camp, every meal was provided to me at a consistently average quality. And for better or worse, there was variety — though the breakfast burritos did get repetitive. Some nights, the doctors and nurses at the clinic would even be generous enough to buy pizza and other food for the entire clinic staff. That was awesome and worry-free. I didn’t have to lift a finger.

But now, it’s back to making trips to the grocery store, making my own dietary decisions and watching my bill climb as my food gets rung up at the front of the store. I happen to prefer self-checkout.

Shopping for food is often a hassle, but admittedly one of my favorite things to do. At this point with a year of experience under my belt, I kind of have it down to a science. The frozen foods and cookie butter are bought at Trader Joe’s. The fruits, vegetables and snacks at Kroger. The pack of Arnold Palmer cans and chicken at Costco. Though I do have this routine, I’ve found picking out my meals for the next week or two to be somewhat enlightening. I have complete control, total independence and an opportunity for creativity. This combination can be a rarity. It’s just me, my basket and my fellow shoppers who always park themselves in the middle of each aisle while deciding which Campbell’s soup to pick out.

I know I’m not the only one who finds it exciting to find the two-for-one deals of just what you wanted and picking out the crispiest apples. The best feeling comes from thinking about how to combine different products to make a dish that has never been made before. It’s probably going to be pasta or something like that. But still, for a brief moment each week, I feel like a visionary. Heck, call me Elon Musk. As a side note, Costco chicken and Trader Joe’s frozen pastas go really well together.

Of course, it’s one thing to buy food and another to cook it. But, I’d like to believe my enthusiasm for picking out my food carries over to the kitchen. I’ve heard it said that the kitchen is one of the only places where sharp objects and open flames — or hot burners — are socially appropriate. There’s a certain thrill from slicing, dicing, chopping, baking, grilling and frying. Not really microwaving, though.

Anyway, I’ve found the process of going from raw materials to a finished meal extremely gratifying. For one, I’m no longer hungry after eating. And two, it gives me a sense of accomplishment, especially when I can feed my friends and they like what I make. On multiple occasions, I’ve even sent pictures of my creations to my family. And yes, they are proud.

I think what it comes down to is that I enjoy working with my hands and exercising my mind. Cooking accomplishes both. It’s therapeutic.

Again, I’m no chef. I don’t even spend hours at a time in the kitchen. Most of the time, I’m trying to put together a good, simple meal as quickly as possible so I can get back to work on school business. But taking this step back to write and reflect on food, I’ve realized how meaningful cooking can become and the control it gives me over my personal health. If I don’t want something in my body or even be tempted to eat something by its presence like Hershey’s chocolate, then I don’t buy it. It’s that simple. And if I want to try some crazy recipe off the Internet, I can.

As someone who likes science and being challenged intellectually, cooking falls perfectly into that category.

Cooking is chemistry.

And since I passed Orgo lab, I must be capable of doing it.

Derek Wolfe can be reached at dewolfe@umich.edu.


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