I’ve dabbled in a lot of creative hobbies — painting, embroidering, scrapbooking, making soap, making lip balm, making bracelets… The list goes on! Focusing on these hands-on activities has given me a sort of mental escape when I’ve needed it most. Whether through stress, boredom, or whatever, I’ve turned to these hobbies as tried-and-true creative outlets.
But I turn to these hobbies a lot less often than I used to. Some I’ve outgrown. I haven’t made lip balm since the fifth grade, and the pastel bracelets I used to string together don’t jive with the minimalist aesthetic I go for now. I’m still learning embroidery, but being a perfectionist with a beginner’s skill set can take the fun out of it. And the time I need to set up and (ugh) clean up oil paints makes me avoid it.
Through most of these creative stints, cooking has been a constant. I started cooking in high school — though initially, it less for fun and more to feed an obsession with health. But in college, I started to find cooking fun — even creative. I’ve come to realize the value of a hobby that I can throw myself into — it feeds me in more ways than just filling my belly.
While allotting an hour or more each night to painting didn’t seem justified when I had design projects to finish and papers to write, giving that much time to cooking felt right. I needed a mental break. I needed to eat. Cooking just made sense. Plus, I could multitask and indulge in something else I had limited time for otherwise, like listening to a podcast, chatting with a roommate, or just spacing out.
So, I stopped thinking of cooking as a chore to check off. (Hobbies aren’t chores!) Instead, it became a chance to make something new — just like I had done with bracelet-making or painting or scrapbooking — but with the major perk of getting a meal out of it.
Just like putting a paintbrush to canvas or melding the right ratio of ingredients to make soap, learning to cook meant honing a skill. And like the hobbies I’d taken up before, cooking required a few basic materials and a little working knowledge. I picked up the latter with some trial and error (okay, I’m still working on my working knowledge — it’s a process.) It means second-guessing whether I should sub coconut milk for almond milk. It means the defeat of realizing I’ll never brown pork tenderloin as well as Ina Garten. It means learning to never, ever chop jalapenos without gloves again because, wow, that burns.
The more confident I’ve become in the kitchen, though, the more cooking has become an experiment of bringing together flavors, colors, and textures to figure out what works. We make hobbies our own when we stop looking down at the directions, and the same goes for cooking.
Some of the dishes I’ve tried look beautiful but taste bland; some look too unappetizing for Instagram but become fast favorites for me. Whatever the outcome, I crave the challenge of grabbing a few groceries and throwing a meal together.
Not to mention, the artist in me gets a thrill out of plating prettier meals and snapping more food pics than all of Instagram could care to see. More than that, cooking makes me grateful to the greater Artist who created a world with such diverse foods. I’ve tended to overlook this facet of God’s goodness, but cooking prompts me to thank God not just for the food in front of me but also for the gift of being able to create meals out of what He created first.
I never thought I’d make pad thai with spaghetti squash or falafel out of cauliflower and pumpkin seeds or tabbouleh with minced radish in place of bulgur wheat for some extra kick and color. But here we are. Cooking, I’ve realized, doesn’t just make me more creative — it makes more attuned to beauty. Ina, I’m not. But I’ll keep at it still.