Cooking: A Journey
About a year ago I started having boiled eggs for dinner.
Is it dinner or lunch? For some people dinner is the meal you have in the evening, but I call that meal tea. I think it depends on where you grew up. When I was a kid, after school, I’d say, “what’s for tea mum?” not “what’s for dinner mum?” – and she’d say, “you’ll have what you’re given you little shit” not whatever it is that parents from the south say.
I’m not that bothered either way, but if dinner isn’t the meal you have at midday, then why do we call those hard-working (and criminally underpaid!) workers who feed our children Dinner Ladies? No one calls them lunch ladies. Actually, the alliteration there is quite nice. Hmmmm.
Whatever you want to call it, at around 12:00pm Greenwich Mean Time, I stick a couple of eggs in a pan of slightly salted boiling water, boil those bad boys for 5 minutes and 30 seconds and then remove to the plate, put them in my egg cup and I’m done. Dinner is served.
Well, I also serve it with soldiers. Soldiers are pieces of toast that have been cut into small strips, and they’re called soldiers because we all know risking your life in a war whose political consequences no one understands is roughly equivalent to being dunked in egg yolk.
I learned how to make the eggs from a Jamie Oliver YouTube video. It was in those early, more innocent days of Lockdown One, where we all thought it would be done in a few weeks and there was a lot of stuff going on around on social media about how this was the time to learn a new skill.
Cooking was a skill I desperately needed to learn. I moved out of my mum’s house in November 2018, and, up until the pandemic, I made myself the same meal every single day: tuna and pasta. Not even with any sauce, just a bowl of (cooked) pasta with some tuna and a bit of mayo chucked in there. I suppose I thought that, if you knew how to make one meal, you didn’t need to bother learning another one. Obviously, I’d have more than one meal every day. For breakfast, I would have cereal, and Tuna and Pasta was my tea. Luckily, I was working at a school back then so for dinner so I’d have a school meal, and I figured that would give me all the variation I needed in my diet.
Weekends were always tricky. I would have to wake up, have my cereal, and then just hope the hunger stayed away for the rest of the day.
It wasn’t a perfect life, but it was working for me. But then then one day my friend Tom told me about the mercury in Tuna. Apparently, there’s shit loads of it, and if you eat too much Tuna you’ll get brain damage or something. I can’t remember the specifics, and I don’t wanna go down the rabbit hole of looking it up again because it convinced me I had cancer. I was eating like 5 times over the recommended limit of tuna. If I ever got breathalysed, the police officer would say, “Well you’re not drunk, but I’m sorry to say that you might be a fish.”
Despite my certainty I was dying, I still carried on eating tuna for a few months after that. It was all I knew how to make, and even if it was killing me, part of me (a very sick part of me) wanted to destroy myself. I was addicted to tuna fish, but there was nowhere for me to go to get help. There’s no Tuna Eaters Anonymous, and even if there was, imagine how bad people’s breath would be at the meetings.
When Lockdown came, my hand was forced. I was at home 24/7 which meant I was missing out on my school dinners. I was down to two meals a day for the foreseeable – cereal in the morning, and tuna and pasta in the evening. My diet was like an EDL rally – because it lacked diversity and also tuna is a notoriously racist fish.
I had to do something. I don’t remember the specifics, which is always good when you’re telling a story, but I must’ve googled “cooking basics” or some shit and then ended up watching this egg-boiling tutorial by Jamie Oliver. I was scared. Now I’ve boiled eggs over 300 times, I can see how ridiculous this sounds, but I was terrified. Learning anything that involves practical skills is intimidating to me. That was my main fear about having sex for the first time – not the intimacy or the being naked in front of another person, just the amount of hand-eye coordination it would involve.
Anyway, I did it. I boiled the eggs and they tasted delicious, and I was proud of myself. But for a few weeks, I fell into the same trap as before. I had cereal for breakfast, eggs for dinner, and my tuna for tea. Rinse and repeat. Sometimes I didn’t even rinse. I’d have a new portion in yesterday’s same tuna encrusted bowl.
But I realised if I could learn how to boil an egg, I could learn how to cook other things too. The next thing I cooked was a curry. Just from a jar at first, but that was ambitious enough for me. I think it’s important not to overstretch yourself. It’s like when I started doing stand-up – I had to do loads of open mic gigs before I could play any of the clubs. You’ve got to work your way up. It felt like stand up in some ways. I was performing to the food, and if I was doing a good job, it would react how I expected. If I did something wrong, there was a chance I would die.
The curry turned out well too, and now I was really cooking on induction heat. I started looking up more recipes. I bought a Jamie Oliver cookbook. I learned how to chop onions, crush garlic, zest a lemon. I cooked a curry from scratch and then a chilli and then loads of pasta dishes that didn’t involve tuna. Within a few weeks, I was living a tuna-free diet. I was amazed at who I’d become. If this was a movie, there’d be a montage now of me chucking chorizo and shit into a pan.
Then the baking started. My friend Lottie kindly offered to teach me how to bake sausage rolls. This was a step up. If my culinary ventures so far had been at the open mic level, this was taking me to the proper weekend stag and hen gigs. Baking requires much more precision and hand-eye coordination. Since the pattern of this story is “Eric tries something and is successful” then it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that I smashed it.
In fact, we filmed it and put it on YouTube, so you can see for yourself:
We carried on baking weekly after that. Baking cakes and scones and this bread-cake thing called a Babka.
Sometimes I would get stressed, and things would go wrong, but setbacks are all part of the journey.
Now, I look back, I think, Why had I spent so long limiting myself? I think we restrict ourselves and tell ourselves false stories about who we are. I honestly thought that I’d spend my whole life eating tuna and pasta and that I’d die from mercury poisoning at the age of 34.
So if there’s anyone out there, struggling with your tuna habits, I just want you to know change is possible.
Every time I feel stuck in my life, from now on I’m gonna just take a look at this picture of my egg cup and remember that anything is possible.
Anyway, that’s about it.
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