Squeezing from-scratch cooking into the busy life of a scientist to feed herself and her fussy-eater husband.
“Cooking requires many of the same skills you need to do genetic engineering.” Said my lab supervisor when I asked her if I could ever learn to cook anything worth eating. So how come you ate half an avocado with saltine crackers for dinner last night?” I asked her. “I hate feeling like I am still at work when I am clearly not, so I don’t bother with cooking,” she replied, and we both went back to our respective experiments.
I soon discovered that I could either eat at one of the four eateries in the seaside
town village hamlet of Kingston, RI (one of which was a Subway) for the rest of my time as a student there…or I could teach myself to cook. I learned to cook.
At this point I should tell you that in college (in India) I paid the shop downstairs to deliver tea to my door because boiling water was too perilously close to cooking. I was a strong, independent woman, and in my opinion then, strong independent women did not cook. So, of course, no one believed me when I said I had alighted in the US and started cooking.
My entire batterie de cuisine, so to speak, consisted then of an old, Indian whistling pressure cooker, one ladle, and one spatula. I documented my “kitchen experiments” in a blog called The Whistling Pressure Cooker together with some tidbits from lab, life, and sometimes, literature. My blog chronicled my cooking as I journeyed through my Master’s in Rhode Island, and then my Ph.D. in Boston. It also followed the course of my relationship with a skinny, pasty-white, fussy-eater, Rhode Islander boy, Keith, whom I eventually married in 2011. He is thyme, and I am ginger. In early 2015, I was so distracted trying to pull my doctoral dissertation together that I forgot to pay my blog’s web hosting fee. I lost all my content, and my domain name.
People often ask me if I employ molecular gastronomy in my cooking. I do not. You will not find any liquid nitrogen or agar agar in my kitchen. I have had my fill of those in research labs and prefer that my kitchen and my lab not look identical. For the same reason, none of my vegan friends have ever been able to convince me to incorporate nutritional yeast into my cooking – it just smells too much like the nutrient broth I made in large batches to feed to my lab strains of bacteria.
With a few exceptions, I prefer not to own single-use kitchen tools. For example, I refuse to own an egg separator; my hands get the job done fine, and I don’t need to use up cabinet space to store them. However, I do allow myself a tin opener and a garlic press.
I don’t believe in secret ingredients in the same way that I don’t buy into fad diets. The quality of my cooking comes from executing good technique in the kitchen – knowing when oil in the pan is hot enough, which flavours pair well together and which do not – combined with lots of practice. I truly believe that anyone can be a terrific home cook. I encourage all to try.
The husband is not as fussy about food as he once was. I unapologetically take credit for that. I remember when I had to pass every tomato sauce through the finest mesh of a food mill before HRH Keith would be willing to eat it. And we weren’t even married then. Those days, thankfully, are behind us.
Now that I have my Ph.D. diploma in hand, and I am settled in at MIT developing molecular biology courses for digital platforms, it is time to begin blogging again. I have no more excuses.