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Reflections On Real Life - On Disappointment And Cooking

If I am truly honest with myself, I never really thought my life would reach this level of disappointment, once again.

Don’t get me wrong, however. It is not entirely THAT bad. I still have a job, I’m not drowning in debt, I have my health, and my family is doing well. Despite all these, however, I can’t help but feel this sensation of inadequacy – that feeling, where you know that things could be so much better. I’m all too familiar with this feeling, sadly.

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I guess a better framework for what I’m going through is that, a few months prior, things were really looking up for me, and I felt that I was finally piloting my ship towards a better direction. My career was going so well, and I was enjoying what I was doing, for a company that I liked. My romantic prospects were finally stirring to life. In short, a few months ago, I felt invincible, and all was right with the world.

Of course, all of that was short-lived. And so, here we are.

I sound like I’m complaining, and for a minute, yes I am. Just because my situation is still favorable compared to what other folks have experienced/are experiencing, doesn’t mean I’m insulated from disappointment. The worse part about this situation, is when a person allows all of this to linger in his mind, like a festering wound. Eventually, your confidence erodes. The simple joys you once cherish starts to loose meaning. You retreat into your own shell, shunning family and friends. Since I am being honest with myself, I can say that I’m starting to experience these emotions, and I feel afraid and vulnerable.

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Fortunately for me, I learned a thing or two how to counteract this sense of gloom. I’m sure most folks have, and I respect their methods, whether it’s reading, exercising, socializing, or simply throwing caution to the wind. For me, however, I discovered cooking as the best way for me to fight this gnawing sense of negativity.

With that in mind, I signaled my road to recovery by taking a trip to the grocery.

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***

A girl once told me that “...comfort food is food that you can eat, despite your emotional disposition, and that it has a special ability to instantly make you feel better about yourself...”. That definition really stuck with me, and the more I think about it, the more I have to agree. With that in mind, I decided to make one of my comfort food dishes, something easy and fast, something that I can cheat a little bit by using an instant mixture, yet I can improve vastly by adding better ingredients.

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Illustration for article titled Reflections On Real Life - On Disappointment And Cooking

I decided to make mapo tofu.

Once I completed my grocery store trip, I found myself already smiling, getting excited. I am glad, because I haven’t felt this for quite some time, and I welcomed it all like a long-lost friend.

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***

I started cutting scallions to fine slices, afterwards putting some salt on the ground beef. I decided to try some ginger root in my dish, dicing it to fine cubes. My knife skills are not perfect, so most of my ingredients are not 100% uniform in size. This is not a big deal for me, however, and so I already forgot about this issue. My block of tofu, however, I tried my best to cut it to equal pieces, because it would look really weird otherwise. By cutting the tofu in halves, I somehow got the desired size I had in mind, and it’s not half-bad.

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Illustration for article titled Reflections On Real Life - On Disappointment And Cooking

I’m listening to my Spotify smooth jazz playlist, the tail end of Grover Washington Jr’s cover of “Ain’t No Sunshine” playing while I heat my pan with some olive oil. By the time I started sautéing the garlic, scallions, and ginger, Michael McDonald is singing “What A Fool Believes”, and so, like every cheesy individual who secretly has a must-sing karaoke music list in his head, I started belting the song. My singing voice, of course, is no match to the soulful tenor of Mr. McDonald. The smell of cooked ginger and scallions slowly filled my kitchen.

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***

Learning to cook for myself is one of the greatest achievements I didn’t expect to acquire. I’m still ways off from being comparable to the likes of Rachel Ray or Jaime Oliver, but I do know what burnt food smells like, so I have this confidence whenever I walk into my kitchen. I mostly prepare Filipino dishes, but every now and then I dabble in other dishes, like chicken curry and some pasta.

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While waiting for my vegetables to cook, I thought about all those times when I was struggling with my cooking: undercooked chickens resulting in upset stomachs, throwing away over flavored sauces, spaghetti that turned to mush due to negligence. I’d say that I have done more mistakes in cooking that I’d care to openly admit. The more I think about it, however, the more I can safely say that it’s precisely those mistakes that helped me to define my cooking. I have so much to learn in the kitchen. Despite this lack of knowledge and skill however, I still have this… swagger whenever I slice meats, dice vegetables, sauté ingredients. It finally dawned on me why.

Illustration for article titled Reflections On Real Life - On Disappointment And Cooking
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I am willing to make mistakes in the kitchen, because I know that these mistakes will eventually turn to learned lessons. Lessons that I can apply in the future.

Maybe I should start using this realization in a much broader sense. Like in my life.

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***

The package said to add the sauce once the meat is brown in color. I checked my ground beef, there is still some pink in them, so I put 2 spoons worth of chili bean sauce, mixing it to the beef. Once done, I covered the pan, and made a mental note to check again after 3 minutes.

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Illustration for article titled Reflections On Real Life - On Disappointment And Cooking

I don’t feel too bad about using instant mixes in my food. Like the chef’s knife, or the measuring cup, these mixes are simply tools to create your dish, and using it properly should give you a desirable result. Of course, I do have my pride, and so I wish for a time when I can actually cook mapo tofu from scratch. I read some instructions online, and I think it is well within my current skill. I simply need the time and the diligence to gather the correct ingredients, after which I have to learn the correct measurements for achieve the right taste.

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I checked my ground beef again, and feeling satisfied with the color, I slowly added the mapo mixture in the pan. I stirred slowly, making sure to spread it evenly, and I lowered the heat on the stove slightly for simmering. I covered the pan again, to be opened after 4 minutes.

Finally, I added the tofu in the pan. I always opt for the firm tofu, because I am a bit heavy-handed when I stir, thus my previous attempts ended with crushed tofu. This time, I took great care to stir the whole dish. I took a quick taste of the mixture, it is not as spicy as I hoped.

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Sriracha sauce to the rescue.

Illustration for article titled Reflections On Real Life - On Disappointment And Cooking
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***

And so, my journey to restore my confidence, to reverse disappointment, has finally come to an end. I completed my dish, it is to my liking (albeit a little too salty, so I’ll go easy on the chili bean sauce next time, maybe dilute it in water a bit), and it is now sitting on top of a plate of warm white rice, steamed broccoli on the side.

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Who am I kidding? Of course this is not the end. Despite my noble efforts in the kitchen, I’m sure that disappointment will, once again, rear it’s ugly head, like an uninvited house guest. Does that mean that this whole endeavor was a waste? No it’s not. What my mapo tofu dish taught me, and my cooking in general for that matter, is that disappointment is a fact of my life. It’s as sure as the air I breathe, as sure as the sunset, and at time, it may be as serious as a heart attack.

Illustration for article titled Reflections On Real Life - On Disappointment And Cooking
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What I can change, however, is to view it in a different perspective. In the future, I should see this as a life lesson, a failure that can help me to grow as a better individual.

The best part, of course, is the realization that things will be okay. It might be daunting at times, but I should learn not to let disappointment to affect my well-being. Life is too complex to funnel down categorically as either a success or failure.

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Life, is simply life.

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