I’m afraid of my kitchen.

Chicken fingers and ketchup – the staple meal of my childhood.

Maybe even for longer than that if I’m being completely honest. Anything remotely healthy was unappealing. The problem was mostly texture related, which made me gag down most of my food. Eating was painful for a while during my childhood. Thankfully all of this did not last and I developed a breathing technique to help me cope.

As I grew a little older and went off to college, I could eat and enjoy more of what some people describe as normal food, like vegetables. However, I was left with a complete inability to cook basic meals, let alone healthy meals. My mom had taught me how to cook a few things I liked before I moved away, like tilapia and chicken breast that I cooked often. But as my college career progressed and my classes kept me on campus longer, I ate out a lot and did the old Easy Mac a few too many times. These habits did not help my relationship with the kitchen.

Many of my friends and former roommates are great cooks and made amazing things that I would get to eat from time to time. They inspired me to want to cook more thoughtfully for myself. I also read books from authors such as Michael Pollen that made me seriously reconsider what I was eating.

When I finally started living on my own after college, it was all up to me to feed myself all of the time and it was intimidating. I felt trapped between what I have always eaten, what is easy, what I wanted to eat and how I wanted to live. My lack of basic knowledge and experience felt crippling.

I remember one day in particular, I was at the grocery store walking through the aisles, staring blankly at the shelves, and I felt panic starting to rise.

I called my mom.

I was in a grocery store having a melt down, practically crying on the phone with my mom. At that point I was so worried that if I bought something new to try that I would either hate what I made or ruin it, making it uneatable. I didn’t have the kind of money to make those kind of mistakes. She gave me a few pointers that made me feel a little better. Buying rice, beans and pasta is a good way to have an inexpensive side dish to fill me up if the new food experiment failed. She also told me that the only way I will get better is to slowly integrate new recipes and foods by trying one or two new things a week and to not completely overhaul my life at once.

What a great mom, right? I felt instantly better, at least I had a plan.

Speaking of plans, it made me realize that I need a plan to cook. This is still something I struggle with sometimes (particularly with week-long meal planning). For the first year or two of living on my own, my first big goal of getting to know my kitchen better was to cook vegetables to my liking. Years ago, I was gifted the book “The Starving Students’ Vegetarian Cookbook” from a great friend of mine and it was a big help. I was able to cook on the cheaper side and learn how to treat vegetables in a flavorful way. The first big ‘breakthrough’ meal I cooked was using a curry marinade with peppers, pineapple and chicken over rice. I had my now-husband over for dinner that night and we both loved it! It was exciting and empowering.

In the beginning of shaking hands with my stove, I would follow a recipe without deviation. It took a while but now I feel like a recipe is more like a guideline. I had some great successes (herbed white fish with quinoa) and some great failures too (fire roasted green beans with waaaaay too much seasoning), but for the most part I learned from my wayward recipes.

By taking baby steps and slowly getting to know the potential of my kitchen, cooking has become exciting and a fun version of self expression. I also like knowing exactly what’s in the food I’m eating. I find a lot of inspiration on food blogs such as My New Roots, Mince & Type and for healthy easy recipes, I go to Healthy Living Maintenance and Undressed Skeleton. I also LOVE TasteSpotting when I have something in mind to cook.

When my husband and I moved in together it made cooking more important. Thankfully, he’ll eat anything I make. I always think of how my NaNa (who is an excellent cook) used to describe my PaPa, “Behind every good cook is a good eater.” I think her expression applies perfectly to my growing relationship with the kitchen and my husband. He’s always encouraging me, and eats all of the mistakes too. He’s my good eater.

I still have a lot more to learn and a lot more I’d like to try, but I feel like I have finally built up enough confidence so my kitchen and I can work together.

Abby Anderson Jones is a graphic designer trying to figure out the meaning of life while dreaming of the future with her husband. She is the blogger behind abbyabbyabby where she blogs about personal style, design and living a good life. She’s a social media lover (especially Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram), gets pretty excited about a good salad and is always the first person out on the dance floor at weddings.

Krystle: Abby, chicken fingers were my fav as a young’n! Add hot fries and my kid-fantasy is complete. I remember being envious of my mother because she decided what food we bought at the grocery store. Then college happened and I found out how not glamorous it really was. It takes time (even years) to find a meal rhythm. Ryan and I have our favorites that we repeat each week. We try to make big batches of them to keep in the freezer so if an experiment goes wrong (and it does) we have a backup plan. Your mom is right on about rice, beans and pasta. I recommend Oh She Glows, The Vegan Stoner, and Love and Lemons for more simple, yummy meal ideas.

Fear Confessions is a series of essays by creatives who share personal stories about facing their fears. It’s a celebration of vulnerability.

  1. Abby, what a great story. I admire your willingness to push through and figure it out. I have friends, smart friends, who no matter how much they know about health and diet, they won’t learn to cook and continue to eat horribly.

    As you feel more comfortable, you might pick up The Flavor Bible. It is a giant list of foods along with sub lists of what goes well with them. I’ve found it so exciting to start thinking in terms of pairings instead of recipes. It’s pushed my boundaries and I’ve been a bit more adventurous in my food experiments!

  2. Abby & Erin,

    I second that! We have the Flavor Bible too and it’s extremely helpful in creating good combinations of flavors that we wouldn’t have thought of.

  3. Thanks for the reading suggestions, gals! I can’t wait to take on new flavor pairings :)

    Krys – the Vegan Stoner looks awesome at first glance! I can’t wait to dive more into it. The illustrations are aaaaadorable!