Okay, what was next? A cup of coconut milk, sugar, and… fish sauce? Fish sauce?!
He turned around in the kitchen, the bench cluttered with the debris of a recipe’s first attempt. Cutting boards, knives, bowls, spices. He moved towards the pantry before realising he needed to wash his hands (again). He spun around, nearly knocking over a bottle of cooking oil.
How does a fish even make sauce!?
Things were going well.
A recipe book lay face up, a bookmark resting in the center, block capitals spelling out ingredients and instructions across yellowed pages. This was the fourth kitchen it had been used in, and likely the least organized one. The book was patient, however; content to sit idle, waiting for the young man to remember the stove amidst his panic.
As if on cue, he turned to the pot resting on the glass stovetop. Eyes shooting wide open, he rushed to take it off the heat, opening the partially-ajar lid to a burst of dark smoke and the overwhelming aroma of curry paste burning within. He had a poor sense of smell, difficulty multitasking, and a frequent tendency to lose track of time. Cooking was an ordeal.
Alright… soy sauce is probably fine, right? It’s… sauce? We’re doing it.
Some moments later, the kitchen had entered a blissful state of calm. The decisions were made, and the ingredients had finally made their way into the pot (in the correct order and amounts, for the most part). It still looked as though a bomb had gone off, and in his attempts to “clean as you go”, the sink had become just as cluttered. Now all that was left was to stir, and wait.
It’s funny, the rituals we create for ourselves. He never used to like cooking; it was messy and tricky and quite often disappointing. And, years later, it was still all of these things – but it was something new now; it was cathartic.
The book’s author, the one that slowly made corrections or suggestions to their own recipes over the years, wasn’t around anymore. He couldn’t ask for clarification, for replacements. He was vegetarian now, so he found himself swapping and changing ingredients as he went. Often with dubious results, but slowly making progress. With each cook, he was getting a little closer to how he remembered it tasting.
As he turned off the heat, began filling plastic containers with a week’s worth of food, he looked over his shoulder at the book. He was nearing the end, now.
He was reading a book the other day (fiction, this time), and found a bookmark near the end. He had stared at it for what felt like an hour, breathless. Another kind of ritual.
He filled a bowl with rice and curry, leaving the mess for later. He took a bite.
He picked up a pen, paused for a moment, and made a note in the margins.