Opinion | I tried to de-stress by cooking. It didn’t go well


Sarah Cutshall | Visual Editor

Fruits and vegetables line the aisle at Forbes Street Market.

By Grace McGinness, Staff Columnist

The school year has reached the home stretch — classes are over and final examinations loom ahead. But by a week ago, I was done with watery ramen noodles and endless Tupperware containers of pasta in “meat sauce” which consisted only of jarred tomato sauce and sausage bits. No more spaghetti for the rest of spring, and I didn’t want to spot a single limp bow tie anywhere near my kitchen.

Studying could wait until tomorrow. Tonight I was going to eat good — a homemade meal and an Oscar-nominated film in front of me.

The crushing pressure of half-finished portfolios and final exams was stressful, but cooking can supposedly help de-stress, according to a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology. Cooking was practical and would let me bask in the accomplishment of my adulting skills. For the past three months, I have been thinking too much. I needed to do something that was a little mindless.

The door of the refrigerator hung open to reveal nothing inside to make homemade orange chicken with cilantro rice, or rather nothing that I could have used. That was fine, a little grocery shopping never hurt anybody, and it would be nice to get out of Oakland for an hour or two. Aldi was practically around the corner and cheap as dirt. That was budgeting right there, another adulting skill to boast about.

The bus was late, but that was just fine. When was it not? I had my tunes jamming through my headphones, and the sun was shining down to warm my skin. Maybe it was too warm since I didn’t check the weather app and wore full-length pants, but the bus would come soon. P3s, 54s and even the airport shuttle flew past without a 71A or C in sight. How many 71Bs can pass before one decides to mosey on over to Fifth Avenue?

Sweat dripped down my back as I finally stepped into the air-conditioned bus. Hallelujah. The driver raced to catch the green light, and I practically slammed into a seat. At Aldi, I patted down my pockets, failing to find the quarter needed to borrow a shopping cart. Groceries piled up in my arms, my tiny hands clutching a bag of mandarin oranges and a loaf of bread as I stumbled toward the check out.

The cashier scanned everything so fast that I scrambled to keep pace, stuffing everything into my bag before hauling myself out of the way. The bus took another million years to come around again, and it was the same driver who glared at me as the doors opened. I tripped into a seat, and my bread deflated under my arm like a sad pillow.

I got home, and it was time to embark on the real relaxation event of the night — cooking. As the relaxing melodies of a full orchestra filled the background, I started with the onions. The recipe said a medium-sized onion, but this huge bulb twice the size of my fist should have been fine. It would just serve as a little extra. The recipe claimed that prep work should only take 5 minutes tops, but I chopped and chopped the minutes away. There was no way anybody could do this much chopping in fewer than 15 minutes. I had been lied to.

The recipe called for orange zest which required grating the the skin of the fruit, but there was no grater to be found in the drawers. I tried my best with a potato peeler, and of course that didn’t go well.

I sighed as I squirted in the barbeque sauce and crushed the oranges for their juice. My hands got sticky and the dishes piled up. Where was the soy sauce? How did we run out soy sauce? Why did no one mention that we ran out of soy sauce?

Cutting up the chicken went without a problem. I shook it all in a bag of flour, then seared the pieces in oil. It said to use a wok, but I didn’t have one of those. I was too far through this recipe to give up now, though. I prayed that my nonstick frying pan would get the job done. As the chicken fried, sizzling in the oil, I started to boil rice. As the minutes ticked by, I realized I added too much water, so I tilted the pot left and right to get the water to boil against the sides as the rice sat there fully cooked but drowning in the excess. It would be mushy — I could already feel the gross texture in my mouth.

I added the chicken to the sauce, and there was way too much onion. I tried to pick some of it out, but it was no use. I dumped everything into the frying pan, attempting to fully cook the dish to the right consistency. I took the rice off the heat, but the bottom layer was overcooked and stuck to the pot. I tried to wash some dishes while I waited for the sauce to cook around the chicken, but the rice pot was stubborn and needed to soak overnight. I gave up on the rest.

Four hours after I started this fool’s errand, I had my dinner before me. The outcome could have been worse. There was too much onion and the orange “zest” stuck to my teeth, but it kind of tasted like orange chicken. Pulling myself up by my bootstraps, I attempted to supplement my lingering hunger with popcorn and a movie. Instead, I started an oil fire, threw the pot into the sink under running water, had one slo-mo moment where I thought “I am the biggest idiot to get into Pitt” before the fire erupted three-feet high, licking at my cabinets, threatening to burn my entire house down.

After a moment of stunned panic, I picked up the pot and stuck it back under the fume hub over the stove and slammed a lid on it. It died out just as fast as it started. My pots were ruined, my cabinets were covered in soot and my dinner had left a bad taste in my mouth. It was 11 p.m. I just wanted to relax a little with the art of cooking like all the lifestyle blogs recommended. Instead, I packed up for bed, utterly defeated.