Kitchen lessons from my exes
Updated: Nov 9, 2021
When I’m cooking, I think it was all worth it
This article was originally posted in my newsletter - the Tiff Weekly.
It was on one of the nights of the London riots when I learnt how to make an omelette. It was August 2011, I was twenty-three years old and working at a startup. As the riots kicked off, our boss stood up in the middle of the office and told us that we could go home early if we were worried about travelling home later. No-one left early.
When it was time to go home, I asked the colleague who I knew would say yes if he’d cycle me home. I was still new to cycling in London and he’d often cycle me home even though it wasn’t really on his way. The shops were shut and we didn’t want to stop, so when we got to my flat in Whitechapel, which was one of the grottiest, but also happiest places I’ve ever lived, we had to make dinner with what we could find in the kitchen. He suggested we make an omelette.
As we watched the news on my work laptop and the riots unfold, I ate the tastiest omelette I’d ever eaten. He showed me that the trick was to undercook the omelette so it’d be runny and juicy, rather than dry, to the taste.
The next morning, as I cycled back down the Whitechapel Road, passed the smashed windows of the local library and shops, destroyed by the looting from the night before, I decided I was going to eat more omelettes. Soon after this, I clocked that men don’t just accompany you home and make you eggs, so he became my boyfriend and that story ends years later in a much nicer flat in Stoke Newington.
So much of what I do in the kitchen are things that exes have taught me. Each of these mundane recipes and cooking hacks has changed my everyday life.
I’ve been fortunate that I’ve never dated someone who uses milk to make scrambled eggs. But, it was my most recent ex that taught me that you if you keep stirring your eggs on a low heat, then you can get the creamiest consistency. I thank him for that lesson every weekend.
He was a real adult because he bought me a mini avocado masher. He also introduced me to the Bacofoil easy cut cling film dispenser, which is the ultimate kitchen-life game-changer. When you close the lid of the dispenser, it perfectly cuts the cling film and so you don’t have that horrible mess and tangle you get when you try to cut cling film on the edge of the cardboard box. Every time I close that Bacofoil lid, I think how easily it cuts the cling film and how easy it would have been to stay with him.
People are often impressed by my salad dressing and the credit for that also has to go to him. The secret is a mini whisk so I can emulsify the olive oil, white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard and salt and pepper to make the so moreish it almost tastes naughty dressing of dreams.
It was in the relationship that couldn’t survive the transition out of university and into real-life where I learnt how to cook salmon. He taught me to wrap the salmon in foil with olive oil and salt and pepper and put it in the oven for approximately fifteen minutes. A decade later and my oven salmon is always soft and never overcooked.
His potato salad is as addictive as young love and I ate about a kilo of it over two days when I made it the other day. There’s something irresistible about the combination of new potatoes, spring onions and wholegrain mustard and mayonnaise. You have been warned.
It was the relationship that was only about the heat where I learnt how to make carbonara, by, ironically, taking the pan off the heat. I also remember the mundane, yet the important moment when he showed me how to add washing up liquid to those washing up sponges where you put the liquid in the handle. I was delighted to recently share this lesson with a friend who needed it. That guy messed me around a lot, but perhaps the pain was worth it for that useful washing-up tip.
In fact, when I’m cooking, I think it was all worth it. My daily life consists of so many touchpoints of people who’ve taught me something over the years. I appreciate all these little lessons that they probably don’t even remember teaching me.
In my piece on “Why you should say congratulations, not sorry, after a breakup”, I quoted Elizabeth Day who said: “Now I choose to believe relationships end because that person has come into my life and taught me the lesson I needed to learn.” I like to think this about each relationship ending, no matter how short or messy.
I’m also excited about what else I could learn from the new people who will come into my life and my kitchen one day. All people who come into your life teach you things and sometimes those lessons are very practical and sometimes the kitchen serves as a happy reminder of them.