Looking Back on 2019: A Year of Cooking

Looking Back on 2019: A Year of Cooking

January

On Jan 2, I started my first ever co-op job! It was also my first time living in Toronto on my own. I was very pleased with the kitchen in my sublet, it was pretty big for a small downtown apartment. Between my first job as a Young Professional™, and living independently in a big city, it was an exciting time for me.

Of course, I was also looking forward to making some amazing food. The term before (2A) had been very stressful. I’d taken the plunge into cooking for the first time, since I’d eaten at the school cafeteria in all of first year. It was fun, but I was terrible at it. Since my food was so bad, my boyfriend never wanted to eat it, and preferred to eat out, and I would feel obligated to go with him. Also, my courses had gotten a lot harder in second year. I was struggling to juggle my academics and my social life, and still trying to find time to cook. It was a terrible term, but I survived. I was determined to start fresh in 2019.

In January, I was really into meal prep. I had a vision of being this highly efficient young businesswoman who would wake up in the morning, grab her breakfast and lunch already prepared and packaged ready to go in the fridge, and set off to work. Anyway, I clearly didn’t know myself well enough because this routine quickly broke down. I was forever forgetting to make breakfast the night before, and getting sick of my meal prepped lunches by day three of the work week. Or I wouldn’t pack enough for lunch and be starving by the time I got home. Nonetheless, I hung onto my meal prep fantasies well into February.

February

Continuing with the meal prep devotion, in January and February I ate a lot of overnight oats. Overnight oats worked out a lot better than many of my other meal ideas because they were so versatile, and I could change the flavour every day so I never had the same one twice. Also… those mason jars really pulled me in (I know I’m basic). I brought them to work so often that one of my friends at the office started calling them my daily “candles.”

Even though I balk now at the thought of having to drink the same soup in the same old tupperware container five days in a row, I’d be okay with eating overnight oats for a week straight (as long as they’re all different!).

Also in February, I started bringing my baked goods into the office. Mostly, it was because I was baking so much I couldn’t eat it fast enough. So I began offloading extras onto my coworkers LOL.

For Valentine’s Day, I baked heart-shaped macarons! It was my first time baking macarons and I was surprised at how easy they were. Tedious, yes, but not difficult. And my office devoured the whole batch in no time. This was a big confidence-boosting moment as I realized that I was definitely getting the hang of this baking thing.

March

In March, I got busy at work, and my cooking took a nosedive. I was too tired to cook many nights, and when I did, it was often something unhealthy. I’d been pretty good about eating meals at home in January and February, but now I ate out regularly. (Partly because I didn’t have the time or energy to make myself a meal, and partly because my employer would reimburse meals if we stayed in the office for long enough.)

Also, we started getting daily snacks in the office to help us through busy season, and I ate a lot of those too.

I was also slacking on tracking my daily meals. I only recorded one Food Diary for this month (Mar 18–24) because:

  1. I was snacking a lot and not eating many proper meals
  2. I was kind of embarrassed at how quickly I’d fallen off the healthy eating wagon

April

jim lahey's no knead bread

Unfortunately, most of April wasn’t any better than March. I survived the grind and my co-op term came to a close at the end of the month. I moved back to Waterloo and found that most of what I was bringing back were food items. That week between co-op ending and school starting, when I could relax and cook again, was pure heaven!

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, April was the beginning of my bread obsession. The first time I made bread successfully, using the no-knead method

May

fried rice with chickpeas to add bulk

This month was the start of a new semester at school, and I also officially moved in with my bf. I felt okay about my cooking at this point, and resolved to focus on cooking food that Kevin liked so he wouldn’t have to eat out all the time. I would say I was fairly successful. Kevin was very patient with my fuckups and I’m sure he ate many meals that he was less than happy about. But I’m glad he did, because his feedback and encouragement allowed me to improve my cooking faster than ever!

Since I was basically vegetarian for my entire co-op term, I had almost no experience preparing meat (which my bf needs to eat to survive, or something). I learned a lot in just one month of regularly cooking meat. Not that I was any good, but I was getting there. I relied a bit too much on processed meats like bacon, sausages, and spam, but for the moment I prioritized making food Kevin could actually eat rather than making food healthy.

As for me, I was continuing to try new foods as always. I made some pretty weird things, like apple butter on smearcase and avocado cookies. But at the time, I didn’t think about how weird they were. I was just full of enthusiasm about discovering new things to cook.

June

Our first vacation this year was a short weekend getaway to Montreal! We went there to watch the F1 Grand Prix, but for me the best part of the trip was all the amazing food. ? We were only there from Friday to Sunday, but it felt much longer because we ate so many delicious meals in such a short time!

In June, I also got serious about bread baking. I bought two mixers (the first one died on me and was immediately replaced). At one point, I made Japanese milk bread three times in one week. I also used the excuse of making pizza for Kevin to test a billion different pizza doughs.

Overall, it was a super fun month! And, I somehow had time to fully track each week for the entire month. Looking back, I have no idea how I found time to do all this and didn’t fail any classes. I guess summer courses really are easier.

July

I continued expanding my cooking repertoire in July. It occurred to me that I was doing so much baking and sweets-making, I had neglected savoury food. My Instant Pot was a huge help in this. I cooked almost every entree in the IP, unless it was fried rice or tacos.

I made quite a few dishes that Kevin really liked this month, such as IP chicken burrito bowls and roasted cauliflower.

August

Have you noticed that I’ve also gotten better at taking pictures?! Here’s two that I was especially proud of, from the Aug 5–11 Food Diary.

During August, my cooking again began to slip because… you guessed it… final exam season! But I was able to manage my time better than before because

  1. I’d gotten better at planning meals and cooking based on what I had in the fridge, rather than having to go out to the store for one or two ingredients
  2. I used cooking as my “stress relief” when I wanted a break from studying, instead of treating it as a chore.
osteria brunello ravioli

At the end of August, we flew to Italy for our second holiday of the year. I am not exaggerating when I say, this is the best vacation I have ever taken. Italy, and especially Venice, is truly such a magical place, even the most tourist-ridden attractions have a romantic charm that’s so different from Canadian cities. And oh man, don’t get me started on the food.

September

I was quite uptight about starting fall term on the right foot, so I didn’t have time to publish any Food Diaries for September. (Don’t worry, I took pictures. I’ll post them when I’m done editing!)

After binging myself in Italy, I wasn’t ready to go on a diet just yet, so this wasn’t the healthiest, or most restrained, month. But I was still improving my cooking quite a lot.

One thing that seriously affected my baking was finding out that the toaster oven I’d been using was, in fact, not part of our shared apartment furniture but actually belonged to one of my roommates. How embarrassing since I’d been using it for all of the past term and he’d never said a word. Anyways, I immediately stopped using it, but that meant I was forced to use the only other “oven” in our unit, which was actually just the microwave which had a convection setting. It never heated up to the proper temperature and was super annoying to use. So my baking, especially bread baking, took a big setback. At least that left me time to focus on other things.

October

blackberry high protein overnight oats in mason jars

This month I further pushed my horizons by making an effort to learn more stovetop cooking techniques, instead of relying on Instant Pot recipes for everything. (Although I still used my IP baby a lot.) And I got back to posting regularly on my Instagram account!

And, I started eating overnight oats again, which I hadn’t touched since February because I’d been rarely eating breakfast. I just missed those cute mason jars, you know?

November

pasta at don alfonso 1890 toronto

HELLO, YES, GUESS WHOSE 2ND ANNIVERSARY IT IS?! Kevin and I spent an amazing dinner at Don Alfonso 1890. Hands down the best Italian restaurant I’ve eaten at outside Italy, and honestly, it beats some of the restaurants we ate at in Italy, too. Expect a full review soon!

In November I accomplished what is still Kevin’s favourite dish of mine so far: Instant Pot braised pork belly. It feels almost like a scam because again, my Instant Pot did all the work and it required no skill on my part to make the pork taste amazing. I wonder if 2020 will see the discovery of a new dish that Kevin enjoys even more than this one?

December

braised tofu, napa cabbage, and glass noodles (sweet potato noodles)

In December, I got through another round of final exams, and flew back to Calgary to spend the winter holidays with my parents. Having lived the entire year in student apartments, I can’t tell you how good it feels to cook in a big kitchen, all to myself.

I haven’t felt so free and happy cooking in a while. Can’t wait to move out into our own place with the most well-equipped kitchen!!

Maybe it’s the influence of my parents, or perhaps the limitation of ingredients they have, but I find myself cooking a lot of Asian meals this month.

Welcoming 2020

Everyone, we’ve made it. ♥

2019 wasn’t the easiest year, but I have so many good memories from the past twelve months, food-related and not. It’s amazing to see how much my cooking has improved in one year, and I plan on improving even more next year. I hope you too reach your goals for 2020. Happy New Year, all!



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