The joy of cooking

A week of making my own meals makes me appreciate cooks

November 15, 2019


Reed Maruyama

The final product of Monday’s night of cooking. Carnitas, guacamole, and a bin full of warm tortillas.

It was at the point when I was scrambling around the kitchen, making guacamole, stirring my not-yet-cooked-all-the-way-through taco meat, and turning off my rice which had boiled over, all while getting ready for work when I knew that I would never take my mom’s cooking for granted ever again. 

When I first decided that I was going to make dinner for my family for a week, I was determined to fit it into my busy schedule of college apps, four AP classes and work as a lifeguard and swim instructor at the YMCA. I knew that cooking was a good practice and a much better option than eating out. Growing up, my parents only took us to restaurants as “special treats,” but for many other families, eating out for meals is the only option.

According to Statista, 44 percent of Americans will visit a restaurant for dinner instead of making their own food. That’s almost half of America’s population which dines out instead of eating in.

On top of that, The Guardian stated that nearly 60 percent of 18 to 25-year-olds are leaving home without the ability to cook. That was not going to be the case for me. 

I sat at my computer with Food Network’s “30 minute recipe” page open and pondered the many options. When I brought home some of the ideas for recipes and ingredients I needed to make them, my mom laughed at me. 

“We have 52 spices in our cabinet,” she said. “I am not buying you a spice mix.” 

My mom disregarded Rachel Ray’s 30-minute recipes and brought down the cookbook that she and my dad made when they first moved in together. Desserts in the front and dinner recipes in the back. I flipped through the pages and my mom brought down another cookbook from our wide collection. 

How to Eat,” my mom read. “One of the books you need a copy of when you leave this house.” 

Reed Maruyama
Spaghetti and red sauce, the final product of Friday’s cooking and the main dish for the dinner party.

I took the book and read through those recipes. All of them looked hard, with prep times of an hour or 45 minutes. I decided to go with my mom and dad’s recipes.

I planned the recipes that I chose around my week. On Monday, I would make carnitas. My mom told me that they’d take a bit of time but they wouldn’t eat into my day. 

Tuesday, I would make taco bowls with rice and quinoa. Tuesdays I have work and I get home around 8 p.m. My family normally eats around 6 p.m., and I didn’t want to make them wait, so I decided to make it and leave it in easily accessible pans so they could just heat it up and eat whenever they were ready. 

Wednesday, I was determined to make oyakodon, a Japanese dish which was deemed an “easy comfort food” by Just One Cookbook. Thursday, another work day, I’d make black bean soup and cornbread. 

Friday was the big one. I decided to end with a bang and have a small dinner party for my friends. That night, I’d make spaghetti with sausage. 

Taking on a week of cooking was definitely out of my comfort zone. My mom taught me how to saute onions and cook simple recipes when I was a kid, but since then, I’ve never really had time to practice.

Before I took on this week of cooking, I tried to find some kids my age who liked to cook.

“I always cook when I have time,” said Paige Rosales, a junior at Renaissance Arts High School. “There is such a rewarding factor in cooking. I love seeing my family’s reactions when I make them food for family reunions and things like that. I even make excuses to help my mom with dinner when I have homework to do that same day. It’s kind of like an addiction.”

It was hard to find people my age who cooked. Most of them asked me if making instant ramen or a box cake counted. This was a similar response that of Food and Wine magazine when they surveyed 40 people between the ages of 16 and 20 years old (28 males and 12 females) and asked them about their eating habits.

These people described their cooking as “jar-based,” with the microwave being the most used kitchen appliance. One of their most popular “home-cooked meals” was cheese on toast. 

Reed Maruyama
A pork loin cooks in the pressure cooker with onions and other spices to make carnitas taco meat.

After talking to people my age, I decided to talk to my aunt, Kendra Maruyama, an avid cook with a degree in nutrition. I asked her what she thought a good dinner consisted of and planned to incorporate it into my cooking. 

Because of the important role that food plays in our daily lives, I think good dinner should be delicious,” she said. “Meals are an opportunity for families and friends to come together.”

“From a nutritional standpoint, I’m always dreaming up interesting ways to incorporate color which is to say vegetables. I don’t believe that they necessarily need to be the base of a meal, but generally I like to include lots of plants,” she said. “Proteins can be chosen as a matter of taste, cost and availability and there are many great options both animal and plant-based. I think that beneficial fats are very important (olive oil, avocado, nuts/seeds). Beneficial fat helps us to stay satiated and nourished.”

After gathering enough research and hearing differing opinions, I decided I was ready to take on the task. 

After school on Monday, I got home ready to cook. I did my copious amounts of homework and then started to prep my pork for the carnitas in my family’s pressure cooker. While it cooked for an hour, I had time to do some more studying and exercise.

When it was done, I took the pork out of the pressure cooker, shredded it, and put it into the oven. While it cooked, I prepared tortillas and guacamole and set the table. My mom and I sat down to eat at 6 p.m. like I had planned. Monday was awfully easy.

On Tuesday, I got home with an hour to prep dinner before I was needed at work. I threw my bag at the front of my house and went straight to the kitchen, starting to chop up onions and prepare my taco meat.

Reed Maruyama
The mix to create cornbread to go with the bean soup for Thursday night’s dinner.

I hopped around the kitchen while my taco meat cooked and filled up pots with rice and quinoa all while trying to make a Quizlet for my AP Government quiz the next day.

When I looked up at the clock, I only had five minutes before I had to leave for work. I grabbed my work bag and ran to my room to change into my swimsuit while the oven was still on. When I returned to the kitchen, my quinoa was boiling over and my rice was burning at the bottom.

I managed to save my rice and clean up the quinoa. I left the dinner on the stove for my family to heat up when they got hungry and I made it to work two minutes early.

Wednesday was for oyakodon. I had read that this dish was an easy, go-to, comfort food so I was ready to relax and make something easy. It was while I was making this dish that I realized my amount of respect for Japanese moms. 

To make this dish, I had to make one serving at a time. Each serving took about ten minutes after the prep time of about 45 (I’m sure I could have cut that prep time in half if I hadn’t accidentally put worcester sauce in the broth instead of soy sauce.) In the end, it was a good dish. I didn’t mess up terribly and it tasted really good.

Alexandra Der Boghosian
The table is set with candles and a bowl full of Parmesan cheese, ready for the dinner party on Friday night.

Thursday was another stupidly easy day. I put bean soup in the slow cooker and made cornbread before I went to work. My family heated it up when they wanted to eat and I ate when I got home.

Friday was my big day. I set the table in the living room with candles, flowers and nice silverware. I made a big pot of red sauce in the morning and let it cook all day. I got a nice French baguette and made garlic bread in the oven while I cooked pasta and tossed salad. When my friends got to my house, I made them big plates of pasta and covered it with red sauce. We ate our spaghetti, drank Italian soda, and listened to an Italian playlist my friend had made for the dinner party.

Friday was a success, as was every other day. Cooking, although stressful, had a nice routine and a sense of peacefulness to it. I know that cooking probably won’t ever fit into my high school schedule but now, I’ll do it any chance I can get.

“Friday night felt very homey and very cosy with the homemade cooked meal,” said senior Alexandra Der Boghosian after attending my Friday dinner. “The effort Reed put in the meal truly showed how much she cared about cooking.” The smiles people had when they ate my food was worth all of the stress and boiling over life could throw at me.


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  • F

    Frances AffandyDec 12, 2019 at 12:24 am

    Wonderful well written demonstrating not only cooking but organizing skills! Congrats! Enjoyed MANY lovely meals at your Granny’s table. Glad the heritage is being passed along!! Hooray!

  • P

    Peter WoodsDec 5, 2019 at 8:49 pm

    great article Reed!

  • M

    Marianne Maruyama HalpinDec 4, 2019 at 6:23 pm

    Brava, Reed! Your article is nourishing. Your kindness to family comes back seven-fold. Cooking is hard at first. It takes everyone a few years to find a rhythm and curate the recipes that you like. The best part is seeing your family and friends enjoying your gift of food. That part feeds the cook’s soul.