It’s funny how predictably this happens.
As part of my healthstyle, I’ve been cooking a lot of meals at home using ingredients fresh from the farmers market.
And every time I tweet about something I’m cooking, I get responses like this:
- WHOA! How did you DO THAT?
- That looks AMAZING! I wish I could cook awesome things like that.
- I don’t think I could ever learn how to cook stuff that looks that delicious.
- That must have taken forever to make!
And every time I see these responses, I shake my head and laugh a little.
My Cooking Journey
The Early Years
I grew up in a house where there were approximately 10 different dishes on the menu and the main methods of preparing vegetables involved a pot of boiling water or the opening of a can. In this environment, I learned how to cook a chicken in a crock pot, chicken breasts in the oven or on the grill, and chunks of chicken in a stir fry. Vegetables were a side dish or a salad.
The College Years
I’d rather not remember this, but college was the time I learned that you could make Kraft Mac n’ Cheese in a hotpot without milk or butter, that one could survive for a week on a loaf of Wonder Bread, a jar of peanut butter, and a jar of jelly (provided you had stolen a knife from the dining hall), and that hot dogs + George Foreman = some kind of wonderful.
Post College, Pre-Healthstyle
For a long time, I rocked the ready-made meals. You know, the “Just Add Chicken!” kind of boxes you see in the middle of the supermarket. The bags of rice that came complete with tons of sodium and just enough green flecks to convince you it was a serving of broccoli. Or even better, the bags of pre-seasoned rice that can be microwaved in 90 seconds.
I bought lots of cookbooks, though. I read a lot of cookbooks. I watched a lot of Rachel Ray’s 30 Minute Meals. (Don’t judge!) But in the kitchen, I mostly stuck to the tried-and-true, the stuff I knew would taste good. Or at least, what I thought tasted good.
We do the majority of our food shopping at the farmers market nowadays. (Except in winter, when sadly, we must cope with supermarket produce.) After a first lap around the market to check out the week’s offerings, we stop by each booth and buy the things that look the most enticing. This includes foods that are new-to-me and foods that I’ve eaten, but never actually prepared myself. This also includes re-trying foods I think I don’t like.
Since DaveTheGame is vegetarian, we eat vegetarian at home. (I still eat meat when we’re eating out, maybe 1-3 meals a week.) We have a big vegetarian cookbook, but I get a lot of recipes from the internet. When we get home from the farmers market, I check my favorite recipe sites and google for recipes that are elsewhere (like in newspapers, magazines, blogs, etc).
How The Heck Is This Like DMing, E?
Check it out!
Much like being stuck at your parents’ dinner table as a kid, before you’re a DM, you’re a player. You learned things about DMing from the DMs you’ve had. If you had great DMs, you learned great things. If you had less-than-great DMs, you learned from their shining moments as well as their fall-flat failures. If you had a horrible DM, you learned what not to do. Ever.
You stored this information in your brain in a file called Things To Remember When I Run A Game.
Depending on your gaming history, the “college years” of DMing probably happened anytime between age 10 and 50. This is when you first started DMing. In your first games, you were excited to be doing it on your own, but tentative. You stole a lot of pre-made adventures and already-done ideas. You may have thought you were “making them your own” but looking back, you laugh about how in-the-box you were.
But as you improved your DMing skills, you learned more about the separate elements that come together to make a great encounter, and the great encounters that come together to make a great gaming session, and the great gaming sessions that come together to make a great campaign.
You no longer have to use adventure modules as written. You can raid them for the elements that would be great in your game and leave the rest. If you love the story and encounters, but it’s not the right level for your party, you can change the monsters to make it fit. You can see how your favorite recurring villain can sneak into this story, even if he wasn’t a part of the module.
This is just like learning to cook. Much of what we eat is prepared by following a recipe. Just like DMing from a module, I read things through a couple times, make sure I have all the ingredients, and then I go step-by-step from beginning to end.
Once I’ve mastered a recipe, I start thinking about variations I can do with it. Much like a good DM can make every dungeon crawl unique and fun, a good cook can serve quesadillas 7 days a week and have them be unique and tasty! (These are our favorite quesadillas.)
Then there are the days when I have to invent something for dinner to use up the remnants of this week’s groceries. Half an onion, some leftover beans, some random veggies, a hunk of cheese. These are the times when I have to pull from my library of taste knowledge to figure out .
It’s exactly the same as a good DM throwing together an appropriate encounter on the fly when their players turn left instead of right. You know what monsters are in the area, you know how to create a balanced encounter using these types of monsters, and you know the “tastes” of your party.
Toss it all together at the last minute and you have a delicious time for all!
Don’t Knock It Till You Try It
If you’re a DM, you have the skills needed to be able to cook. You’re just making excuses and in the meantime, your tastebuds and your waistline are suffering for it. Due to a medical condition, I lose weight slower than the average girl, but DaveTheGame has lost about 25 pounds since we started living together. We’re eating better tasting meals, experiencing new vegetables and fruits, and supporting our local farmers, too.
Start small with some quick and easy recipes. It won’t be long before you’re designing epic level culinary campaigns!
Can you think of other ways that cooking and DMing are similar?