Today marks day 30 of Malaysia’s Movement Control Order (MCO) and I figured what better way to commemorate this milestone than to pen down some of the learnings I’ve had while cooped up at home, cooking my own meals for the past one month. This may not seem like any feat of sorts to cooks out there but you see, I’m one of those experimental cooks or CovEAT Chefs as I would like to affectionately call myself, born out of times of self isolation. For a good part of my young adult life, Grab Food has always been my best friend. Nothing beats convenience when you spend a good amount of time at or commuting to work and so I’ve relegated to be the occasional healthy-ish “cook” who assembles her food (read food that don’t require much cooking skills; ie salads, air fried or oven baked meals) More out of hobby than self sustenance I would say.

At the start of MCO, like many others I stocked up my pantry with 2 weeks worth of food. What started off as a practical notion of finishing up what i bought turned into a challenge to cook daily until MCO ends. Though this decision initially stemmed from a health and safety one, it morphed into what it is today because deep down I wanted to know if I would be able to cook for myself without any ready made paste or shortcuts. Anything I want to make, I’ll learn to make it from scratch. Thus, out I went as I did my next grocery shopping to gather my troop of  comrades such as fish sauce, oyster sauce, vinegar, miso paste and mirin to help me win this war. With them in my arsenal, I have what I need to cook a variety of cuisine. Come to think of it, having red wine vinegar would be nice, but hey we can always make do with what we have right?

So, what have I learnt from this culinary journey? First and foremost, if you fail, try again until you succeed. When Dalgona coffee made it’s waves online, my feed was swamped with friends trying this out. After a few days of constant social media disruption of this innocuous beverage, I jumped on the bandwagon as well. I did not have  a whisk at hand but I figured my barely there biceps and sheer determination would do the trick. Alas, that is not the case and my version came out nothing like what I’ve seen online despite my long agonizing whipping hours. Okay, I’m being a little dramatic here but you get the idea. I felt a little defeated considering the amount of time I put in, and yet not getting the results I want. Does this sound familiar? I’m sure this happens across many different facets of life. “I spent many hours dancing and yet can’t get that choreography right while another seem to be able to do it perfectly just after 2 hours of practice.” Or the classic “I work long hours daily, how is so & so getting promoted instead of me?” Truth is, life isn’t fair and everyone starts off on different pedestals with different circumstances and resources that shaped who and where they are in life. Or they are just really good at hiding the amount of effort and hours they put in a craft. There are no shortcuts in life. Everyone needs to put in the work to achieve what they want, and with odds stacked differently for each of us, it’s irrational to compare ourselves with others. Our one and only yardstick should be our yesterday. That’s the biggest competitor we should be defeating. Hence forth, strive forward to consistently get better at what you do daily even if it means you started off failing and stumbling a few times down the road. They say, good things come to those who wait. I say, good things come to those who wait AND take action to get it. So did I manage to get my perfect Dalgona coffee? You bet I did! After a few frustrating tries of course.

Mind over matter.  Yes, this holds especially true after 7 days of cooking and you are sick of your own food and you start hearing nasi lemak, kimchi jigae, beef fried rice and beef burger call your name. It took a lot of resolve to not turn to my best friend, Grab Food to satisfy my cravings. I constantly look at the Grab Food platform , scrolling for what I desire, stopping short of pressing the add to cart button. What kept me in check? Deep down I knew that I wanted to complete this challenge no matter what the temptations were and how hard it seemed at that time. So I stuck to it and here we are at day 30, revelling in the fact that I did it. I’m going to reward myself by connecting with Mr Grab tomorrow. Hehe

Our bodies are just like a bank account. What we consume compounds. The question is, what do we want to increase in time? Our health or our waist line? What we put into our bodies matter, which is why I choose to have nutritious balanced meals. Cooking my own meals allows me to control what goes into my food. Very little oil, no deep frying and no or very minimal sugar alternatives is my cooking mantra. If the food I consume outside is less than healthy, then I should balance it out by cooking healthy meals at home. It may be difficult at the start but once you start doing this consistently, it becomes a habit. Speaking of habits that compound, past the 7 days mark of cooking my own meals, it has become enjoyable to me. Plating and taking nice photos of them gives me a sense of satisfaction. I started off with cooking instant noodles and 1/4 into my journey, it is starting to be a part of my daily habits and it seemed less daunting and difficult than when I started. Cooking did not become any less difficult, I just got better. The same goes with exercise. If you started off lifting 2kg dumb bells and 5kg ones seemed impossible, the day you are able to lift the 5kg dumb bells, it isn’t because the weights got any lighter. You just got stronger.

Anything we want to achieve, we achieve through consistency, not intensity.  It’s okay to start small. As long as we continue to build on the habits daily, it will eventually compound and we will be able to take on more than what we did yesterday. A book that resonated to me on this is Atomic Habits by James Clear. One of my favourite phrase from his book is ” If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection.” You can also check out his book here

As days roll by in my cooking challenge, there were days where I was super motivated to try out new recipes but there were also days I did not feel like spending hours in the kitchen and just have instant noodles instead. As long as I did not stray away from my goal, it IS okay. So what if all I could manage on that day is just instant noodles? We all have our ups and downs. The productivity cycle has it’s peaks, troughs and plateaus. It is important to remember that and not get swept away by the notion that just because we have more time on our hands that we HAVE to be productive all the time. It is okay to not be productive all the time.  During MCO or any other time really, there are four levels of productivity. The Productive Sloth, The Productive Procrastinator, The Productive Warrior and lastly The Productive Jedi.

Productivity Cycle

In times of uncertainty and challenges, it is easy to turn into a Productive Sloth. If you’re productive, it means you are creating or producing large amounts of something. In this case, it can be curling up in a ball crying, laying in bed all day or just binge watching Netflix. Guess what, it is perfectly okay, human even, to indulge in this. The key is to be aware that you’re in this stage, feel it in it’s entirety and make a commitment to yourself to get out of this funk after a predetermined number of days. The length differs by every individual, as long as it is not for a consistent prolonged period. If this pervasive feelings persist, reach out to a trusted close friend or a helpline specialized in helping you to clear your mind or ease your burdens. In Malaysia, you can reach out to a special counselling 24 hours helpline called Talian Kasih. You can either call 15999 or Whatsapp 019-2615999.

As you slowly ease yourself out of the Productive Sloth stage, you start becoming the Productive Procrastinator. You’re slowly getting your mojo back but you’re just not quite there yet. So, you do stuffs to keep yourself busy while avoiding what really needs to be done. If this sounds like you, it is okay. At least, you are still getting things done. It is already better than inaction. This is me most of the time! As your motivation level peaks, you’ve turned into a full blown Productive Warrior. Just like a warrior, you go all out in the battle field. Pat yourself on the back,  for this is when you’re in the flow,  busy checking off that checklist in a blaze. You’re in the zone as they say. You feel accomplished and satisfied at this stage but bear in mind to not over do it, as you do not want to burn out. As with any goals or checklists, they should be challenging, but not overwhelming. Otherwise, you will either be too afraid to start or fall short before you reach the finish line.

The most optimum level of productivity level to me is when you’ve ascended to a Productivity Jedi. It is when you know what is right or wrong for you and what to do. There will be troughs and peaks in your life, but you are in a constant state of awareness and being. When you have clarity on what matters in life, you choose where to spend your energy wisely. As Mark Manson said, “In life, we have a limited amount of f*cks to give. So you must choose your f*cks wisely.” The key to stronger, happier people is to handle adversity better and stop trying to be “positive” or productive all the time. Know and pick your battles. Ignore the rest. THAT’s when you’ve known you’ve risen to the plane of the elusive few. The Subtle Art Of Not Giving a F*ck is one of my favourite books of all time and if you would like to delve deeper, you can get the book here

My last nugget of self actualization is you can when you believe. Prior to MCO, I did not know how to make steak, bake cookies or make my favourite Korean meals like Budae Jigae or Doenjang Jigae. They seemed too far fetched for someone like me but I’m one to test my boundaries. I was too stuck in the I can’t mind set that it became my identity. I’m that girl who can’t cook. However, the moment I stepped out of that state of being and into a new identity of I can cook, my worldview changed. I started off following recipes to a T, and as I gained my confidence, started evolving and making the recipes with a dash of my own little twist. What I love about cooking most is that you can experiment with your ingredients. It’s a 50:50 chance. If paired right, it turns into a master piece and if not, it’s not good or palatable. A 50% chance is still pretty good odds stacked to your favour. That beats baking in my books as  the rise and fall of your goods are down to the last precision.

The little rebel that I am, I’ll stick to cooking, thanks.

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