In Which I Discuss My Love/Hate Relationship With Cooking

I DO NOT LIKE TO COOK. There. I said it. I’m just now getting to a place where I can say it and not feel completely inadequate as a woman. And I have to regularly rein myself in when I believe even for a second that it’s some sort of character defect.

I’ve thought about this a lot lately and although I love to read about food and I love to find and save recipes and I love to look at and take photographs of food and I love to watch cooking shows and I love to buy food and I LOVE TO EAT, I simply don’t like to cook. It’s actually not simple. It’s more like a complicated love-hate thing. But whatever, because I’m not all that good at it either.

All four of us enjoy watching the Food Network, even Boy which is pretty funny when you think about it because the kid only eats 5 foods. We all love shows like Iron Chef and Guy’s Grocery Games, but probably my favorite cooking show is The Barefoot Contessa. Ina Garten seems so normal and calm and happy, she makes it all look so easy and relaxing and appealing in a non-condescending way. Or maybe it’s her house in the Hamptons that I like. I don’t know.

But I do know that I don’t like to cook. I want to like it, though, does that count? I buy food magazines every month. I read them and I enjoy them too. I have a bunch of beautiful cookbooks and a list of others I want to buy for myself. I’ve bookmarked and highlighted many pages. I love reading essays and memoirs about food and cooking and foodie travels. I want to eat my way through Italy someday and then write all about it. But I still don’t like to cook. Maybe there’s a tortured, frustrated cook hidden in here somewhere. If so, I hope I’ll find her. Kind of like the whole writing thing. I don’t know.

My mom and my grandmother passed down many wonderful recipes to me – mostly Greek. Both of my sisters are good cooks too. So what happened? Why did I not inherit the cooking gene? I don’t know. I do know that I was very tuned into the barometers of both my mother and grandmother and I was a homebody, always around when they were cooking. I soaked up their emotional energy like a sponge. Even though they are/were so good at cooking and they claimed to enjoy it and I – and everyone else in the whole wide world – loved to eat their food, they never seemed like they were having much fun during the actual cooking process. Actually, it appeared to be the opposite. I think I was so tied up in the emotion in their kitchens that I perceived as negative, I never paid attention to the cooking process at all. They sighed A LOT and they often seemed stressed and they were so freaking hard on themselves. And I was already up to my eyeballs in hard on myself so I wasn’t interested. It just didn’t ever seem worth the trouble to go back and actually learn. Not even a little, even though I have many happy memories of actual meals shared with family and friends. But I did learn to sigh. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that the sighing is a Greek fatalistic thing that’s not necessarily indicative of being unhappy. And that the emotion I perceived as negative wasn’t always actually negative, it was more of an intensity thing, which is a whole other story for another time . But still. Definitely inherited that sighing gene.

The thing is that there are so many layers of meaning folded into meals prepared and shared with family and friends, old and new. And THE TABLE. Is there a better metaphor for bringing people TOGETHER? I love that part, the relationships (in small, tolerable doses), stories, traditions, history and symbolism, and the food itself of course, definitely the food. I just don’t like the other parts. I don’t know why exactly. I think because it stresses me out, triggers me in some way, and I don’t know how to make that part go away. And we all know that I need more stress like I need a hole in the head. But I’ve convinced myself that ALL of the parts are inextricably woven together and you just can’t know what comforting, wonderful memory will be tucked away in the heart of someone you’ve fed from your kitchen. Wow, just writing that makes me gag a little but whatever, it’s a thought I think a lot. Even with all of the sighing, I just can’t bring myself to blow the whole thing off, so I keep trying. And then I give up for awhile. And I then start again. Maybe I need to develop a thicker skin too, I don’t know.

Husband likes to cook and he’s quite good at it. He definitely has that whole Greek-culture-food-is-love thing going on. He loves to feed people. He’s good at throwing stuff together without a recipe too. He also happens to make a huge mess in the kitchen which messes with my psychology but I’m quite good at cleaning up. I actually enjoy cleaning up more than cooking, so there you go. That’s one of my gifts, CLEANING UP. Ugh. Sometimes I wish I could be like him in the kitchen, eyes happily focused on the finished product and totally blind to the mess being made in the process. He just doesn’t see it. On weekends, and occasionally during the week, we mix it up like that – he cooks, I clean – and it’s a relief.

But as the primary meal provider in this house, I do cook because I love my family. I can follow recipes but I have no cooking flare. I can rock a microwave but I can’t even grocery shop the right way. I’m not sure how one can drop $200 at the grocery store and not have what she needs to prepare even one complete meal. But I can. What I really love, personally, is meals prepared with a very few, fresh, simple ingredients and a very few, easy steps that are clearly written down, preferably with photos. I do go thru phases when I experiment with new, more involved recipes and when I am motivated to do a better job at meal planning and when I try to will myself to enjoy it, but it always falls apart for various reasons…picky eaters, snobby palates, getting pissed about the uneaten leftovers, our insanely busy schedules, failing to convince myself that it’s worth the effort, my crappy grocery shopping skills, emotional baggage, blahblahblah. Another complication is that 3 out of the 4 of us are deeply committed carnivores and I am not so much of one. Plus, if I handle or look too closely at raw meat, I’m definitely not eating it, maybe not even sitting at the table with those who do. I’ve started to take off my reading glasses and wear plastic bags on my hands when handling meat to shield myself from the details but it doesn’t always work. So anyway, I quickly return to default mode which is making sure I have what I need to cook the basic things I know most of us will eat on any given day and that’s it. Not so creative or inspiring or enjoyable. Just another thing on my to-do list that I think we all get sick of. That’s the part I hate because I want to love it, or at least like it more. But I don’t. I wish I was a good cook. But I’m not. I want them to have warm layered foodie memories tucked away in their hearts. But I don’t think they do. I think they have memories of one too many nights of pasta, tacos, panini sandwiches, or grilled chicken thrown over salad, and nowhere-near-as-good-as-Yiayia’s-pot-roast even though I use the same freaking recipe. And SIGHING. I cook because I kind of, sort of want to, but mostly because I have to. If it were up to me, I’d be keeping it very simple the bulk of the time and if not, most of what I’d choose to make if I ignored everyone else around here wouldn’t be so pleasing to them, I’m sure.

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This was my breakfast today, just my speed. A very hearty multigrain toast with guacamole, farmer’s market tomato slices, a little bit of salt and pepper, topped with feta.

I keep a file of recipes that I find during my wandering on the internets and I always save them with the intention of actually making them, sometimes I do, but not usually. I have a big list right now just staring me down, daring me to try again. I had a request from Girl for butternut squash and black bean soup which actually excited me and so thank you college, I guess, because where else did THAT come from?

The last few things I made that made me happy were open-faced croque monsieur, a fat flushing soup, and pumpkin chili. Was it worth the effort? Maybe. The first went over very well. I served it with spinach salad and it got rave reviews, actually. I even pulled off a good bechamel sauce with skim milk. The second? Well, I loved it – it was vegetarian and nutrient rich and hearty – but I had to give some of it away to my neighbor who said she liked it – because no one else would eat it. Husband told me it looked like diarrhea. The last went over well with Girl and my parents, and I liked it very much too. Husband is not so much a fan of pumpkin but he tasted it and he was kind. Would I have liked it as much if I hadn’t gotten the recipe from the Thug Kitchen cookbook? Yes, I would have. I liked it so much that I’ve eaten it for lunch everyday for the past week. And threw the last bit of it away this afternoon. Because, leftovers.

A few of my FB friends asked for the recipe, so here it is straight out of the book, along with my own photos because I like this part.

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My token cooking flare was using my immersion blender to puree the chili a very little bit – which I loved because it made it a little thicker – and topping it with tzaziki and guacamole. Next time I think I’ll serve it – to myself – on a bed of brown rice.

And just for the record, I do not find Thug Kitchen’s foul language gratuitous in the least. I find it highly motivating. Hilarious, actually. I’m gonna try their enchilada recipe next. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Interestingly, writing this has inspired me a little bit and as I finish up this blog post, I have a vegetable polenta casserole in the slow cooker. I did it for me because writing this also made me feel a little sad. I’m not sure why. I need to think about it more. But anyway, hopefully, Husband and my folks, who are coming over today, will like it too and if not, they and Boy will be very happy with all of the food that’s typically found at our house on Sundays during football season, wings, nachos, etc. And I won’t be bitter. And I won’t sigh. Ok, I always sigh but that doesn’t mean I’m unhappy.

Maybe I should ask my Mom for some cooking lessons, finally, sighing and all, because the woman knows her way around a kitchen. We could start small, one recipe at a time, so we don’t knock each other out with all of that sighing. Wish me luck.

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