A reader just wrote in saying she loved this blog because she could so relate. She is also a middle-aged mom whose own mother wasn’t interested in cooking and so she never learned how to do anything in the kitchen.
The only difference, she says, is that I WANT to cook, and she doesn’t. She’d rather deal with teenagers than cook.
That’s some serious aversion.
So it made me think, why DO I even bother? Why DO I like to cook and want to learn, considering my constant stupid mistakes and ruined simple dishes? Why don’t I just give up and, I don’t know…live on take-out and stuff in cans?
Because at some point I decided that I should at least be able to feed my family in some basic manner. And it started to annoy me that even though I could read and follow a recipe to the letter, I still managed to burn scrambled eggs and make bland slop out of three simple ingredients.
This very blog sprang from one such epic fail with miso soup. So bad it was comical. And because once I’d started the blog (back in 2006, believe it or not) I then needed fodder. Which meant I had to actually try and cook regularly.
But everything else sprang from there. The family seemed to appreciate sitting down at the table every night to break bread together. I found I enjoyed feeding people … especially when they seemed to enjoy what I made.
Make no mistake. I still can’t cook very well. Other bloggers will tell you all about their latest Provencal braised lamb chops and I’m doing the happy dance because I didn’t burn the cheese quesadillas.
But I’ve also found that what Mark Bittman and all those other foodie folks say is true: home cooking is the hub from which a dozen positive spokes spring: It’s healthier, it’s cheaper, it fosters family and community and friendship, it launches traditions (your kids are watching), it’s relaxing, it’s enjoyable. It tastes good (most of the time, in my case, anyway).
I didn’t used to be like this. Before I had a family of my own cooking was at the end of a long and diverse list of interests, after entomology but before a root canal. I admired the folks I knew who would spend the day deciding how best to prepare a fish dinner for eight, but I didn’t understand their motivation.
I get it now. And to you, dear reader, I’d say this: Buy Mark Bittman’s new book How to Cook Everything: The Basics, and try something, anything. And see how cool it is to make something that turns out.
His original How to Cook Everything, the original, made all the difference for me when I was just starting to try my hand behind the stove. The recipes were so simple even I didn’t muck them up (most of the time.) And since he went through every category of food (meat, vegetables, desserts, bread, etc.) methodically describing what it was, how to shop for it, how to make it, I came away with a lot of knowledge I didn’t previously have.
Like, who knew you could actually make crackers at home? I had no idea!
Yes, food snobs will snort in derision. This isn’t a book for experienced cooks or professionals. It’s a book for people like you, dear reader, and me, who did not learn how to cook when we were growing up and just want some basic competence so we can feed our people.
With each little success you’ll like cooking a little more. I promise. And you’ll try something a little more complicated eventually. And maybe that will turn out. And maybe you’ll start figuring out what it is you have a little knack for (mine’s rice) and riff on that. Maybe you’re a better baker? Stuff starts to turn out, you start to understand why or why not, and then it starts to be a little fun. ….
I’m serious. If I can do it anybody can do it.
Go! Cook! And keep me posted…