"The only real stumbling block is the fear of failure. In cooking, you have got to have a what-the-hell attitude." ~ Julia Child

Response to a Reader: Why I even bother

by Julie on March 25, 2012

in Chew on This


Not your mother's iceberg. This is fabulous fresh lettuce from my local urban farm.

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…

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Allison Shane March 26, 2012 at 8:01 am

Agreed. It really is worth the trouble, and it does get easier! I also recommend the How to Cook Everything cookbook – I reference it at least once a week – HOWEVER I had my own bad home cook episode with said cracker recipe…soft, sugar cakey mush. Oh well, we must soldier on!


Leah March 26, 2012 at 7:20 pm

I sure am glad I found this blog! I am at the place now where you were a few years ago, I think. I try. And I do have a brain and can follow recipes, but somehow, food I cook never turns out that great. I just want to master a few basic, healthy dinners – that’s it. It should be simple!! I’m looking here for inspiration and tips – thanks!


Julie March 27, 2012 at 10:22 am

Thanks Leah! Stick around and hopefully we’ll both learn something!


Jamie March 27, 2012 at 1:25 pm

Cooking is an art, the act of creating. Writing and cooking are your preferred mediums – and I thank you!


Bonnie McCarthy March 30, 2012 at 3:24 pm

You inspire! This is a great reminder of why & how sometimes it is the small things that make a big difference!


Stephanie, The Recipe Renovator April 6, 2012 at 8:29 pm

Hi Julie, what a great post. I grew up with a Mom who cooked every meal, and was highly competent at it, but in retrospect, didn’t LOVE to cook. So while I owe her big time for teaching me how to make pie crust and be comfortable in the kitchen, I had to forge my own path in terms of experimentation and joy. I love your honesty. While it definitely comes easier to some than others, I agree that it’s completely worth it. I started my blog as a way to help others find their way into the kitchen and make healthy food.


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