I don’t like to cook. Up until getting married and having kids, I didn’t even know how to cook. Cereal was my friend, as well as packaged freezer meals, Cheetos (mmmmm…) and spaghetti. Even with the simplicity of spaghetti, it never even occured to me that you could make a simple sauce SO EASILY from a can of crushed tomatoes ($1) vs. relying on the large glass jars of prepared sauce ($4). Shake and bake chicken eluded me- it always came out ready for gag gift status, rubbery enough to bounce off the walls (I don’t recommend this. Turns out chicken is hard to clean off walls, who knew?).
Baking is a slightly different story, but even with my success at banana bread, I still just don’t enjoy preparing food. Since every family has to have at least one black sheep, it naturally follows that I come from a long line of cooks. Chefs, really. Professionals. They can all flip omelettes, make perfect (aka non-soggy and inedible) french toast, and pull together amazing soups from the scrounged leftovers in the fridge and pantry. One of our favorite family stories is about the time my mom offered, with all sincerity and kindness, to go into the kitchen and show the cook how to make hollandaise sauce when she was served Eggs Benedict with cheese sauce instead.
One of my brothers attended culinary school, the other bursts with natural ability and cooks, from scratch and fresh from the farm, for the entire campus at the Quaker boarding school where he lives and works. If ever a man knew the power and delicacy of herbs, it’s my brother.
I’m sure that, in the midst of such bright stars, I am a massive disappointment and conundrum. How could I have possibly NOT learned the basics of browning beef in a skillet? In college I actually, true story, boiled it instead- couldn’t figure out how else to get it brown. Where on earth did I get the idea that the only kind of mac n’ cheese comes in a blue box? I vividly remember a sense of awe and respect the first time my mom made a casserole without a box and a packet of orange powder. She is blessed, I tell you. Culinary magic is in her marrow.
I can say now, with a brief surge of pride, that I can cook. I still don’t enjoy it at all, but I can do it. I have a few simple meals that I make on a regular basis and I’ve even, (gasp!), learned how to pull together something marginally edible from the bare skeleton of a pantry when I have not been able to work up the energy to drag my children to the grocery store. I can make a vinaigrette, where there was a time that I believed that salad dressing only came in plastic bottles of Ranch and Thousand Island. Most of this I learned from watching my husband who, surprise, is an amazing cook.
At heart, I am a microwave mama. I don’t use canned vegetables anymore, but my freezer is full of bags of peas and carrots that I use for things other than to ice a bruise. Chicken nuggets are my friends. Did you know you can get big bags of ravioli in the freezer section? Add in a can of crushed tomatoes (wow, look at me grow) and you’ve got a perfect, messy dinner for the whole family! I have a large collection of cookbooks, mostly with the words “Quick”, “Easy” and “Simple” in the titles. With all this achievement though, this learning curve in action, I still rely mostly on my freezer and yes, I still use frozen pre-packaged meals, though I’ve moved up from TV dinners. I found a local store that prepares fresh dinners ahead of time, portioned out and with clear baby-step instructions, that you freeze. Every weekend I toss two or three of these in the fridge to thaw. I LOVE THIS STORE. I email the owner, Chef Liz, ALL THE TIME. She is my version of a teeny bopper celebrity crush.
I have a fervent hope that my girls will learn to cook at their father’s and grandmother’s knees. I can’t discount my own bad influence, though. Yesterday I was making a tasty EasyMac lunch with the girls and Anna said to me, “First you make the mac’n in the microwave and then you open the cheese and stir!”
Before she leaves for college, I promise to tell her that you shouldn’t boil EVERYTHING. And I will give her my banana bread recipe- along with a box of freezer bags.