On Finding Myself Culinarily Disinclined

For Valentine’s this year, instead of a wrapped gift, per se, I was thinking of alternatives for my sweetheart. Something into which I would put more time and thought—more of myself. One thought I had several times was that of making a romantic, yummy, gourmet dinner. And every time the idea popped into my head, it was immediately shut down. You see, I have a minimal relationship with cooking. I have never loved to cook. But this is a relationship that can’t ever just go away because it fulfills a certain basic need: eating. Even eating sometimes seems like a nuisance, taking time away from whatever engaging project I happen to be engrossed in at the moment—let alone having to prepare the food. And as a mother, planning and preparing meals for my children has probably been my biggest challenge. I sometimes claim that it’s really the planning of meals that I hate, but I think that’s just a cover. So I battle with this relationship, avoid contact when I can, and probably need to improve it—someday.

Don’t get me wrong, I love food. Granted, I was a picky eater (clear up until my early twenties). It took me until I was a breastfeeding mother, though, to realize how much I really like to eat yummy food, and how much there was out there that I hadn’t given myself a chance to like (there’s something about those nursing hormones). I still love my comfort food once in a while—and especially when I’m pregnant: Cream of Wheat, a big glass of milk, fresh peaches, an egg—sunny-side-up, and some graham crackers. But when I’m nursing, I have a heightened desire to try new tastes and eat twice my usual serving. So, my point is, I now appreciate tasty food and am sometimes motivated to try making it, but cooking is not where I find joy or creative fulfillment. I really feel like I’ve tried, but I’d rather be putting time and effort into something else. My husband does better than me I think. He makes cookies, pies, salads, sandwiches and fries up a nice, soft-but-crispy batch of potstickers. His mother is a great cook and actually seems to have fun in the kitchen. As I was growing up, I don’t remember noticing if my own mother enjoyed cooking, but she is good at it—I think she had to be after cooking for a family of eight.

I read Ruth Reichl’s Tender at the Bone and loved it, but somehow couldn’t completely relate. I believe my sister and I are on the same page in the kitchen (but it’s interesting to me how most of my four brothers really seem to like cooking). Furthermore, I don’t usually try recipes unless I’ve already tasted and LOVED it. I got one of Rachel Ray’s 30-minute-recipe books for my birthday in November, but have yet to crack the cover. Last year, my relationship with cooking even came to the point where my husband and I decided to trade chores, and I took over the laundry while he did dinners. He suggested it. It was a blissful semester-long hiatus (which was as long as his schedule allowed). And there were some ground rules:

1) no eating out more than once a week
2) he plans meals & shopping list w/out my knowledge
3) I can’t complain (unless it’s cold cereal the fifth night in a row)
4) I do all dishes, except the blender
5) I can do special meals for guests on request
6) doesn’t affect breakfast or lunch

So, just to get the record straight, when I talk or blog excitedly about cooking, it’s either because it’s a successful attempt at a “difficult” recipe (i.e. takes more than 30 min. or is complicated in any way), but I love the food enough to make it once in a while. Or else I’m so proud of myself for being able to make something simple that I really love, that I have to tell everyone about it.

In conclusion, I’ll share my most recent favorite recipe (got it from my mother-in-law). I love it for its simplicity and flavor. And it’s healthy. {Pic from leggos.com.}

~

Minestrone Soup

Saute:
1 lb lean ground beef
3 celery stalks chopped
1/2 medium onion chopped

Drain fat. Then add:
1 (15 oz) can of chopped tomatoes
2 large carrots sliced on angle
2 cups beef soup broth
2 Tbsp dried parlsey
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp garlic salt
15 oz can drained kidney beans
15 oz can drained garbanzo beans
1 oz can drained green beans
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp basil
2 (8 oz) cans tomato sauce
2 tsp salt
4 cups water
1 1/2 cups rigatoni noodles (I like leaving these out)

Simmer for 20 min. Add 2 Tbsp diced green pepper at end.

~

So, what’s your own relationship with cooking like? Do any of you think I’ll eventually love to cook? Oh, and go ahead and share a favorite (simple) meal idea/recipe if you so desire.

{This post was inspired by Liz’s description of her adjustment to being a stay-at-home mom. She writes: “For a long time I worried that I didn’t fit the typical mold of skills my peers seemed to have. Why can’t I cook and why do I loathe it? I get in and out of the kitchen as fast as I can. I can’t be crafty to save my life and I really could not see myself in Cookie Lee jewelry. Mary Kay, no thanks. Tupperware? I get my food containers from Ikea and I don’t send thank you cards like I should, so stamp club would be a waste of time for me. So what does a housewife like me do to grow?” Read the inspiring piece in its entirety on Design Mom’s blog here.}

Brooke

I am a children's librarian. I have 2 kids. I have a professor for a husband. I obsess about writing and about making things.

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  1. liz says:

    love it- awesome post and thanks for the plug! I don’t mind at all!

    hooray for being ok with not being an okay cook! 😉

  2. dangermom says:

    I can’t say that cooking is my all-time favorite activity, but on the whole I like it well enough. I a reasonably good home cook. I’m not crazy about the way meal-planning shows up every single day without fail, but then at least I don’t have to go out and kill a chicken before I can start.

    I enjoy trying out new recipes with yummy-sounding ingredients when I’m in the mood, and I like to make favorite dinners that everyone loves. I go in bursts, as I do with my entire life; I’ll spend a couple of months reading cookbooks, trying new recipes, and so on, and then lose enthusiasm for a while as I move on to home repair, sewing, or something else.

    A favorite cookbook is Nigella Lawson’s “How to be a domestic goddess”–which is all baking.

    As for my husband, he does wonderful Saturday breakfasts and great pot-stickers, but is pretty unskilled otherwise. This isn’t great, but he’s almost never home in time to cook anything, so improvement is difficult.

    I have a good SAHM friend who never cooks. Her husband comes home every evening and makes dinner, and he’s quite good at it. They’re happy, so that’s fine, but it seems a little unfair to me that she never cooks anything at all.

  3. Caroline says:

    I didn’t grow up cooking at all. I remember when I was dating Mike at 22 years old, he wanted me to cook a dinner for him. I was totally freaked out as I had never made anything other than pasta with Ragu. Luckily my cousin took me under her wing and showed me what to do.

    Since then I’ve become a bit more interested. I have a couple of things I’m proud of, and i hope to find some more things that I can whip up quickly and easily. One challenge for me is that I’m trying to drastically cut down on meat, so finding vegetarian recipes is a challenge for someone like me who doesn’t like vegetables.

    My other big problem is that I LOVE to eat out. We probably do that half the week.

  4. Ann says:

    I wrote a really long post about organizing to cook on my personal blog

    I don’t think about food. I eat it. Not a healthy approach for me. I think more mindfulness about my food would help a lot.

  5. hungry_traveler says:

    I love cooking! I got into it a few years ago as a way of exploring different cultures and to learn something new. And that desire has gotten me to the point of going to culinary school in April. I’m reading “Tender to the Bone” right now and so far it’s excellent. I do agree that it’s hard to relate to her if you weren’t raised in the kitchen. I wasn’t involved in cooking at all when I was little. For some people cooking is more of a chore. There’s nothing wrong with not enjoying it. That goes for a lot of things. Maybe baking would be more your thing?

  6. Karolyn says:

    Finally someone is truthful enough to admit what I have been harboring as an inner secret my entire adult life. I HATE to cook. I can cook and I have cooked. As a mother of 7, you know all about meal preparation. I even understand nutrition. But, for some unknown reason the cooking “gift” or “gene” has never been something I have been able to recognize in myself. For a long time, I just struggled and pretended when I got with my friends and they were all talking about their newest culinary feat. I would go along with those Julia Childs and would give them one of my tried and true recipes as well. I have an extensive library of cookbooks, with the latest ones published for the working mom, the 20 second meal and of course the two ingredient meals. Those receipe’s pretty much all look alike and taste alike. I tried to get out of the cooking scene by having my children learn to cook, but they seem to have inherited my non cooking gene. Shouldn’t it be a given that all women should be given the same amount of this apparent inherent quality as her right of passage, to LOVE to cook? I mean when you are in the childbearing and childrearing years, 90% of your time is in that room where magic is supposed to be happening by just throwing a few things in a pot and presto, a gourmet meal for 20 appears. I am now a new empty nester, and my kitchen has all the latest gadgets invented by “you saw it on TV”…and yet that alusive gourmet meal now magically appears out of a box labeled Marie Callendar, and I am finally a cooking goddess!

  7. frankie says:

    I dont understand the hated of cooking. If you can read, you can cook. People treat it like it is some kind of mystery.

  8. Eve says:

    Frankie, cooking is a mystery to some of us–a holy mystery, no doubt, but a mystery nontheless. I despise cooking. There are few things I hate coming home after a long day and having to invent something for dinner at precisely the moment when my intellectual and emotional reserves are at their nadir. I really admire people like hungry traveler and Jim F. and Seraphine who love to cook and are skilled at it, and I would love to have such a person in my house. I do understand why men rave about the cooking skills of their wives and why the GAs wax nostalgic about mom’s pies etc.–there is something so lovely about walking into the house and smelling good food being prepared or things baking! Who wouldn’t want someone around to provide that?

    But trust me, literacy is not nearly enough to make someone into a cook. Not even close. I read constantly, but at least half of the things I try to make flop–which only makes me more frustrated and discouraged with the whole process and more prone to swear it off. Cooking is a complex skill, and like most such skills, it is best learned by demonstration and by the on-the-spot coaching of an expert.

    Maybe there are cooking genes. Like Caroline, I didn’t grow up cooking at all, and both my mother and my grandmother hated cooking.

  9. Dora says:

    Hmmm … I don’t think cooking is difficult, per se. Most general recipes are pretty straightforward. But I don’t really have a lot of motivation to do everyday cooking. As a single woman, cooking single portions seems like a waste of time. Of course, I could always cook family portions but who likes to eat left overs for days on end. And then there’s the tedium of planning, preparing, cooking and cleaning up, without someone else to help out or appreciate. This may sound like whining. And, it kind of is.

    However, I do like cooking for events. Birthdays, parties and such. Maximize the time spent on all the prep work by cooking for lots of people, appreciation galore, and generally some wonderful soul offering to help clean up.

    When cooking, I generally rely on a couple of failsafe dishes. Occassionally I get adventurous, but that usually happens when I’m cooking for my family, and they’re obliged to love whatever I churn out.

    So, cooking is a mixed bag for me. I don’t love it. I don’t hate it. Just looking for more reasons to do it.

  10. Seraphine says:

    As Eve mentioned, I adore cooking, though I’m not sure where my cooking gene came from. While my other family members don’t necessarily dislike cooking, they don’t love it like I do.

    When it comes to cooking and skill, I think Eve is right to some extent. While it’s pretty easy to follow a recipe, there’s a lot of basic cooking knowledge that’s not contained in recipes. When I first started cooking, I had to follow the recipe *exactly*–otherwise, things turned out badly. And if something went wrong when I did follow the recipe, I had a hard time figuring out what had gone wrong. It’s taken me time and practice to be able to expand my cooking skills beyond following a basic recipe.

    Dora, I can also empathize with your plight. While I love to cook, I have weeks where I’ll hardly do any cooking because the effort to make meals just isn’t worth it. I will cook large portions and eat what I’ve cooked for the rest of the week (I like leftovers), but if you don’t like to eat leftovers for the following week, you should try freezing leftovers. If you freeze them in individual portions, they’re super easy to heat up for a later date. I do this with tomato sauce during the summer months, since I can’t get really good tomatoes during the winter.

    Which reminds me of my favorite simple recipe. I’ve already posted it here before, so I’ll just include the URL to the post. It’s sungold tomato pasta–and you can find the recipe in the comments on Emily’s tomato and peach post:

    http://exponentblog.blogspot.com/2006/08/peaches-and-tomatoes.html

  11. Seraphine says:

    point of clarification on above comment: I’m single and live alone.

  12. Brooke says:

    Thanks to all of you for your comments and input. I’m so glad for everyone’s differences.

    Liz: Thanks for the inspiration!

    Caroline: I have to say that I love your specialties–the ones I’ve had the pleasure of tasting, anyway. You’ve perfected that fish cooked in parchment, risotto, and your famous salad.

    Ann: thanks for the link. I appreciated the post on your personal blog. I have a friend who tried to make the planning easier by doing a 4-week schedule. Maybe I’ll try that, but being spoon-fed a schedule with recipes sounds pretty great.

    Hungry Traveler: I think I like leaving the baking to my hubby. He’s already great at it and generally has more motivation to do it. Maybe because he’s a
    supertaster
    ?

    Karolyn: I’m so glad my post struck a chord with you.

    Frankie: I think the point here isn’t whether or not someone is able to cook, but whether or not they enjoy it. The more you do something, the better you are bound to get at it, but that still doesn’t mean you will love it.

  13. Veritas says:

    I love cooking. Im not really sure why or where it came from, I think its just because I LOVE food! But, because Im sorta lazy (necessity is the mother of invetion after all), I have come up with lots of super easy recipes. I think the key to being a good cook, is knowing the ingredients, and trial and error. I know to use butter (mostly) when pan-frying because I’ve tried other things, like olive oil, and it burnt up to fast and splattered and butter didn’t. And because I am intimatly acquainted with the flavors of my favorite foods and herbs, I know what will make good combinations. Of course, sometimes the combos ARENT good, and then I have alot of wasted food, but, I know better for next time, and I’ll make a note (LESS SALT or MORE CUMIN or something). Most of my favorite things I make started with a recipe in a book or something, then morphed into ‘my’ version – like, I’d rather add basil then oregano, or I add cayenee pepper or I use tofu instead of meat or something and it just goes from there. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

    I recently posted alot of recipes on FMH – (sorry not good at linking)
    http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/?p=958#comment-95242

    http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/?p=958#comment-96066

    and

    http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/?p=958#comment-97233

  14. Veritas says:

    Oh, and I recommend watching the Food Channel. I seriously learn alot on there! I’ll watch them make some yummy thing, and get all confident that I can do it, then I get the recipe off the website. Much better than just reading a recipe cold. They often have video on their website too, seeing a recipe made makes it so much easier to try.

  15. Brooke says:

    Thanks, Veritas. I agree that watching food-network-type shows is much more motivating than just reading a recipe. I watched Rachel Ray once on Jetblue, and she was making this soup and it looked so simple and so delicious (much like this minestrone soup my mother-in-law made). So I got one of her books. Anyway, too bad I can’t watch food network at home (no cable). Even though I can watch food shows on other channels, most the time I feel like watching other things.

  16. journeygal says:

    I don’t enjoy cooking very many things, either. 🙂 My husband and I split the cooking just about 50/50, and even at that we only cook 3-4 evenings a week.

    But I LOVE soup – whether canned, dried, bottled, or occaisionally homemeade, so I’ll definitely give this one a try! It sounds delicious.

  17. Deborah says:

    I’m not a cook (husband loves it), though I can cook. My problem is impatience. I want to spend my time elsewhere (reading, walking, teaching) and tend to rush the job — which isn’t good for the flavors or the tenderness of the meat.

    But this Christmas, an unexpected gift has changed my life:

    THE CROCK POT

    I was bemused by the gift initially — seemed like something from another era — but I am now in love with this kitchen gadget!

    Because it has the patience I do not have. On Wednesday, I made an amazing beef stew — 15 minutes to toss it in the pot, eight hours of worry-free simmering.

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