One day my son, who was around seven at the time, came into the kitchen where I was working. I’ve never heard more sincere effusiveness in a voice than when he expressed his excitement over what I was preparing for dinner. “That’s my favorite recipe out of everything you make!” he told me. I was opening cans of soup.
And he’s not the only youngster I’ve impressed with my cuisine. A friend of his spent the afternoon with us once and went home to tell his parents about what I had served for a snack. “She makes the best waffles!” he told them. “You cook them right in the toaster.” The kid’s mom is a friend of mine, so we were able to laugh when she related this to me later.
I’ve never been…enthusiastic, shall we say…about cooking. For me, it’s much more about the end result than the process. Frankly, I’d rather be writing. Which is why I don’t impress the adults quite so much.
The list of my culinary failures is long. When I was a young newlywed, my extremely large extended family held a reunion. One of my aunts put herself in charge of organizing the food. Which was probably smart and necessary, so we wouldn’t end up with fifty bowls of potato salad. But I think she made certain assumptions. Such as believing my two X chromosomes enabled deviled egg making abilities. Shortly before the reunion, I received a letter from my aunt listing what dish each family member should bring. And by each family member, I mean the adult females, even the ones who had married into the clan. Her own sons were responsible for nothing, but their wives were.
Next to my name, I saw the words “deviled eggs.” I had no idea how to make those. This was in the days before the internet, so I couldn’t have a recipe on my computer screen within five minutes. Oh, I suppose I could have cracked open a cookbook during one of my frequent trips to the public library. Or, you know, called my mom. But I decided I’d rather put my energies toward rants about the ingrained sexism in my family of origin.
“This is exactly why I hate cooking!” I’d say to my long-suffering husband. “Because women are just *expected* to do it.” Oh, I was happy to move away from my conservative old-fashioned upbringing, in which women were judged by cooking abilities. Meanwhile, I had a family reunion to attend, at which I appeared bearing a dozen hard-boiled eggs with devil faces drawn on the shells. Clever of me, wasn’t it?
In the more current meantime, I have friends and relatives all along the conservative-liberal spectrum. And I find many of the liberal friends are all about what and how people cook. Is it organic? Did you buy local? I like slow food. You’re not wasting packaging by buying pre-made foods are you? Where can I go that I’m not expected to cook??????
It’s not that I want to shirk the food prep altogether. I have learned to cook a few things along the way. I’m not bad at non-canned soups when I have time – you cut things up and throw them in a pan together. We even have a garden every year. Okay, mostly my husband has a garden every year. But I weed sometimes and I do use the food in our meals. I’ve gone as far as to make my own salsa.
About three years ago, I decided I would change my attitude. I would embrace cooking. I would enjoy the process, being in present for the experience, totally in the moment. I really threw myself into it, and I came to…eh, not hate the chore as much as I once did. I’ve come to realize cooking is necessary, and can even be enjoyable. But, while I no longer detest it, I also know it will never be The Thing That Fulfills Me. I will never find myself thinking “If only I had half an hour to myself to go into the kitchen and whip something up” in the same way that I long for a half an hour to write.
I did write a poem about my lack of domesticity, though:
What Gift Is This*
Next to us the neighbor grows
Peppers, chives, tomatoes, lettuce
Brings a gift of produce freshly
Picked to welcome us as we settle
Sisters, friends and cousins knit
Scarves and blankets, bake and sew
Cookies, quilts or crochet afghans
Always they are ready with
An Offering for any major
Life event – a baby, death
Or illness, they appear in front halls
Bringing sustenance, warmth and comfort
My dilemma – how to pay
In kind when I am overdone
In cooking, brown of thumb, too large
Of stitch, and plain old undomestic
What reaction would I see
If I showed up, a sheaf of papers
In my hand, a look of welcome/
Sympathy / congratulations
On my face and said to them
Have some poems freshly penned
*This poem originally appeared in Well Versed.