Learn to Love Cooking in 10 Easy Steps

wiskIs the daily grind of meal preparation getting you down?

Dinnertime used to make me want to impale myself with an instant-read thermometer. The heat. The mess. The complaints.
No more. I’ve changed my life, and so can you! Here are some handy tips to get you out of your doldrums and into the kitchen.

1) Drink.  Alcohol is a great stress reducer, and everything looks better after a glass of wine (not unlike dating). By the time the night is over,  you’ll be crowing “Bite this, Ina Garten.”

2) Make sure everyone else is drinking. Lowering one’s own expectations is only half the battle, unless you’re eating alone. This rule does not apply to children. That would be illegal. I looked it up.

3) Cook what you want to eat. You can’t please everyone, so please yourself. Develop a sense of Zen about hot sauce on delicately flavored entrees, selective ingredient-picking and sentences like “it’s not my favorite.” Practice saying “If you don’t like it, feel free to cook tomorrow.” Be prepared to follow through.

4) Just make the Mac and Cheese already. Not the Gruyere/Emmentaler version laced with truffle oil and lobster meant to “expand their palate”.  Kids don’t like anything that isn’t as orange as a stadium full of Dutch soccer fans. Accept this and you will know peace.

5) Get the right gear. Nothing says “I’m a real cook” more than having a potato ricer, a convection oven, and Dean and Deluca smoked sea salt in your kitchen. Even if you never use them.

6) Put on music. Cooking should be fun! It’s even more effective if you sing and dance along. Need an extra booster? Tell your teen son you’re going to “drop it like it’s hot,” or that the dinner recipe includes “Cup a Ace, Cup a Goose, Cup a Cris.” Snap a pic of his horrified face for future inspiration.

7) Get someone more competent to help you. Like playing tennis with an ace, working with a better cook raises one’s game. If you play your cards right, they’ll tell you to ditch the apron and let them take over because you’re totally useless.

8) Get someone less competent to help you. If something goes wrong in the kitchen, ask for help. Make sure to tell your dinner guests that “Bobby was SO helpful.” Put finger quotes around helpful. Non Est Mea Culpa.

9) Add butter. Because everything is better with butter. Cheese sauce, chocolate and sprinkles often work as well.

10) Tell your diners “It’s French.” Even if it’s chicken. Call it poulet. Quote Julia Child. If they look less than impressed, say things like “The French have such a refined palate,” and “Not everyone can appreciate true cuisine.” Poor creatures–fatally limited by their own lack of sophistication.

If the above ten steps don’t work, pull a Spinal Tap-worthy 11 and get take out. Better yet, do step one, then jump all the way to 11. Learn to Love Cooking in Two Easy Steps! As Martha Stewart says, “Now that’s a good thing.”

Photograph “The Instrument” by Sierra Blair © 2005 Creative Commons/Flickr





You can always turn around

chicken brothMy son got his learner’s permit in late October.  It has created an interesting shift in responsibilities. The dude chauffeurs me around for a change. Of course, he still wishes that we had a cooler car than a Prius, but beggars can’t be choosers. He keeps debating what kind of car his father and I should get him. He doesn’t seem to notice that he is only debating by himself.

I have to admit, the dude is a good driver. I was kind of worried what he’d be like. I’ve seen him play Need for Speed. I should have known, however, that his need to follow rules and regulations would trump all in the end. So now, he points out every time I’m speeding. He knows I can’t very well complain. I guess it’s better than having a reckless kid that sends my blood pressure soaring every time he get the keys in his hands, but he doesn’t have to be so self righteous about it. Apparently my husband doesn’t use his turn signal. My son is also a tattle-tale. It makes me feel better, so I don’t discourage it.

He was driving me to Dunkin’ Donuts on Saturday morning. This is a favorite destination of his. It takes us down a multi-lane road, generally filled with traffic. It’s good practice. As we’re driving home, a car slid over from the right lane into a barely car-sized slot between my son and the car ahead of him, then over into the left turn lane just as a the car ahead of us was merging into the same location. They avoided an accident, but my son was rattled by it.

“When you are driving,” I said, “there is little you can undo except for an accident. There’s always another route, and worst case, you can always turn around. It may take time, but burning time doesn’t hike your insurance rate and put you in traction.” I told him to take a deep breath. “The calmer you are, the more options you see.”

Later that day, as I was cooking dinner, distracted and stressed, instead of picking up my wine glass, I picked up the measuring cup and took a swig of chicken broth.  In the grand scheme of kitchen errors, this one was more unpalatable than disastrous. I can’t help but think, however, about my earlier advice, to just slow down.

Sometimes I wonder if we feel so rushed not because of how much time we spend doing things, but because of how we spend the time. If we were to relax and breathe through the moments of the day, how much less would we really accomplish? Perhaps even more. I certainly would know the difference between a measuring cup and a wine goblet. I didn’t know I could execute a spit take.

I want to accomplish a great deal this year. I have big plans. At the same time, however, I want to sow serenity. I don’t think they have to be mutually exclusive. One is a matter of “what” and the other is a matter of “how.”

I’m not saying it will be easy. I move at a fast pace. I talk fast, I work fast, I move fast. I don’t walk, I run. Even when it hurts. It gets me home sooner. It also got me a mouthful of chicken broth.

There’s always another route.

You can always turn around.

The calmer you are, the more options you see.

Take a deep breath.

Dream big, take it slow, and look before you drink something.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by William Jones © 2009 Creative Commons

One is too Many Cooks in the Kitchen

I love watching cooking shows, which is ironic, since cooking for my family makes me want to impale myself on a wooden spoon.  It wasn’t always that way.

I discovered my love for cooking as a single woman, living alone.  After months of peanut butter and popcorn, I decided that I’d had my fill of eating like a college student.  It was a sad commentary on my life, that somehow the only decent meal came with a bill at the end–as if I wasn’t worth the effort.

I had to learn step-by-step, working through a Better Homes and Garden Cookbook that my mother gave to me as a graduation gift.  Eventually, I was subscribing to Bon Appetit and Gourmet and the Joy of Cooking.  I bought fresh vegetables and set a table, all for myself.  I eventually met and married a great guy whose idea of gourmet cooking was adding dill to scrambled eggs.  We hosted lots of dinner parties and I’d spend entire afternoons preparing the perfect multi-course dinner.

Then, my son arrived.  First, I had to give up cooking during pregnancy, because the very sight of raw meat sent me reeling.  I could barely eat with other people, let alone cook for them.  After he was born, I was too tired.  When his godmother brought over a pan of  macaroni and cheese from Whole Foods, I literally wept.  For the next few years we ate from the small menu list my work schedule and my son’s narrow taste preferences would afford.  When my husband traveled, I didn’t bother cooking at all.  I just ate hot dogs and chicken nuggets along with my son.

As he grew, I tried to re-energize my love for cooking.  It came in phases–the vegetarian phase, the Julia Child phase, the clean food phase, but I just revert to the default.  Cook a protein and two vegetables.  It’s gone in 15 minutes anyway.  Why put any more effort into it?  It doesn’t seem to matter, my family eats it all the same, with virtually no difference in reaction.  The if-you-don’t-like-it-you-can-cook-for-yourself plan.

I dread cooking dinner, and I derive little joy from eating it, which means the meal is usually late. Sadder yet, I think my disregard comes through in the flavor, like In Water for Chocolate.  What does resentment taste like?  A protein and two vegetables. Dinnertime is stressful and brief, not the respite I always wanted it to be.  My life is busy, even busier now that I’ve committed to writing as a full-time job.  It leaves me drained and tired, yet with no paycheck at the end….yet.

I grew up in a family where food is love.  Food is family.  Food is nurturing.  If I don’t nurture myself, then who will? How did I get here–from the woman who cooked for herself because she was worth it, to the woman who serves pique on a plate? So the question is, what comes off the to-do list so that this can come back on? Showering?

And yet, if I’m satisfied by meals, perhaps I won’t find the Cadbury eggs so tempting.  So what’s on the menu?  Good question.  Perhaps instead of saying grace before eating, I need to say grace before cooking.  To remember that the food, my family, and our time together is a blessing and a celebration.  Who doesn’t love a party?  Especially if there’s cake involved.  I never resent cake.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Patrick Q