I am domestically feral, especially when it comes to cooking. I walk into my kitchen and immediately start sweating. Looking around at all the appliances I’m confused and disoriented. The stove is completely enigmatic as I try to translate all the crazy little symbols on top: upper oven, lower, broiler, conv bake, bread proof, multi stage, the choices are endless but my eyes are tearing and my knowledge finite. I haven’t made a meal since the seventies. I know that because I recently found a picture of me kneeling next to a cooked Thanksgiving turkey back when I was married to husband #1. I have that photo as proof, as none of my friends believe I’ve ever put two ingredients together no less basted. Since I was a working mom I have no idea how my son survived or myself for that matter. I believe it was on a diet of Kraft macaroni and cheese for him and I ate lettuce.
My most recent cooking debacle almost burned down my condo. I decided to store my toaster in the upper oven to make more counter room. FYI the Trader Joe’s pizza box does not read “check inside oven before preheating.” Thankfully my friend David who came over for dinner has a keen sense of smell and sniffed around to see what was burning or in this case melting. Yes, it’s true, not urban legend; I managed to melt a toaster. We ate out.
I don’t even like shopping for food. I tried to convince myself the market might be a great innovative place to meet men — very casual and friendly. This inspired me to go to the store. I tried the produce department first, ready to start up a conversation about vegetables if I spotted a cute guy. Surely I could meet a man in the tomatoes and what better chit chat than cherry or vine ripened? Unfortunately whenever I was in the market there were no attractive men in any aisle as I moved from produce to meat, to dairy like a secret agent tracking my mark. I ended up cradling a bag of Oreos but those were for comfort, not date bait.
I come by this inability to cook honestly as my Mother was a terrible example. She had one culinary skill and that was making matzo balls. They were not leaden like most but light, fluffy and edible. At the end of her life she had a Filipino helper who she coached in the fine art of matzo ball soup. She passed down this skill to someone at least…just not me. He could easily get a job in a Jewish deli while I remain unemployed.
My Turkish Nana was a super hero in the kitchen. She made Spanish rice yet to be duplicated. She traveled with her own dough. Yep, and that is not urban legend as I witnessed her unpacking the valuable commodity when she visited. Nana made the Turkish version of what we called Biscotti in all shapes and sizes with me by her side. We made Turkish meat pies with names I can pronounce but not spell, as well as stuffed grape leaves. I was learning at the knee of a cooking god. Then I got interested in boys.
Even in this decade of life my refrigerator is empty. I can now make a fabulous hardboiled egg thanks to specific advice from my friend Jay. I am adept at scrambling eggs with spinach and cheese for dinner. I can also microwave a potato to near perfection. I used to be a star at making reservations but Covid relinquished my best skill.
I live one block from a Whole Foods but never shop there. Has anyone else noticed how expensive it is and not particularly good? I have forgiven Trader Joe’s for the pizza box incident and love their 72% cacao chocolate bars. I live on those and the premade salads. I’m fine with being a shopping loser. It suits me.
I am reminiscing about my feral cooking history as I read an article in the New York Times recently about how beloved family pastry recipes are now being memorialized on graves. Tombstones are the new cookbooks! I almost started weeping reading the article. What a genius way to remember Mom and share her best recipe with passersby. It is a new form of cemetery iconography. People who will never forget and cherished their Mother’s Christmas cookies, Peach Cobbler, delicious fudge brownies, chocolate chip cookies etc. are now having baking instructions engraved in stone for eternity. In fact there is a zine called “Cooking with the Dead” by Allison Meier. I am not in it.
I do not have a recipe for the tombstone cookbook. My son would be hard pressed to memorialize me for anything edible. This saddens me as what better way to be remembered than by a sugar cookie?
Very funny! Gail, I can identity. My mom was a sensationally good cook, those mad skillz did not pass on to me. I can say with confidence that I’m good at making things warm, that’s about it.
Being a good cook, is, I think, a calling, just like with those who are graced with the proverbial green thumb. It’s kind of an alchemy at work. 2 chefs can use the exact same ingredients, in the same exact measure, and the results can turn out like night and day. Maybe bringing the best out of a recipe is some kind of shamanic talent.
Anyway, cooking will get a lot more simplistic in the future – we’re all going to be eating insects toasted on sticks. 🐞
Cooking is an art although I think the real talent behind it comes in being PATIENT. Ironically my son is a really great cook but he has the skill of reading the recipe very carefully and proceeding with patience. It is shocking that he likes it but I think it is very soothing for some and makes others crazy. Thanks for reading and the comment.