For many years, I fed my family the kind of things mothers do: lamb chops, chicken, hamburgers, steak, pasta, good solid, family food. I loved to bake when I had time to do it—-and no one would have accused me of being a fabulous chef (Julia Child was not shaking in her boots, terrified of any threat from me), and my kids seemed to like what I cooked——–long before that, when I was first married, I will admit there were a few awkward moments before I learned to cook. Notably, I didn’t know you were supposed to cook/boil artichokes, so I served them without cooking them at all. I just put them on a plate. They looked fine to me. (Let’s face it, I got married at 17, and I don’t think I’d ever been in the kitchen until then).I read cookbooks meticulously, and followed the directions, and I took whatever it was out of the oven whether ready or not—–I was particularly weak on chickens, which still looked like they were ready to fly away when I served them raw. It said to cook them for an hour, so I did—-and they came out of the oven right on time, ready or not, (mostly not). One of my worst moments was a tomato aspic I served at my first dinner party, at l7. I had no idea how to get it out of the mold, so flipped it onto a plate, ran hot water over the mold as the recipe said to do, and the aspic slithered down the sink with a terrible sucking sound….uh….whoops…..It was a low moment in my cooking history. And things improved as time went on (in spite of a liverwurst casserole I thought was a masterpiece, another low point in my career, and some kind of apricot chicken thing I set on fire and nearly burned the house down.). I suppose I should confess now that the marriage ended in divorce—-it’s remotely possible that my cooking had something to do with it, although there may have been other factors too, it’s hard to say. But my kids are still alive after eating my cooking for many years. Admittedly, my best menus include (home made) tacos, brownies, and french toast. And I make an almost irresistible peanut butter sandwich. And a very respectable steak (that people actually eat).
When the kids were growing up, after I stopped cooking every day (speed was always my greatest skill, more than quality, but with 9 kids, who had time to stir a pot for 5 hours to make coq au vin???? And kids wont eat that anyway), but after that, Sunday night was a mandatory family meal. (And I cooked on Mondays too). EVERYONE had to be home for Sunday night dinner, and helped cook. There was a round of applause at dinner for everyone for their contributions: washing the salad, unwrapping the cheese, opening the bag of potato chips, it was a family event. Sadly, I stopped cooking Sunday night dinner, when my son Nick died. I tried it a few times, was surprised that he was late, and then realized he wasn’t coming to Sunday dinner ever again, and dissolved in tears every time. It was just too hard, so when the kids are home on Sunday nights now (on rare occasions), I cook, or they do, or we order take out. It’s not the same. But they’re grown up and things change. And we have wonderful memories of those Sunday night dinners when they were little kids.
The big problem with my cooking is that, most of the time, I don’t care what I eat. With all the kids grown up, many of them gone, and only one left at home (who would rather cut her tongue out than sit down to a boring dinner with her mother), I fend for myself. And I eat the easiest fastest thing at hand: a soft boiled egg, a piece of melon, Oreo cookies, or sometimes I don’t bother to eat at all. After years of eating with kids, they’ve grown up and eat sophisticated meals—-I still eat like a 5 year old, scrambled eggs or an omelet are great. I can’t imagine cooking a fabulous meal for myself—-so I don’t. (And nothing I cook is fabulous anyway—-unless you’re 6 years old). Worse, my parents’ favorite form of torture was making me sit in front of a full plate of food until I ate it——sometimes all day, so eating has always seemed like some form of punishment to me. Things like lima beans, brussel sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower…..yergghhhhhkkkkkkk…..I’d rather eat a soft boiled egg. So I have a checkered history with eating. The only way I seem to eat at home is if someone sticks a plate under my face and I don’t have to think about it (but please no broccoli!!!!), so I skip a lot of meals (because no one is sticking dinner under my nose usually. A bite of chocolate does me fine).
Having said all that, a friend stayed with me in Paris recently, and he said rather off handedly that he likes to cook. Hmmmm that’s nice. I didn’t respond that I don’t really like to eat. And my refrigerator in Paris looks a famine has taken over, or the way most bachelors’ refrigerators look: half a lime, two lemons, club soda, a jar of olives (that could be 5 years old), and a head of lettuce that died two years ago and no one threw away. He looked into my fridge with utter disgust, and headed for the supermarket, while I did other things. Several hours later, delicious smells emerged from my kitchen. I didn’t pay much attention until delicious hors d’oeuvres appeared…hors d’oeuvres in my kitchen??? Things with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, balsamic….I ate everything in sight, and for the next several days, I ate omelettes, fantastic mushrooms, delicious pasta, and a vast assortment of delicious food floated around my kitchen, and I ate all of it. My fridge was full with things that humans actually eat. He respected the no horrible vegetable rule, not a brussel sprout in sight——and it was like living in a restaurant. I went shopping with him at a huge food emporium, he disappeared discreetly to the supermarket and actually came back with things to eat instead of just toilet paper and paper towels and another lemon, the things I usually buy. He was a genius in the kitchen, and he made it painless and fun. Instead of opening my fridge, saying hello to the two lemons and to see if the dead lettuce was still there, I was asking “What’s for dinner?” The big difference is that he LOVES to cook, and produced meals that everyone would want to eat. He made it fun, and yummy, and suddenly we were having conversations about truffles and porcini mushrooms, and I actually cared what I was eating and enjoying it. My diet of one piece of chocolate and two stale crackers went out the window, and I was tasting all the wonderful things he prepared. Wow!!! Food can be fun. Now there’s a piece of shocking news.
It reminded me that cooking can be fun, and sitting down to a good meal at home is really a treat. It’s better with a friend. Eating alone isn’t much fun. In fact, none at all. For two weeks, my kitchen was my favorite place to be. Some people really have talent in the kitchen—-I’m not one of them, but for those who are, cooking is a joy which they share with others like a gift. I had a ball eating all the good food for those two weeks. He left 3 days ago, and I’m back to eating a piece of chocolate, stale crackers, and have been too lazy to even boil an egg. (Anything I eat now would be so inadequate compared to what he cooked, so why bother?) Whatever I produce would be pathetic compared to what I ate for two weeks. It wasn’t even fattening, and I lost two pounds while he was here. Healthy food!!!!
I have newfound respect for the value of delicious, healthy food. I’ll probably always be too lazy to cook myself a decent meal when I’m alone…….but wow!!! What a treat when someone else does who knows what they’re doing. And what a talent. Some people actually turn cooking into art, the fine art of dining, eating well, sharing a meal with a friend and making it a fun event. It almost made me want to cook again!!!! Scrambled eggs, anyone? (At least I can cook a chicken now until it’s really cooked, and I make a very decent steak). I know when I’m outclassed……but what a treat it was for 2 weeks of heavenly food in my kitchen. I have to tell you, the half lime and the two lemons just don’t look the same to me now. Since he left, I open the fridge now, take a look, and don’t have the heart to even make a peanut butter sandwich. It just wouldn’t be the same. I’ll make due with the two lemons, until he comes back to cook again. What a treat!!! Bravo to a talented chef, who makes cooking delicious, healthy, and fun……What a gift!!!!