Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Tale of Two Cooks

Not so long ago I came upon a realization that must have been buried deep in my psyche and never revealed to my conscious mind. And it is this, I don't like to cook. I was raised by a 50's housewife who grew up on a Depression-era farm with inadequate food supplies for the widow and her nine children. Food was a sacred product for my mother and the cooking process a holy ritual. Until the last day my mother was able to sit upright she had a stack of cooking magazines next to her and she read these like Danielle Steele's latest novel (I, myself, am not a fan of Ms. Steele but let's face it, she owns the numbers.) My mother served three homemade squares a day, a meat roast and fruit pie on Sundays, and her freezer was full of muffins, cookies, walnuts, leftover vegetables for the soup pot. In short, food was everywhere.

I am the eldest Catholic daughter in the family so I was trained as the back-up person should my mother choose to take to her bed or whatever. Myself and other women who share this birth order position go on to be great leaders, planners, acceptors of responsibility as well as micro managers, know-it-alls, and basically, pains in the ass.

One would assume being raised in this household, so full of food and gender-biased roles I would put on the pink ruffly apron and become Miss Just-Like-Her-Mom girl hero. All these years I thought I had done this although the fit never felt right.
That was until my moment of clarity on cooking occurred. This is what it is: I like reading the food magazines, I have several shelves full of cook books and I continue to add more volumes and I absolutely ate up Julia and Julie. I bought Mastering the Art of French Cooking and flirted with the idea of copying Julie Powell's culinary adventure. I started with Julia's Boeuf a la Bourguignonne not realizing until deep into the two-page recipe that there were references to other parts of the cookbook for additions to the dish like caramelized onions and sauteed mushrooms and it was hours before I got out of my kitchen and it would take days to clean up all the pots.
I realize I am in love with the idea of cooking, and not cooking itself. I want to go to chefs' cooking demonstrations, eat all kinds of exotic stuff at food shows, browse the cooking aisles in small book shops. I just don't want to be in the kitchen chopping onions.

Too add to this calamity, I am somewhat of a good cook. Not excellent, not even creative, just good. Always a craftsman, never the artist. After 38 years a few things have clicked like add small amounts of milk to mashed potatoes unless you want potato soup and really good scrambled eggs need to be stirred a lot. I can go outside the recipe, but I'd rather not. I don't want to have to think about what might be missing in the sauce, or ponder what combination of recipes would taste better, or get a little sassy and use sesame oil or cumin when none is stated. Just give me the tried and true recipe and get out of my way.

My German father was far too picky and would not allow a teen-aged daughter to cook for him so my mother did all that and I was kicked down to chief baker, a position I loved because it is much harder to screw up cookies than a beef roast and at that age sugar was my passion.

So when I got married and moved a hundred miles away, I made a panicky call to my mother. "How do I cook?" I asked, "what do I do? I don't know how to cook!" A couple of days later I received a copy of Betty Crocker's latest cookbook in the mail, courtesy of that wise woman.


MrDaveyGie said...

For some reason that reminded me of something. Remember when I was just divorced and had full custody of the kiddies? Once a week there would be waiting for me, and the boys FOOD, snuck into my house from DAWNieeeeeeeeee.
I think I forgot to say a BIG THANK YOU.

dawn marie giegerich said...

You're welcome. Ethan was a toddler and he liked watching the rabbit. Those were pre-Pity days.