Whenever a new baby comes into a family, the first year or so is all about how “his ears are huge, just like Uncle Elmo’s” or “her smile looks just like Aunt Trixie’s.” By the second year, we start looking for positive personality traits, hopefully handed down from beloved relatives. He may have Uncle Dumbo’s ears, but he also has his off-the-chart IQ and has already moved on from Mommy & Me classes to baby cello lessons, while Aunt Trixie’s mini-me has never met a stranger she didn’t like, just like Auntie, who’s a wildly popular stripper at the local gentlemen’s club.
Sometimes the personality and talents of our children remain a gene-pool mystery that just simply is.
My sister is a fabulous cook. As in valedictorian-of-her-culinary-school, people-photograph-her-meals-before-they-eat-them cook. I can’t cook. At all. Zero kitchen skills. And not in a cute, “Oh my goodness, my freshly grated coconut needs a touch more browning” way. More of a “Sorry about breaking your tooth on my cheesecake, Dude. Are we still good?” kind of way. One year, I was instructed to bring my favorite appetizer to a family dinner. I brought a box of blueberry Pop Tarts (C’mon people, they said “my favorite,” and these were frosted). And so began Sissy’s ongoing inquiry at every family event, repeatedly asking Mom “Are you sure she’s ours?”
One evening, Hubs announced that it was time to get the cooking question answered, once and for all. What exactly was it about cooking that makes stale Lucky Charms more appealing than the simplest recipe? Okay. Here goes.
1. The finished dish never looks like the picture in the book.That pie will bear minimal resemblance to its photographed counterpart, with lightly browned crust and just the right amount of fruit smooshing out of the perfectly symmetrical slices across the top. So essentially, you’re a failure before anybody even grabs a fork.
2. I’m a great multi-tasker, if my task list includes things I do well. Most meals, however, include more than one dish, and one is expected to get them all edible simultaneously. Who are these people?? My culinary limitations mean you get one dish at a time. When I finish that one, you can eat it while I start the next one. I tried it once, calling it our “Progressive Dinner,” hoping the family would think it was unique and fun, but it never took off.
3. My culinary tastes never surpassed my 5th birthday and are easily addressed by peanut butter-and-banana sandwiches and microwavable jalapeno poppers. Why take all that time to cook when I can be happily satisfied with Wheat Thins and Cheez in a Can?
4. The better you are at it, the more often people expect you to do it. I have friends whose family members expect them to repeat this process three times a day. I laughed for two days, until someone told me that wasn’t a joke. Oh. My. God.
5. Meal planning for just one week involves 7 breakfasts, 7 lunches, and 7 dinners, excluding snacks and desserts. Are you kidding me?? I’d have to quit my job and reduce my blog posts to once a year. Devoting my days to multiple feedings for a group of people who are capable of programming three remotes to watch the Big Game, but have somehow lost the ability to scramble their own damn eggs would result in a call to Dominos pizza delivery (yes, for breakfast) on Mom’s way out the door for a spa day. See you all at 6.
6. Every recipe requires something you don’t have. The last time Sissy gave me the recipe for her award-winning cookies, it included 1/8 tsp of something called “Carmardon.” It’s $11 a bottle. WTH?? This is why people buy Oreos.
7. And just when you thought that “simple” recipe from The Joy of Cooking (an oxymoron if I ever heard one) might work out, you get to the bottom and it says, “When cool, brush lightly with glaze. Glaze recipe is on page 426. Glaze is best if prepared the day before and allowed to sit overnight.” Seriously, you couldn’t have opened with that??
8. You need a degree in Cooking as a Second Language. How much is a “smidgen?” What the hell is a “pinch?” “Dust lightly?” Chopped, diced, or minced?? What’s the difference? And “al dente?” Someone once told me to throw my pasta noodle at the wall, and if it sticks, it’s ready. I was having a ball one day, rocking my favorite country song while I tossed noodles at the wall, until I had a wall covered in noodles and an empty pan of water on the stove. I considered just throwing a jar of Ragu on the wall and announcing “Dinner’s ready!” but my family never gets my cooking humor.
9. You need a staggering variety of cookware, including utensils, pots, pans, serving trays, mixers, blenders, glassware, and on and on it goes, all of which could fund an annual week-long trip to a sun-drenched island with tiny umbrellas in their drinks. Hmmm. Yeah, I can be packed in 10.
10. We live in a world of food intolerances that could send a new cook out on a ledge, sobbing and clutching a bottle of wine which, if there is a God, has a screw top. One person needs gluten-free, and another is lactose-intolerant. There’s a vegan at every gathering, and of course, the inevitable dieting female who only eats salad, but apparently thinks wine is an acceptable substitute for her daily eight glasses of water. You know what, people? Here’s the menu. If there’s anything on it you can’t or won’t eat, please feel free (seriously, please) to bring your own suitable replacement.
When Jake and I moved back to Oregon, he was 10 and well-versed in Mom’s culinary limitations. We went to Safeway for our first big shop to stock the cupboards of our new apartment, and I told him The Rules of the cart. Any item thrown in had to be edible from its original container or microwavable. Period. We had a blast tossing in (and occasionally tossing out, if either of us forgot the parameters) a fairly impressive variety of almost-food products.
The young man behind us was laughing and watching as we selected, debated, and decided on what was in and what was out. I offered to let him pass, but he grinned and said, “No thanks. This is the most fun I’ve had all day.”
So as Jake was happily learning how to eat without the need for appliances (which I assured him would dazzle his future wife someday) and Stranger Guy was apparently having a ball, trailing behind us and listening to our running commentary as we bought an entire kitchen worth of bomb-shelter-ready food products, I knew my work that day was done.