The Joy of Cooking is in the Eating




SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

            While my better half was recovering from surgery this spring, I did most of the cooking. I learned something about myself during that time:

            I hate cooking.

            That is to say, I hate doing the cooking; I still enjoy eating the cooking of others.

Ordinarily she cooks and I clean up the kitchen, which has the benefit of us not coming down with food poisoning. I pretend this is a huge sacrifice, but sometimes a little mindless work can be nice and non-stressful.

But cooking? Pure stress, a panic filled hour of spinning from place to place, measuring and timing and trying not to burn the house down. I hate cooking with every bran fiber of my being.

Some people love cooking. They revel in it, joyful in their creation of fancy dishes and delicious meals.

Can we not do something with these people? Help them, somehow? How can we let them just wander around in the streets, searching for ingredients and the newest kitchen device? Isn’t there some medication that could help bring them back to reality, some procedure to help them see the real world? What kind of society are we?

When I told all this to Emily – okay, after a week and a half of cooking it was kind of a rant – she just looked at me calmly and said, “You know, some people think the same thing about writing.”

That hit home, because she and I have been known to spend hours happily pecking away at our keyboards – and no, that’s not code for something. Okay, maybe the love of cooking isn’t a mental illness. Maybe it’s a … choice. My complaining might be like those football fans who paint themselves in bright colors, sit in an outdoor stadium in sub-freezing temperatures, scream at people running back and forth across a field, then make fun of people with different hobbies. “You dress up as anime characters and go to an air conditioned convention center to applaud your favorite science fiction actors? What a fruitcake. Yay, Cheeseheads!”

So, it’s a choice. But when it comes to cooking, I choose no.

I didn’t even cook all that much, by most standards. The day of Emily’s surgery, my mother brought over a gallon of spaghetti, a truck load of bread, and enough salad to clean out a whole field. For at least two other days we had takeout, because contractors tore up the kitchen. (I know what you’re thinking: suspicious timing. Let’s just say I left a calendar, with a twenty pinned to a certain date, for the roofer.)

A few times I sneaked in something really simple, along the lines of: “Remove cover. Heat at 400 degrees for thirty minutes. Be careful, product will be hot”.

Emily couldn’t give me advice even when she wasn’t heavily medicated, because as a cook she’s what they call a pantser. For her a dash here, a bit there, 350 degrees or so until it looks done … I need an amount, doggone it, and a time. Sometimes I think she just faked being asleep whenever I’d run through the room with my hair smoking, yelling “But what does parsley DO?”

So I avoided cooking for as long as I could, but we’d bought ingredients and planned meals. Once she got to the point where she could get up and shuffle around a little, it became too hard to sneak Chinese food through the back door.

After that, from time to time I had to throw together more than three items to make one item, which is when I start to get Harried and Confused, which will also be the title of my autobiography. The more items, the harder it is for me to keep my head straight. The more different dishes – and apparently meals are supposed to have, say, veggies and fruit along with the meat – the more confused and stressed I get. Cooking, for me, is like doing brain surgery would be for you. Unless you’re a brain surgeon, in which case you can probably afford a cook.

For awhile it was a tossup whether I’d burn the house down, kill us with salmonella, throw a pot through the window, or all three at the same time.

The joy of cooking was the very opposite of joy.

This brings me to the big discovery I really made about myself. I already knew I hated cooking, no shocker there, but my epiphany was on a grander scale. Since my teens I knew I wanted to write for a living, and be successful at it. I wanted to be so successful that I could do what I want in my life.

Now I know that I picked the absolute worst career path for financial success, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

And was my ultimate goal a beachfront house in Hawaii? A yacht? Private plane?

Nope.

The older I get, the more I realize all I really want is to hire a private cook, and if they can stick around to clean up, so much the better. Emily might disagree, as she’s one of those poor, sickly souls who like to cook. But I know the true secret of happiness.

And it wears a chef’s hat.