I’ve been thinking more consciously about cooking in the past week.
I guess that isn’t surprising. Let me start out, in the interest of full disclosure here, to admitting to my guilty pleasure. Given more time, I could easily become a Food Network addict. I will watch just about any of their evening shows they put together–and if really pressed, I would watch most of the others, I suppose, too. The summer of the wedding, when I only had one grad class and spent a lot of time scrapbooking, I had Food Network on in the background while I worked, and I watched a little more than I’d like to admit. (I could probably recite the line-up from 8-11 p.m. for any week night. But I have an awesome wedding scrapbook to show for it!) And so I’ve picked up some shows that I know are terrible, but I can’t help it. Case in point: “Worst Cooks in America.”
I do maintain that part of what I like about the show is the little tips and tricks that you can pick up. Last season, one of the challenges had to do with knife skills–and I legitimately learned something from it. But I’ll also admit that’s only a piece of the enjoyment. The first episode is always the most fun, when the contestants get an hour and free reign of the kitchen to make whatever they think will impress the judges. And you just have to shake your head. Bologna and canned-cheese quesadilla? Chicken coated in cayenne pepper and burnt in a dry pan? Three-cheese macaroni–with cheddar, American, and cottage cheeses? (Okay, that was last season, but it’s still my favorite.) But when the contestants tell their stories, you can’t help but feel bad for them. For so many of them, I want them to stay–because they all need the lessons they’re going to get from the show. And yes, there’s 20-some-thousand dollars at stake, and that doesn’t hurt either, but I want them to stay for more important reasons. Take the contestants this season. There’s the mom who feeds her kids peanut butter and jelly for dinner because she can’t make anything else. The twenty-something who has to go to his mom’s every night because he can’t cook dinner for himself. The wife who’s given her husband food poisoning…twice. The former model who wants to learn to cook so she can go back to being healthy and lose some weight. They all have a story.
And after watching, I’m kind of amazed that the things that come so naturally to me aren’t second nature to others. Given an hour and a full kitchen, I could come up with something edible. Varying degrees of simplicity, perhaps, but I could season a piece of meat or cook a piece of chicken. I can make an omelette. I throw together a stirfry, a quick pasta dish, or a meat-and-potatoes kind of dinner pretty easily. I can follow a recipe.
And as Chris and I discussed while cooking dinner tonight (tortellini stir-fry with red pepper, zucchini, mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, and alfredo sauce), we were both lucky. We both got good, homecooked meals most nights growing up. And I know for me, at least, I’ve been in the kitchen for as long as I can remember. I may have had to call mom after moving in to my first apartment to check how to cook green beans, but I knew how to snap them–I had been doing that since I could stand at the sink. And even more importantly, I cared enough to call–I wanted to know how to cook green beans. That’s half the battle. So we concluded that we owe a debt to our parents for giving us the desire and the skills to cook–a debt we’re looking forward to paying back with our children someday. Sons or daughters, doesn’t matter. They’ll see Chris and I both cooking, and they’ll help us in the kitchen, and hopefully, they’ll inherit an appreciation for food and a desire to learn to cook themselves.
Because no child of mine will ever eat a bologna and cheese quesadilla.