My dog, Petey, is afraid of many things, it being a scary world Out There. He once ran into a breadfruit lying silent and immobile by the side of the road that terrified him to his wit’s end. (We’re talking whimpers, growls and fangs exposed.) It took some serious coaxing to get him past the loathsome object.
Though I handle my fears more quietly, I, too, have food fears. None of them include eating – this I am very good at. What I fear is feeding others. The truth is that I really cannot cook – not well, anyhow – and when I have the choice, I don’t. I once lived in an apartment in New York for 3 months before realizing it didn’t have an oven. Really. But in Maui, where delivery is not a standard way of life, I have to step up to the proverbial plate.
Okay, I can scramble an egg, and make pancakes and a solid French toast (which is just the aforementioned scrambled egg with bread). I can cook pasta to al dente, usually. But I’ve toiled toward these meager accomplishments, and had many more misses. My ego took a definite hit when a good friend tasted my cream cheese dip – at a party, mind you- and exclaimed, “That’s awful!’ My worst food fear come true.
On the whole, I’m utterly confounded – and exhausted – by the whole experience of cooking: the recipes, the timing, the tools, the ingredients, and the spices. A recipe recently called for sea salt. I dutifully headed to Safeway and found myself having to choose between numerous colors and grain sizes. I stood there dumbfounded for minutes. I went with a medium-grained pink salt; it was pretty. I bought parsley for another recipe and used the small amount called for. Then I watched the rest wilt away in my fridge. Why don’t recipes end with a What To Do for all those leftover bits?
In this day and age of multiple intelligences, it is widely accepted that some people cannot spell and that others struggle with math. But when I say, “I really can’t cook” I am mostly met with “That can’t be true” or “That’s just your persona.” And maybe it is. But I think people who know how to cook forget how much they actually know. Take green onions, for example. How do you know what part to use without Googling it? There’s the bulb, the white part and the green part. And friends’ helpful tips such as “ just a little pinch” or “just sprinkle (insert item) with a few spices” leave me stupefied. Define “a little.” Clarify the spices; I own four. Will they do? You just can’t assume.
I’m not giving up. One my most treasured mementos of my late mother is her beaten up blue recipe book chock-full of family favorite recipes, scribbled notes, and the odd dried-on splotch. My mother was an excellent cook; maybe one day, I will be as well. Maybe I won’t, and that’s okay.
In this month of giving thanks, I offer a heartfelt thank you to all my fabulous friends who have fed me so many delicious home-cooked meals over the years. I am truly grateful, inspired and in awe.