Chloe recently opened my eyes to a hard truth. She’s been on a “healthy eating” kick for a few months and it’s serious enough that she now has a dedicated space in the pantry for her rolled oats, quinoa, wheat pasta, buckwheat flour, rice noodles, peanuts (for homemade peanut butter), slivered almonds, a spiralizer to make zucchini pasta…and the list goes on.
As she’s ventured deeper into her food experimentation, I’ve struggled with contradictory feelings. On the one hand, I’m proud of her self-sufficiency. On the other hand, I feel inadequate because, let’s face it, she still has a few more years under our roof and shouldn’t I be the one to prepare these nutritious meals for her?
I’ve apologized several times for my culinary deficiencies and Chloe’s tried to assuage my guilt by reassuring me that it really isn’t a big deal. But isn’t it?
I’m a mom. I work part-time, while my husband continues to work much more than full-time. Hadn’t I pledged to do more cooking when I ditched the office job? Even if I hate it, shouldn’t I just suck it up and create well-balanced meals 7 days a week? What does it say about me that I don’t?
I’ve engaged in this internal debate for years, even when I was working more than full-time, too. Feeling the weight of society’s expectations about what I should “be” as a woman and a mom, I’ve periodically tried to trick myself into believing I actually enjoy spending time in the kitchen.
It’s not that I don’t cook. I do, a few times a week. I’ll occasionally try something new, but for the most part, the meals I prepare are on a repeating weekly loop.
And as far as I’m concerned, takeout is, by far, one of the finest and most consequential innovations to come out of Ancient Greece and Rome.
My family is in the throes of decluttering our house in preparation for our first-ever garage sale this summer. I just spent a couple of hours cleaning out my office space, which happens to be in an alcove next to the kitchen. The small cookbook library we’ve accumulated resides on a couple of shelves above my desk. And most have sat there, lonely and unopened, for years…think Don Freeman’s sad little Corduroy in the toy store before Lisa took him home.
I glanced at the books and removed a pile of them from the shelves, one by one. So seductive and inviting. Still so new that the spines cracked as I flipped through the pages. I can’t get rid of these, I thought. What if I want to make a go of the cooking thing one day? What if they contain recipes I’ll need?
Snap out of it, I told myself. I literally shook my head to obliterate the demons in my brain daring me to put the books back on the shelves. Refusing to give in to the voices, I carried a heavy stack to the basement where, along with bags of clothes and boxes of toys, assorted home decor items and unused kitchen tools, they are now destined for sale. To a new family who will appreciate them as they’re meant to be appreciated.
What’s left? My Mark Bittman bibles (he’s the only reason I’m able to cook at all), a couple of fun tomes for the girls, and more cookbooks in French than I’ll ever need because to toss them feels like a sacrilege.
As I sorted through the books and beat back the demons, I had an epiphany. I am not Giada de Laurentiis. I am not Martha Stewart. I am not Anthony Bourdain. I am not Jane Brody. And I never will be.
I am Jennifer, born in Queens, NY, who despite marrying a French man, absolutely despises cooking and baking. I do it out of necessity and obligation and, once in a blue moon, out of a sense of maternal love and fealty.
Who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? My new tricks: accepting the fact that I don’t need 30 cookbooks when I use three, and only occasionally at that. And accepting that my lack of interest in cooking doesn’t diminish me as a wife or a mom, or mean my I love my children or my husband any less. It just makes me one of millions of people who hate to cook.
And I’m ok with that. Bon appétit, everyone.