Saturday, February 20, 2016

In praise of the good-enough home chef

I love cooking.  Let me rephrase.  I love cooking when it's peaceful.  Not so much when I've got the toddler screaming "UP!  UP!  UP!!!" and melting down at my feet, the dog is underfoot every time I turn around, and I'm trying to find that onion that, I swear, was in the bin this afternoon, where could it have gone?!
Like most home cooks, I have my easy, go-to recipes which I can basically do with my eyes shut and with only one hand, which is good because that's how many I often have to cook with these days.  Just tonight the Munchkin broke a glass, burned her arm and then ran into a table while I was making dinner.  (She was warned that the pot was hot, and the table thing was just dumb, frankly.  She gets stumbly when she's tired.)  BUT, I got a delicious dinner on the table, enough for five adults and a (hangry) toddler, plus leftovers.  It wasn't pretty to look at (is chili ever pretty?) but it was tasty.  And healthy.  And cheap.  In other words, the perfect meal.
I'm betting your household is like mine most nights.  Maybe not with the burning and the broken glass and the dog who trips you every other step, but the chaos.  Most of us home cooks don't spend hours slaving over the stove each night.  Who has the time for that?  Yes, HusbandX and I do have a few occasions on which we like to treat ourselves/each other and spend a couple of hours creating something miraculous and new.  (He made homemade pasta for me one time, even without a pasta roller.  That's true love, folks.)  But for the most part, our meals are hurried and harried and ever-changing.  We like to make big batches of stuff so that we have leftovers for a day or two, just to give ourselves a break.
I hear so many people whining that cooking is hard, or takes too much time, or they're just not good at it, but here's the thing: knowing how to feed yourself/your family, without resorting to boxes, is a life skill that I think everyone should have.  It's good for you, and it's great for your wallet no matter how you figure it.  (Fast food might be cheap in the moment, not so much when you're dealing with the associated health problems down the line.)  
Here in this house we have a fantastic resource called The Internet, with all kinds of amazing tips on how to be a better home cook, and with literally billions of recipes to try.  It's amazing.  If you think cooking is too hard, you should look at it sometime.  Learning to cook might take some work in the beginning, but knowing how to cook saves massive amounts of time.  (How much time do non-cooks spend waiting in restaurants?  Browsing menus?  Getting to/from the restaurant?)  Even when conditions aren't perfect, such as tonight, getting food together does not have to be a complex thing.  I was able to take time away from the (still on) stove to put ice on the burn and kiss the bonked forehead, and I didn't burn down the kitchen OR ruin dinner.  I must have skillz.  Or, you know, I deliberately chose a low-key meal in deference to the fact that I have a wild toddler running free in my house.
As for the people who claim that they're not good at it, so what if you're not going to get a Michelin star?  I bet you can make something edible if you really try.  Cooking is not rocket science.  I mean, it could be that convoluted, but it doesn't have to be at all.  My dad is probably one of the worst cooks I know (barring that one friend who got drunk and decided to make "stew" while his wife was out of town) but even he has a few go-to recipes which he can do quite well.
Lest you think that I'm an amazing cook, it's actually HusbandX who's the better chef in our house.  I'm a better baker than I am a cook.  I am also not one of those people who tastes something and knows just how it could be slightly better, or how to take a few random ingredients and make a 5-star meal out of them.  (That would be my cousin.)  I don't really make up my own recipes.  At best, I can tweak recipes a tiny bit, adding maybe some of this or a little of that, or making them slightly less complicated.   Have I ever let that stop me though?  No.  I don't need to be super creative in the kitchen to know what works well.  I don't need to spend tons of time preparing one small meal.  I don't need to plate things for maximum effect, with artful little dabs of sauce in the rim.  I am an adequate cook, and that's good enough.
So for all of the home cooks whose meals aren't worthy of social media picture posts, who deal with children fighting or screaming or causing trouble while they desperately try to get palatable food together, who use cheese sauce to cover any number of cooking sins, or who know that making a smoothie and toast for dinner totally counts as cooking, I salute you.  You (and I) will never write a cookbook.  You won't have a blog dedicated to your love of putting together "simple" meals that take an hour and involve $45 of special ingredients.  You won't open restaurants, but you still manage to feed yourself and your family.  Most nights, that's an accomplishment worthy of an award.  Way to go, you.
Leo: someone else who has not gotten a
much-deserved award...yet.

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