There is one thing I will never flaunt, and that is my cooking skills. I am grateful if I enjoy what I made, because that’s not a given.
I’m about to declutter my kitchen and I think a number of spices will disappear when I do. I never use them. I don’t know how to use them. And no, I’m not interested in learning. I can’t learn.
My mother and her mother (and her mother) are/were all good cooks. Not fancy cooks, but the kind of cooks who can put together ingredients in a way to make a nourishing and tasty meal, and they can do that every day. (I do remember Grandma saying the biggest challenge to cooking was coming up what to make. Her tomato meatloaf was divine, by the way.) I did not inherit this talent from them.
You know how some things are interesting enough to make you want to find out more? I’m like that with computers or astrology, but not with cooking. I don’t even watch cooking shows. I may as well be watching a quantum physics lecture for quantum physicists. Actually, I’d give that latter a try because I’d probably enjoy it more than watching somebody pickle fisheyes or something (it’s probably been done). The only TV cook I’ve ever watched with any enjoyment (and even then, only a few episodes) was UK’s Nigella Lawson because she was slightly klutzy in the kitchen, a trait that made me feel at home. And she talked about what she was doing in a way I could understand. I watched Jamie Oliver swear he could get dinner ready in 15 minutes, and does—3 courses—and at the end just tosses mint, ginger and lemon into ice water and I know that sounds good; I just cannot understand how he got there, how he knew to combine those. Because when he did, I realized that that would never have occured to me. And so got the same feeling with him that I had in high school chemistry: A mystified void where knowledge should have lodged.
That everlasting void is one reason why I don’t know how to substitute. I don’t what would work in place of an ingredient I don’t have, because I don’t understand the combination of the original ingredients. That understanding of how flavors or textures interact is a key to good cooking, and I lack it. The everlasting void is why I expect a lot of my spices will go, too, once I get around to decluttering the kitchen cabinets. They’ll go because they were purchased in a mad attempt at understanding them enough to use them outside the one recipe that introduced them to me, and they’ll go because rarely used spices in a household of one tend not to be good after a while.
However, in spite of all of the above, I feed myself. Perhaps not spectacularly, and perhaps not creatively, but definitely by my own hand in my own kitchen. I use cookbooks. The only thing I’ll just do on the fly are eggs. I am very good with eggs.
I have to make my own food. Partly because TV-dinners get excrutiatingly boring after a while, and mainly because if I am to feed my body the way it needs to be fed, I have to do the cooking. I have to keep it healthy and, in deference to my own monkey brain, keep it simple.
So I try to find recipes where I understand the whole thing and I can do the whole thing. Recipes that do not require a dash of an obscure ingredient, or a food item not sold in Norway, or that have that one step I don’t know how to do. I have one chicken recipe I love because when I cook the chicken breasts exactly as the recipe says, they always come out tender and moist. I don’t understand why. I am surprised every time it happens. And grateful.
Today’s dinner was inspired by ready-made bacon burger patties at the store. I’ve always thought that ramekin bread would make a good hamburger bun, if you layer with lettuce leaves so the condiments don’t leak through, and with that thought (and the knowledge that I have frozen sweet potato fries in the freezer), I ended up with a proper hamburger for dinner tonight. Behold: