I love food, so it should stand to reason that I love to cook. I am many things, but reasonable isn’t often one of them. Just because I can doesn’t mean that I do. And that is one of my problems — because cooking can lift me out of a low-grade depression, as well as make a family meal where everyone gathers around the table as opposed to the usual grab ‘n run that occurs right before my husband and I sit down in front of the TV with tray tables and a comedy to watch.
Cooking isn’t rocket surgery. It takes an ability to read a recipe and adjust spices to levels of preference. Millions of people do this every day, then repeat to do it the next day, etc. Yet there are still enough people out there for whom cooking is as mystifying as alchemy — enough of them, in fact, that there is a show on Food Network called Worst Cooks in America. Those few and not-so-proud confused souls are put through a rigorous cooking boot camp, where they are taught knife skills, which appropriate pots, pans and utensils to use, what a vegetable is, and what real food actually tastes like.
I don’t qualify for the show because (1) I never put anyone I cooked for in the hospital, and (2) I know how to crack an egg. Plus, I can make meatloaf (or the Russian version called katletkas, which look like flattened meatball patties), bake a chicken and create crepes. To brag, I make latkes, for Hanukkah, that are out of this world (a not-so-secret recipe I will reveal around December, just to write a blog about something when ideas run thin).
So what’s the problem? Since cooking isn’t a difficulty for me, why don’t I do more of it? Simple — I’m lazy.
To understand this, please close your eyes. Now open them so you can continue reading. Visualize a stovetop covered in a couple of dog food cans, a couple of bags of fruits that didn’t make it to the fruit basket, and a bag or two of corn chips that didn’t make to the top of the refrigerator. In order for me to cook, I first need to clear that, cook, and since I prefer to clean as I go along, make sure that my sink is clear (it’s not often the case, because everyone is on the run these days, and things get dumped into the sink instead of getting rinsed and placed into the dishwasher. There are days, that although I am thinking of cooking, I am overwhelmed before I even begin.
Really, how difficult is cooking? Let’s take a piece of meat, unless you’re a vegetarian, then don’t. If it’s steak, you have a choice — you can cut it into cubes or leave it intact. If you leave the steak as is, then you can char it on the grill, or brown it in a skillet, after you salt and pepper it. That’s pretty much it. Open up a can of green beans, or peas, or corn, bake a potato, or rice.
If you cube the meat, you can use it in a stew or chili. Brown the meat in a skillet after seasoning it with salt & pepper, and the sky is the limit — add stewed tomatoes with a spoonful of chili seasoning, a touch of cayenne pepper (or more than a touch, it’s entirely up to your taste buds), add a can or beans (I add a can of vegetarian refried beans, same great taste, less fat) and ta daah — chili! Or create sauce by cooking down thinly sliced mushrooms (I like the caps of Portobellos), adding half a cup of heavy cream, half a cup of chicken stock, add a thinly sliced shallot (or, as in my case, you can shred the shallot on a fine part of the shredder, so you basically get the goojies and flavor). Just for grins and giggles, throw in about a fourth of a cup of blue cheese — this is so easy.
Now I’m getting hungry. And I am so glad I live in a place I can get “instant” potatoes and rice, a dozen kinds of pasta and watermelon (year-round). The watermelon thing is just my thing — I love watermelon.
What it boils down to is this — if you can read a recipe, you can create a dish. Once you cook it a few times, you can play around with other variables, like adding basil leaves to your sandwich, or trying a new spice ’cause you bought it at a store. Cooking is supposed to be fun, not a chore. I’m trying to be reasonable here — not my strong suit, but I sure want it to be.
I’m a work in progress. Many evenings we end up munching on chips and salsa, at times we go for microwavable meals. And there have been some nights where we ate popcorn from the popper, with a diet soda. (I like my popcorn with olive oil and no salt, although it’s pretty damn tasty with sugar.)
There are people who cook most days. I cook every once in a while, maybe once every other week. If I am serious about losing weight, this has to change. No one will ever confuse me with Julia Child, but why should I deny myself this lovely, healthy and comforting practice?