While I can’t recall the exact age when I realized the truth, I do know that I went for many years thinking it was the husband’s responsibility to do the cooking for the family. And though over the years household gender roles have reshaped, bent or changed all together, it was kind of a big deal 30 years ago that my dad was the chef of the family. I suppose shortly after my parents married, my dad realized if he ever wanted to eat a meal again, he was going to have to cook it himself. And thus our household rule went into effect: if you cook, you don’t have to clean. From my brief and highly anecdotal research, I’ve noticed that in the few dad-as-cook households I know about, this is a common and etched in stone rule. So while I’m fairly confident I have a competent and creative cook residing in my soul, I’m a few decades delayed in getting in touch with it; I simply believed for many years that cooking was the man’s work.
There have been a few attempts at getting in touch with my inner cook over the years. I recall almost accidentally poisoning my brother and one of his friends with some beef broth concoction, and I’ve been able to whip up a great egg or omelet since, well, forever. Though if I had to pick a moment in my history wherein a new culinary destiny was born, I would select my marine biology trip to the Turks & Caicos when I was 15. On the trip, girls and boys were split into two kitchen teams. On the nights the girls cooked, the boys cleaned, and vice versa. While we didn’t exactly make culinary history that week, I did learn to make spaghetti, conch fritters, and stir fry. I flew home sunburned and happy, ready to wow my dad with my new cooking skills, and I made my new favorite: stir fry. Dad came home from work, and there I was, covered in soy sauce, proudly displaying dinner.
Dad: What is that?
Lola: Stir Fry!
Dad: More like “Stir Mess”
We ate my uninspired and admittedly messy dish, I cleaned the kitchen for three hours, and I put away the apron for a long time. I interwove lack of cooking skills into my hefty repertoire of self-deprecating humor. I was so successful for so many years at tricking people into believing I was a terrible cook, that when I finally started to cook again, my dishes were always met with stunned silence. “Wait! But this is… really good!” my incredulous diners would cry. “No sh*t,” I’d smugly reply in my head, but I wasn’t being fair; I purposefully set the bar very, very low.
And so we arrive at last night. I watched “Julie & Julia,” received two cookbooks for Christmas, and then sat in front of the TV, mesmerized by the Food Network for about 20 hours. I was finally ready. Ready to broaden my recipe horizon, get in touch with my inner, very confident cook, change my relationship with food, and, ultimately, my relationship with myself. I do promise that I won’t change this blog into a food log or a Julie & Julia wannabe. But, if you like, I will recount a few conquests and failures in the kitchen (though hopefully more of the former than the latter).
I digress. Back to last night. I shopped for about three hours, first buying needed utensils for my dishes, and then the ingredients. Given my usual pressing social calendar (she says without irony), I only had about an hour to cook and eat, so of the three recipes I wanted to get started, I had time for just one: herbed quinoa, compliments of Giada de Laurentiis of the Food Network. It, and the massive mess I made while preparing it, was spectacular.
For lunch I’m making Carmelized Onion and Grapefruit Salad (also from Giada’s “Light and Delicious” episode), and then I’m moving on to Ina Garten for my inspiration: Lentil Vegetable Soup (for dinner and for the week) and Homemade Granola Bars (as a gift for a friend), both from Ina’s “Barefoot to Go” episode. Granted, I should probably only take eating/dieting tips from one of these women, I adore both of them and their recipes; they, more than any other Food Network personalities, always inspire me.
So, I’m off to brew some coffee and get to work making lunch… and a mess.