When I first started really cooking, I threw things together. Lentils, salt, crock pot, thyme. Then I started following recipes. And eating, lots of eating of things that I wouldn’t have otherwise eaten. Nothing truly daring, but new foods. Indian buffets were my daring indulgence. I lived in a vegetarian co-op and cooked green pea soup without sour cream or bacon.
Then I started breaking out of recipes and cooking without recipes. Not baking, just cooking. This was a combination of wanting to recreate things I’d eaten, memorizing recipes and not needing them in front of me, and little touches of understanding. And when I followed recipes it was in making things that I’d eaten a lot of, but never made before. Mayonnaise, salad dressing, pesto.
Then I started researching, trying to find out why I couldn’t cook certain things. Beans. I kept trying to make things with dried beans and it wasn’t working. I think that was the trigger, one of the main triggers on that phase. I wanted to make homemade pork’n’beans. Is it so much to ask for? Apparently. I still don’t have it down. And how do you meet the challenge of cooking vegan? Cooking gluten free? These were the kinds of questions I cooked to answer.
Then, over the last year or two, I drifted out of cooking. Even as I ate more widely and daringly, I hated the effort involved in keeping people fed. The obligation of it. Lee kept telling me, “You don’t have to cook if you don’t want to.” And nothing fell apart without me. My daughter learned to do more for herself, Lee started cooking more. We ate less complicated, less “cooked” things. Bowls of cereal, yes, but also more grilling, more salads, more rice cooker rice with leftovers on top. I was done, I was dried out, I was bored with everything and didn’t know where to go to find something new. My cooking wasn’t perfected, not even close, but even so the quality of my cooking went downhill as my soul went out of it. Boiling eggs was too much work, making breakfast. I used to make a batch of granola every week, but I stopped. It just dried out of me. I had a few things I wanted to make. Green chili. But mostly the drive faded.
Today I’ve been thinking about that.
I started getting more into cooking because it helps balance me out. I’m in my head so much that I need to be dragged out from time to time. I like to eat. I like the sensuousness of smelling fresh-chopped garlic. I like surprise of the perfect cherry. I like listening to the bubbles pop as I knead bread, the hiss of onions in the pan. Being able to taste when wine needs air. I struggle to get out of my own head; cooking used to be my line to shore.
Today I made garlic potatoes, trying a new technique. It’s too hot in the house to roast the damn things. If you’re going to fry potatoes, for example the perfect french fries, you’re supposed to fry them first at a lower temperature to cook the insides, then crank up the heat, drain them, and fry them again so they get the perfect, glasslike crust. While the sausages were grilling, I nuked the cubed potatoes with some garlic and some salt to cook the insides. And then I pan-fried them over higher heat in olive oil, finished them with salt and grated Irish cheddar. Not perfect. Also: next time I’ll add the garlic later, it got too brown.
A couple of times I tried to escape from the moment: get back into my head and stop caring about what was actually going on. If the theory was good, the potatoes would be good. But that’s not how cooking works. Every time, the potatoes are different. And so theory is nice, but theory will always come up short.
This is where I’m going. Maybe not now, maybe not soon. But learning to stay with the ingredients, with the heat, with the timing. Maybe I’ll cook more, maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll make a thousand batches of potatoes, one after the other, until I go insane.