Okay, so that’s a pretty silly title for this blog post, considering that there are about half a kajillion reasons why I won’t be on the Food Network. But, in this case, I’m thinking about something specific. Television shows and magazine articles make cooking look like it is a production, a carnival of ingredients where everything has to laboriously be chopped precisely into uniform pieces or flavored with a foam of expensive seafood and some spice you’ve never heard of, and if you don’t create something perfect you’re sent home packing with your knives. But the truth of cooking is that it is much more approachable. You can make an extremely respectable, downright delectable meal with only ingredients and cooking techniques that a food snob might consider boring, but that a truly good cook would just consider practical. One of the very greatest things about cooking is how much wiggle room there is to fix mistakes or make something work. There is very rarely a disaster in the kitchen so serious that it can’t be salvaged. And if you really create a disgusting Franken-dish, you can always fry a couple of eggs and serve them on toast with a slice of tomato and dinner is saved!
When I first began cooking for myself and others, I used to be in a nervous fluster the entire time. I would whirl around the kitchen worrying that I wouldn’t add ingredients at the proper moment, or that I would stir at a rate of 1.7 rotations per second instead of 1.5, or that my vegetable cubes weren’t geometrically exact. Okay, maybe not quite that ridiculous, but my hands would literally be shaking while I tried to cook, and I would end up dropping pots or pulling a Jackson Pollock with the sauce I was making. Bit by bit, I discovered that all my fretting didn’t help anything. That as long as I followed the general spirit of the guidelines set forth in recipes I was reading for inspiration, things would generally be okay. Now, I’ve gotten so that much of the time I don’t measure or time things or follow recipes; instead I eyeball, and guestimate, and imagine what things might taste like if I put them together. And miraculously it works!
However, I still manage to fling and drop things everywhere while I cook. I’m basically a disaster in the kitchen. (Thankfully, unlike some areas of life, cooking also creates messes that you can actually clean up after. And, in a way I do feel like I’m in good company, considering one of Julia Child’s most famous moments was when she dropped the potato pancake she was flipping and then returned it to the frying pan, totally unphased. “Remember, you’re alone in the kitchen.”) To illustrate my point, cooking the pumpkin dishes I described in my last post was a pretty typical evening of cooking for me. To set the stage, you must first know that already earlier that day, I had managed – being a total space cadet – to pour hot water from my tea kettle directly onto my hand, which turns out not to be tea cup. Ouch! (Burns, along with bad cuts, are a couple of the potential kitchen accidents that really are serious, and I don’t want to make light of them, but if you’re actually attentive, unlike me, most of these can be avoided) I spent the next 15 minutes with my hand in a bowl of ice water, which I think masked the pain of the burn with frost bite. What a start to the day! Anyways, later that evening I started to make cilantro salad dressing while the pumpkin was roasting. I poured the dressing ingredients into my blender and gave it a whirl, sending lemon juice and olive oil oozing down the sides of the blender base all over the counter and my hands. It turned out that the blender was missing a critical anti-leak piece that I couldn’t find anywhere. So, I turned to a handheld blender-stick that belongs to my roommate. This blended everything very nicely. But did you know that if you don’t hold one of those things straight up and down and use a tall bowl it creates a tsunami of partially blended ingredients? Chunks and oil flying everywhere!
I had also roasted the pumpkin seeds along side the pumpkin I was making. I put the finished pepitas into a little bowl for snacking, but then realized I should use some of them to garnish the pumpkin salad I had assembled. Feeling creative and clever, I snatched some seeds out of the bowl, and managed to send the rest of them flying across the kitchen floor (which was really in need of sweeping anyway). My final brilliant act of the evening cam while I was making the batter for the pumpkin bread. I set two eggs out on the counter while I turned to the cupboard for some oil. Almost immediately I heard a “crunchcrunch splatsplat” and whirled back to see what had happened. Now, how is a person really supposed to remember that round things, ahem, roll? Slimy raw egg and shells were splattered across the floor, which, mind you, I had just swept clear of pepitas. But, I cleaned it up and nonetheless enjoyed a delicious supper of winter salad with warm pumpkin followed by pumpkin bread for dessert. A happy culinary ending.
Really the moral of the story is this, I will never be on the Food Network, and more importantly, if I can cook, anyone can cook!