Friday, April 03, 2009

A kitchen confession

Whenever the topic of cooking comes up, I am quick to admit that I am useless in the kitchen. I make the usual plaints: I can't boil water, I can't operate anything more complicated than a microwave or a toaster oven, I leave all the cooking to Britt.

This isn't exactly the truth. I actually can cook. I make fairly good brisket, matzo ball soup, and noodle kugel. But the facts are these: I have worked very hard to make myself useless in the kitchen. I would love nothing more than to be one of the guys on teevee--the ones who always seem to know exactly what they're doing and make everything look so effortless. I would love the the guy who can leave work at 5:30 p.m., toss some salmon and herbs on the grill, and sit down to a homemade meal by 6:30 p.m.

However, I got so fed up with cooking and baking when I was single that I vowed never to do it again, unless it was absolutely necessary. Cooking for one person is always an exercise in futility: There is no food in the house, so you have to start every meal with a trip to market. The more ambitious the recipe, the exotic the ingredients--and more expensive the bill. I'd wander the aisles in search of honey-infused saffron extract, which would probably cost $15 a fluid ounce.

I'd get these ingredients home, and most of them would never be used again. They'd end up on the shelves or in the fridge for a few months, go bad, and end up in the trash.

When it comes to recipes, I follow directions to the letter. If something calls for three cups1 of tobacco-marinated Australian Aboriginal lawn clippings, I will locate and use exactly three cups of tobacco-marinated Australian Aboriginal lawn clippings. I am afraid to use any other product, or vary the amount. I could not, for example, replace the tobacco-marinated Australian Aboriginal lawn clippings with shredded lettuce.

No matter what I did, whatever I cooked turned out--well, I shouldn't say it was bad. It was always edible. And sometimes it was pretty good. But it always felt like a disappointment. It was never nearly as tasty as I had anticipated. And I always had so many leftovers. I was stuck eating the same meal for several days, and usually had to throw some away.

It all seemed so futile. So I just gave up. I admitted that cooking was not one of my strengths. I told myself that no matter how much I tried, no matter how many recipes I prepared, I would never turn out the kind of meals that I saw on the cooking shows and in magazines. I also acknowledged that I would always be a slave to recipes, and would never have the know-how to make things from scratch. Cooking was a hobby--an expensive, unfulfilling, wasteful one--and I walked away from it.

Now I specialise in just a few meals. I will share them with you here:

Spaghetti with red sauce: Boil some water. Add spaghetti. Cook it for the time marked in directions on box. Dump jar of spaghetti into separate saucepan. Heat according to directions on jar. When it's all done, serve. Give it the additional Dave touch by adding some black olives (without pits) before serving!

Box of raisins: Open box. Eat raisins.

Grilled cheese sandwich: You need a toaster oven to make this. A regular toaster won't do. First, toast bread. Then, put a slice of cheese on each piece of bread and toast it again. Put the pieces of bread together, with the cheese on the inside, and eat.

Chocolate chip cookies: Open tube of chocolate chip cookie dough. Eat dough directly from tube. Tell Britt that if he really wanted fully cooked cookies, he should have purchased fully cooked cookies.

Soup: Dump can of soup into saucepan. Heat according to directions of label. Note: some soup requires you to add a can of water.

Chili: See directions for soup. No additional water will be required. For fun, serve over spaghetti. Note: wash out pot before the chili gets too cold and sticks to the sides like concrete. You'll be happy you did.

Carrot surprise: Open bag of carrots. Eat. There is no surprise. What did you think you were eating--Cracker Jack?

1 Let's not forget that I grew up in a country that used the metric system. I have no idea how many cups there are in a hogshead, or whatever silly medieval units of measurement you use over here. Pints and quarts? Srlsy? No wonder I couldn't revise the recipes for, say, 2 people instead of 4.

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