Culinary talent comes naturally for some people. They take a few ingredients, a plastic fork, a stove on its last legs and a flour sifter, then miraculously transform into MacGyver, tossing and throwing and shaping and forming ordinary things like milk, pepper and eggs into delicious concoctions.
My mom is kind of like that. I’ll look in her cupboards and find nothing worth eating, yet somehow, 10 minutes later, she’s created a feast out of thin air.
I didn’t exactly inherit that domestic goddess gene. It’s not that I don’t try. But my kitchen has seen more than a few fires in its day, and the most used “recipe card” from my wedding shower has the phone numbers of all the local takeout places.
But it’s not my fault. I think the cooking gene skips a generation.
My Grandma Sylvia was such a bad cook that she would often throw away an entire dinner she had made when my Grandpa came home from work and didn’t like the looks of it and suggested they go out to eat.
Consequently, my mom is a great cook. I’m sure she learned this as a defense against her own mother’s scorched casseroles and burnt briskets.
Try as I may, despite the scorch marks on my ceiling, I just can’t get all that fired up about cooking. What’s the point of spending hours chopping and grating something that will be gone in minutes? I suppose it would be nice, every once in a while, to take something to a potluck that wasn’t directly from Trader Joe’s, but frankly, I’ve got a lot more important things on my “to do” list.
Grandma Sylvia’s the one I take after. She would have loved Trader Joe’s. Back in her day there were no microwaves, and Ragu was the cutting edge in convenience foods. Grandma’s favorite cookbook (aside from the yellow pages, to make dinner reservations) was Peg Bracken’s “I Hate to Cook Book.”
I remember the dog-eared copy of the “I Hate to Cook Book” sitting on her counter between the flour and the sugar canisters, and the cookie jar filled with her favorite Pepperidge Farm Chessmen cookies. Who says you have to actually bake cookies to have your larder stocked?
“Some women, it is said, like to cook,” the book began. “This book is not for them.”
An advertising copywriter by day, Peg’s recipes always made good reading, even for someone like me, who had no intention of actually turning on the oven. Her recipes were for things like “Aggression Cookies,” which called for vigorous kneading, mashing, squeezing and beating, offering an opportunity for “channeling some energies away from throwing bricks.”
Another favorite was “Skid Road Stroganoff,” which called for you to add flour, paprika and mushrooms to the beef and noodles while you “light a cigarette and stare sullenly at the sink.” There was also “Stay Abed Stew,” where you mixed a bunch of stuff together and put it in the oven where it would “cook happily all by itself and be done in five hours” while you went back to bed.
Now that’s my kind of cooking.
Peg wrote for reluctant cooks like my Grandma and I, who knew that some activities-such as childbirth, paying taxes and cooking- “become no less painful through repetition.” Her book, she wrote, was “for those of us who want to fold our big dishwater hands around a dry martini instead of a wet flounder.”
Many of her instructions called for alcohol, often suggesting that it bypass the cooking process entirely and proceed straight down the cook’s throat.
That’s the point in the meal preparation process where I used to pull out my handy dandy recipe card and call for pizza delivery. I don’t do that anymore-I’ve got the number memorized. But, just like Grandma, I’m still game if my husband decides he wants to go out to dinner instead.