I Want to Want to… by Deb Danielle

I have this vision. I am humming and cutting fresh herbs from the window box (where they grow all year round) and throwing them into a salad or some kind of fancy marinade. I have shopped for my cheese at a local farmer’s market and everything is free range and organic and gourmet. I grow the zucchini myself in a garden out back and also the tomato. I sip at a glass of white wine—something decent but not decadent–as I cook, and listen to some opera or maybe a bit of jazz. My hair sits stylishly on top of my head and my slim-fitting ensemble of jeans and silk (or perhaps cashmere?) t-shirt are partially covered with a Parisian-looking apron. My husband stands nearby, washing the dishes in advance and our daughter sits peacefully reading Homer, Dickens or perhaps Naomi Klein. Dinner is timed perfectly and we all sit down together, savor the food, discuss cultural issues and enjoy each other’s company.

And then there’s reality. There is no window box because we cannot keep plants alive in this house and even if by some miracle there were herbs, I would probably cut myself with the scissors, burn the sauce, yell at my poor husband, stick my child in front of a (brain-cell-killing) DVD, spill the burnt sauce down the front of my pants and drink the entire bottle of wine. If there were dessert anywhere, I’d polish that off too. If I’d actually managed to shop at a farmer’s market it would have been two weeks ago and everything would already have gone bad, except perhaps the cheese, which I would also eat. And I would not be looking all casually elegant or any kind of European, much less Parisian, either. My hair would be sticking out all over the place and there would be pasta in it, there would be no apron, I’d have a greasy handprint somewhere on my chest and I would stand hissing and swearing and possibly crying in the middle of the kitchen. Dinner would be peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or take-out. And that’s just one meal.

This might be on the extreme end, as examples go, but cooking stresses me out. First, I never have all the groceries I need when I need them. Second, I dislike chopping things. Third, I hate having a mess and there seems to be no way to cook without making one and if you try to “clean as you go” something inevitably burns or melts or goes putrid while you’re doing it. Fourth, I hate having to follow a recipe, but that’s the only way things ever turn out. Fifth, no matter how many times I follow a recipe, I can never seem to commit it to memory so cooking makes me feel stupid. Sixth, cooking takes FOREVER and I never think to cook until I’m already starving. Seventh, you put in all that effort and then, instead of winning all kinds of awards for you major achievement, people just eat the food and you’re back to where you started with the addition of a big mess to clean up. And that’s if whatever you’ve cooked actually turns out, which is a big “if” in my case.

But clearly, a woman cannot live on frozen dinners, grilled cheese and take-out and expect to thrive. Not to mention that I have a husband (who would cook except for his crazy work hours) and a child who (at nineteen months) is too young for Dickens (much less chef school where we could get her trained up to feed us) and needs to be provided with good nutrition and decent-tasting meals.

So I want to learn how to cook. Well, that’s not quite true. I want to want to learn how to cook. At the very least, I want there to be cooking. Somehow. I’m taking advice from all corners and no solution is beneath consideration at this point. Any ideas?

21 Replies to “I Want to Want to… by Deb Danielle”

  1. Hmmm, I think your comments thread is a little angry this morning, but I’m going to try to post anyway.

    I like cooking, but I think it’s genetic: I come from a long line of Jewish cooks. I hate cleaning, though, and for this reason, I don’t cook often enough. One of the things about a lot of Jewish cooking is the simplicity of it. Although my mother slaves in the kitchen for what seems like hours, I think much of that time is actually spent on the phone with friends or reading a romance novel.

    Here’s my advice, but please don’t tell my mother I said this. Buy a crockpot and a book of crockpot recipes. Honestly. It makes good, home cooked food while you do other things. Some of my best meals have come from the crockpot with very little effort.

  2. I’m like Joanne. Like to cook (sometimes love it) but HATE to clean. My advice is to watch Rachel Ray (I know a lot of people think she’s annoying) but I’ve learned a lot about quick and easy meal preparation from her. And if you come to Wisconsin, I’ll cook for you! Funny post!!

  3. Thanks Joanne and Gail. And Joanne, I won’t tell your mom. I’ve actually been considering the crock pot route. We may even have one.
    Gail, I may just come to Wisconsin!

  4. You’ve gotten some good advice–and I second it (except for teh first two posts!?). I love to cook, but I can’t really explain why–my mom always liked it, I like to eat, it seems easy and creative to me–so probably some combination of all that. Crock pots are a good idea. So are soem good, basic cookbooks. I love the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks–they’re not real frou-frou, but very good. Pick up a Cooking Light magazine–they have soem great stuff.

    Good luck. And wine always helps.

  5. I have the perfect solution. Plant that daughter of yours in front of the Food Network, take her the supermarket to choose the menu, and let HER cook. You can even videotape her doing it and promise to send it into Rachel Ray. It worked like a charm on my 9-year-old!

  6. I love cooking. I just don’t want to do it every day. I love Cooking Light- and also check out any cookbook by Donna Hay. She has one where the cookbook is divided into thing that can be made in 10 min, 20 or 40. I love that book.

  7. Judy-Barefoot Contessa sounds good and I will look for Cooking Light too. And yes, I’ll stock up on wine to bolster myself for the effort.

    Amy–the only problem is we don’t have cable. Does any of that come on DVDs we could rent? I love the idea of letting my daughter choose the food and cook though. The result is sure to be hilarious.

    And Gail and Amy, at least I have a timeframe now–she just needs to be 7-9 years old and I can put her to work! In the meantime I’ll get her practicing and see if I can instill the passion I lack.

    Thanks for the tip on Donna Hay, Eileen! 10 minutes would be great. Even 20 would be great.

    I remember a couple years ago someone did a cookbook that was all recipes with only 3 ingredients and I thought that was THE ANSWER but when I looked at it in the store and saw all the complicated things you had to do with those 3 ingredients I knew right away it would be a bust for me.

  8. Try ‘The I Hate To Cook Book” …. the recipes can’t be worse than what you are already concocting. Next go to “Cooking for Dummies” if that doesn’t work, find a cooking class with cool people and wine.

  9. Being a vegetarian, I usually have to do LOTS of my own cooking. The prep work I don’t mind so much, but I hate the clean-up. We have about 36 inches of counterspace (total) and no dishwasher. But when I make something that my husband actually likes, it’s such a coup.

    If you’re interested in vegetarian cooking, I ADORE the magazine Vegetarian Times. They have a monthly ’30-minutes or less’ recipe section as well as a regular segment on recipes that have five ingredients or less. Last week I made a pesto squash risotto from that collection that was TO DIE for.

  10. Okay, darling, I have your answer. Try letseatdinner.com or supersuppers.com or dinnersmade.com — there’s bound to be one of these in your area.

    Here’s how it works:

    You spend two hours at their shop making 12 dinners. Each one feeds about 4-6 people, so for a family your size, you could split the meals in two and get 24 main courses.

    Everyting is already chopped up, and when you’re done with your preparation, a helper whisks it all away and does the dishes for you. You just put it togther, sort of like Rachel Ray. They’ll even give you a glass or two of wine while you “cook.”

    You leave 2 hours later with 12 (or in my case, 24) meals, which you pop into your freezer. Each night, you put one of those dinners in the oven, usually at 350 degrees, for 30 minutes. A salad, a veggie and you’re set.

    Greatest invention ever.


  11. Larramie, class with my little one would be a hoot! Thanks for the idea.

    Jess, that risotto sounds incredible. We’re not a totally veg household, but we eat vegetarian more often than not. Now about the risotto: how many ingredients and how long did it take?
    (depending on your answer I might want that recipe!)

    Lisa, you are a goddess. I’m off to check those links right now. No chopping…a glass of wine…a helper who “whisks”….mmm

  12. Hey Jess, I’m a vegetarian, too (except for occasional fish–does that count?). Anyway, I have the Vegetarian Times cookbook and I cook from it all the time!

  13. My advice? Accept yourself. Give yourself permission not to be Martha Stewart (or Maia).

    Also, I think a lot of it is habit… That is, once you get into the swing of cooking every day then you will think of it before you’re starved and it doesn’t seem to be such a big deal. At least that’s how it works for me. But I’ve been in a rarely cooking rut for quite a long time now… and trying not to judge myself too harshly.

  14. All great suggestions. BTW I do love Giada DiLaurentiis’ Everyday Italian. Very simple and fabulous meals. And the Barefoot Contessa is terrific too. Even the (now old) standby The New Basics cookbook is a wonderful book with so much information in it. I still refer to it constantly and have had it for 20+ years.
    For you, Lisa has the right idea. My SIL who is a teacher and very busy w/ 3 kids swears by it. In fact you can go in there w/ your girlfriends, drink some wine, make it a social activity.
    I grew up at my mother’s side cooking and so it is automatic to me–I don’t care to measure and just toss in this and that till it seems right. But I know other women who grew up with a mother who was a fashion hound or a decorating maven and to them, those things are natural, whereas to me completely alien. So I do think much of it is what you know.
    I used to watch a lot of Food Network and I’ve taken lots of cooking classes. One thing I find interesting is that chef’s let their small children get right in there and play with their food from a very early age. It really encourages creativity. But you have to let go about the idea of sweating the mess, which is hard to do.
    BTW, don’t be intimidated by risotto. It’s pretty easy to do but just takes some time b/c you have to wait till the risotto absorbs the broth b/f putting more in.
    And lastly, Maureen’s right–don’t make yourself too crazy about it! So you’re not a great chef–you’re a great writer!

  15. Maureen, thanks for the permission to relax about this a bit!

    Jenny,thanks for adding to the cookbook suggestions. It sounds like you ARE what I would like to be–someone who does it as easily as they breathe. Thanks for your thorough response…and I’m coming to dinner at your house sometime!

  16. OK this all sounds very good – in fact it all sounds yummy (especially that pesto squash risotto and I DO want that recipe please!) Danielle, I don’t think you should cook – focus on the writing! Get a bunch of frozen dinners and a few GOOD bottles of wine and I guarantee you won’t worry about it ever again.

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