Tonight, there is a baby shower after work, and I’m looking forward to it because, aside from it being one of those lovely, happy, social occasions, it also means that I don’t have to make dinner. This is not to say that in my house, I am always the one to do so— far from it. We both take turns. This is just one of those nights when Brendan is teaching later in the evening and the task would be left to me. So I brought some cheese and a baguette as contribution to this potluck shower, and in exchange I will be fed for the evening with not so much as one greasy frying pan to contend with.
One of my friends said to me recently, “You always have the best cheese at your house.” I told her that this may have been one of the greatest compliments of my life. I love to go to a local place, try cheese samples, and arrange a variety of sharp, blue, nutty, and soft cheeses. I guess it makes me feel very Parisian or something. Life without cheese and chocolate in particular would not be okay. Often people say to me, "Oh, I don't have a sweet tooth. I like salty things". I never understand this because I crave salty things too. I like salty things, sweet things, sour things and hot things. I just like all the things. I certainly feel a strong passion for eating food, but less so about cooking. I love to talk about flavors and try new dishes in restaurants. I also like occasionally cooking for friends, but the idea of feeling obligated to cook every night simply to feed myself is exhausting. And I live with Captain Hypoglycemic, so we like to keep him fed before he gets "hangry". When we improvise cooking something for myself or just the two of us, we always seem to be missing one ingredient and accumulate a small mountain of dirty pots and pans. And with our schedules we’re often not eating until 8:30 or 9:00, when I am hungry around 5:30 (Yes, I am an old person). We are lucky that we both like dinner salads quite a lot. One of my friends recently reminded me that I really used to enjoy cooking in college. Maybe it was the novelty of being able to serve it to several others every night. As the daughter of two caterers, however, my relationship with the culinary arts seems a complicated one. I learned basic cooking skills at an early age but in our fast-paced contemporary lifestyle, who can even keep up with all the ambitious expectations of the new age foodie?
One big factor for me and I suspect, for much of my generation these days is societal pressure and expectations concerning health. With nutritional research ever-changing, and confusing statistics abounding, extra control issues are popping up all over the country. Food suddenly needs to simultaneously be non-fattening, all natural, organic, local, grass fed, gluten-free, hormone-free, cage-free, dairy-free, paleo friendly, environmentally friendly—you name it and the list of fears goes on and on. If you can just make it at home, that would solve a multitude of problems with food, right? As a result of what should be a simplifying approach, there is a new cropping up of serious, let’s call them, upper middle class domestics.
I know that we are living in a nation with an obesity problem and we eat too many processed and high fructose corn syrup laden foods. I am all about eating whole foods, like those of our grandparents, but it can all go too far. In our efforts to get back to basics in food, there is this new homespun, homemade, grassroots trend that I find full of unrealistic expectations, at least for my lifestyle. I suspect that this, like most pretentious, guilt-inducing crazes these days, finds its’ epicenter in Brooklyn. There was a hysterical blog I read recently parodying current foodie fears and obsessions. The fictional protagonist in this particular whole food struggle narrative, distrusting a number of food groups, ended up eating nothing but rabbit, (raised in the home of course), kale, and vitamin D supplements, only to end up with massive kidney stones. The irony here is that the comments section was filled with questions, (mostly from Brooklyn residents), about how to successfully raise rabbits. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for people who work fulltime and have families to take all these extra steps toward putting a meal on the table.
This is not to say that if you enjoy and have time for activities like raising your own animals and making your own detergent, sunscreen, mustard etc., that you shouldn’t feel free to go do so with reckless abandon. I personally, feel no such inclinations. My old roommate declared excitedly one day that “we” should make our own butter! She is a very good baker, and enjoys the process and the results very much, but I had to inform her that I had no interest. The butter they sell in the store suits me just fine.
Baking is another realm in which I have very little interest in venturing into deeply. There are several reasons for this. The first is that I do not need to develop a habit that is calorically extravagant when usually a small piece of chocolate will do the trick for me. I like cookies as much as the next gal, but cookie batter is an evil I am not able to resist and I end up eating my way through the entire process. As far as cake is concerned, for most of my childhood, there was a perpetual stream of leftover wedding cake sitting in both the fridge and the freezer at home. I am talking classic 80’s and 90’s Italian bakery cake, slathered in bulky layers of congealed sugary frosting. As a result, I have such disgust and disdain for bakery cake, that we won’t even serve cake at our wedding. Anyone who has half a tastebud knows that cakes made from a box are far superior to all other cakes anyway. My grandmother made beautiful Ukrainian breads, lemon meringue pies, and rice puddings from scratch all her life. When my cousin requested her special birthday cake for her baby shower, everyone made a big fuss over “Grandma’s special cake”. When someone at the shower asked her the secret, Grandma replied; “Duncan Hines: Butter Recipe Golden”. It remains my family’s cake mix of choice. Cakes are for special occasions anyway. I say, live a little and consume some preservatives. Cake mix is just fine by me since the act of baking itself doesn’t suit my personality anyway. I am decent at making pie crusts and I like pie enough, but once the thing is thrown in the oven, I can’t futz with it. And futzing is a must for me.
This brings me to my final topic. For someone who doesn’t enjoy cooking very much, I am very quick to boss others around in the kitchen. Just as I have very strong opinions about design aesthetics in the home, so too, I feel strongly about food sanitation, preparation, and presentation. My parents’ have imparted much of their wisdom regarding these components. I actually have a friend who texts me with questions of how long he can leave a particular food in the fridge or at room temperature before it is inedible. If I cannot reply reliably, I will call my mother and ask. So, I am one of those obnoxious kitchen hoverers, who, even when not asked to help, demands that meat doesn’t get overcooked and that the knife for the raw chicken doesn’t come anywhere near the vegetables. I'll also loudly condemn any items with any ingredients I can't pronounce, so I'm really just as bad as any conflicted Brooklynite. Not that I do anything particularly productive in this process, mind you. I see myself in a supervisory role.
One time the fiancé’s friends called and invited him to dinner. He asked them if I could come along because we were both free that night. They said I could, but only if I promised not to help cook. “She gets too bossy.” I couldn’t even be mad. I know how ridiculous I can get after all. We all appreciated the special irony that the only woman in the group was to stay out of the kitchen.