Went to Trader Joe’s Friday night to pick up the usual weekend fare. Was running low on some basics, so had to make an emergency run for some leeks, fennel and cumin.
I had an unusual amount of free time Saturday morning, and I was determined to do something healthy with it. So I decided to cook.
And as I looked at all my fresh food stuffs, I remembered: I am really terrible at cooking.
Like very terrible.
Like the scenes in movies where everyone smiles, then gives the food to the dog terrible.
Or like this coffee ad.
You would think it would be relatively easy to at least be passable at cooking. I mean, there are these nifty things called recipes that are made of detailed instructions on how to make yummy food in a yummy way.
But I am not terrible at cooking because I cannot read and/or follow these directions. I am terrible at cooking because I would rather not read and/or follow these directions.
When the recipe says something like “Cook at 350 degrees for 45 minutes,” I can’t help but think: “Why not cook at 500 degrees for like 25 minutes?”
Unless the objective is to summon five fire engines and 10 men, that 500 degrees business rarely works.
If it says: “simmer for 10 minutes,” I say “why not boil for 2?” And when the water’s taking too long to come to said boil, I think: “Hmmm, salt makes water boil faster, so what if this doesn’t call for a brine?”
If I were to bring this up with a professional, I imagine that they would tell me it had something to do with a rarely confessed reticence to follow very strict rules. As discussed earlier, my home was riddled with very strict rules and though I followed them to the letter, the bruises that would show up on my arms let me know that I had not followed them closely enough.
So now, instead of say working through these issues, I set up rules for myself, then break them in small and worthless ways ostensibly so I can forgive myself to the degree I was unforgiven before. I promise myself I’ll manage the TMJ pain that shoots up half of my face most days by wearing this mouth guard that I’ve put on my nightstand. Then I put my nightstand just too far away from the bed for it to be convenient to reach over to before I fall asleep. I mean, I’m just soooo comfortable where I am, and the cats are all settled, I’d hate to disturb them by rolling over.
I want to stress out less, so I tell myself that I will leave at a time that will allow me to reach my destination a few minutes early. Then I procrastinate and putter around so that I leave 15 minutes late for everything. But it’s LA, and there’s the 405 to blame…even if I never go over the hill.
I’d love an awesome relationship, so I make my list of healthy non-negotiables when it comes to dating and then I throw them right out the window. I mean, he was super funny and complimented my vocabulary! Who needs a guy with a job…or self esteem?
Cooking is much the same way. I want the pretty, yummy food thing—this morning in particular, I want sweet potato ginger spoon bread. But there must be another way of getting it than following these little rules, right? I mean, I’ve already got out the cup measure, do I really need the half-cup measure, too. It’s all the way on the other side of the room.
To be fair, straying from my own rules has brought me huge benefits. I never would have discovered how amazingly relaxing the four-jet shower at the spa after the deep tissue massage could be were I not looking for alternate TMJ cures. That massage was expensive, but in terms of restorative power, it was priceless.
I have discovered the joys of taco trucks because leaving 15 minutes late made me 45 minutes late to the birthday party and I missed out on the food.
And because my romantic choices are messy at best, I have learned how awesome front row seats at big musicals can be, had a million amazing conversations on balconies, tasted tequila that was better than I thought tequila could be, been proud and inspired because of a few jokes, slept in the most comfortable bed I’ve ever known, more deeply appreciated Bukowski, discovered I have dimples, found boundaries, felt that amazing white fire and ice all needles feeling, learned to like wine, figured out how to wear dresses, heard beautiful music and spent a storybook Christmas in Austria.
Of course, there’s the other side. The side that makes me wonder if the rules aren’t better. Christmas in Austria was stunning; but once we got home, all the problems that I suspected at the beginning were still there, and now there’s a great deal of paperwork where love once was.
I hope that there is something between the rules and personal anarchy. And perhaps that’s what my tiny rebellions are about. Finding that place where there’s give and take to make mistakes. But still a standard to strive for and a soft place to land when you miss.
Right this moment, however, I’m hoping that my spoon bread turns out okay even though I used too many potatoes and got cornbread mix instead of plain cornmeal. There’s probably too much water in it (since the recipe didn’t call for water in the first place), I cooked it in a muffin tin instead of a loaf pan and I forgot the ginger all together. Pretty par for the course for a day in the kitchen with TOE.
I especially hope this thing turns out okay because my roommates are all in the kitchen and I can only be so delightfully self-deprecating at 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday.
Moment of truth arrives. I pull it out and my spoon bread muffins and see my creation. They are delicious, fluffy and beautifully golden.