That's how I felt when I read Virginia Heffernan's recent NY Times piece, "What If You Just Hate Making Dinner?" No one has captured my aversion to cooking so well.
A vague neural itch sets in around 5 p.m. when I recognize that something must happen, and soon, involving plates and macronutrients. I do not move. Dinner preparation is all mental around these parts: I figure out who’s had enough protein or carbs for the day, who can bear eating the other’s favorite food, or whether I must figure out two meals.But possibly the best part of that article was discovering the existence of a lost tribe, known as the "born defrosters." My people.
In 1982, Jessica Lange as Julie, the glamorous single working mother in “Tootsie,” became my ego-ideal when she sexily told Dustin Hoffman’s character that she was a “born defroster.” Lord, how I loved that expression.For the record, I have always loathed meal prep and still lament the time I have to spend doing it. But being a homemaker and stay-at-home-parent thrusts me into the role of head chef. It's a tiresome and thankless job to feed two kids with highly discerning palettes and mutually exclusive food preferences. Add to that their still-picky mother (I'm hard-pressed to think of more than ten vegetables I'll eat) and their father, who would default to a PB&J for any reason.
It's interesting to note that when we were first married, Ken did 90% of the cooking since we both worked and I had even less cooking skill than I do now. Back then, he would make a notable dish like Curry Halibut Cheeks--fancy stuff. But the cooking he does now fits into one four categories:
- grape or fig jam
- super hard, rarely-made recipes for events (like vegetarian lasagna from scratch or brined turkey for Thanksgiving)
- breakfast (with emphasis on fried eggs)
I think my own aversion to cooking all started back in my adolescence when I perceived that knowledge of cooking was a gateway to being trapped in the kitchen. Besides, I had no reason to learn to cook because growing-up all the men in my life (dad, brother & assorted boyfriends) were good at it. My mom also loved to cook. She still revels in all the details and process of it. Often she likes to regale me with foodie speak and tidbits she's gleaned from her Julia Child's cookbook or a snipped recipe from the newspaper. At which point, my mind clouds over as it attempts to shield me from a knowledge most unwanted. If I don't know how, I can't be held responsible.
Against my will though, I have actually learned some things, like how to make flawless hard-boiled eggs and to use thermometers to avoid overcooking things. But recently (errantly) I tried to step up my game with a recipe/delivery service called ACME farm + kitchen out of Bellingham, WA. Once a week they deliver a box with local, organic raw ingredients for 3-5 meals depending on the box size. Normally this would activate my educated, liberal, urban, Seattlite pleasure centers (the same ones that fire up at farmers' markets) but the draw back of this service is that you 'get what you get and you don't get upset.' The meals are a surprise. Do you know what picky eaters hate most? Surprising, unfamiliar foods.
So last week's box had ingredients and instructions for Banh Mi Vietnamese Pork Sandwiches with pickled carrots. It was a very hands-on meal with chopping vegetables, pickling of the carrots, shaping/frying/baking/chilling of the meatballs, etc. After all that work (non-stop for an hour) I served it to just Ken and myself, since both children went screaming from the room when I offered them some. Ken, who is usually game for anything, surprisingly didn't like it. I was astounded and disheartened. I don't often spend that much time on stuff I KNOW will be good so I was super frustrated by this development. I ended up eating much of the left overs for the next 2 days because someone was going to benefit from all that effort. But for us, it's not worth doing a food service like this (as lovely as it is) for a family of picky eaters and chef who hates cooking. I know, it's sad.
But if you want to know my saving grace, two words: prepared meals. I bet you thought I was going to say 'mac & cheese'. Well we do that sometimes too.