Confessions of the Culinary-Challenged

I’m good at a lot of things but cooking is not one of them.  I love to bake: pies, cheesecakes, cookies, biscotti—you name it, I’ll bake it—but cooking is a different story.

At 27, the sum total of my culinary expertise includes:

  • Pasta  (three varieties: meat sauce, clam sauce and pancetta-and-leeks sauce)
  • Thai peanut satay chicken
  • Chili (which I’ve made twice now for TWD and his kids because they love it so much)
  • Chicken pot pie (but only by using a can of condensed chicken soup to hold the insides together)

I also made a meatloaf once but it was seven years ago and I’ve long since forgotten the recipe.  Ditto turkey.  My flat mates and I managed to roast an entire turkey for Thanksgiving dinner when I was living in Oxford but that was a long time ago.  I’m still not quite sure how we did it.

My mom has tried to teach me how to cook on numerous occasions but I’m convinced that this sort of thing skips a generation (i.e. my mom used to be a professional florist and I can’t grow a bean, yet I could sew an entire baroque gown by hand if I needed to, which I did during my senior year of college).

But none of this matters anymore because when its 3:30 and you’re staring at the refrigerator thinking, “Damn!  What am I going to make for dinner?” your mother’s suggestion that you pay attention the next time she makes lasagna isn’t really going to help.

Especially if your mother has gone off to Hoopers Island for the weekend and is, as such, beyond the reach of your cell phone.

So there I am standing in TWD’s kitchen, staring at the fridge, running through everything I’ve already made for him over the course of the past year and I’m starting to panic.

Pasta?  No.  I made pasta when I came to his house last week.

Chicken?  No.  I served him chicken the first time he came over for dinner.  Plus chicken requires a side, and the contents of TWD’s cabinets are rather slim.

Chili?  No.  That would make three times… he’s going to think I don’t know how to cook anything else (which is the truth, but I see no need to belabor the point).

Chicken pot pie?  No.  My mom made chicken pot pie for my birthday last month and as I suggested that she make four pies while she was at it, we’ve all reached our annual quota.

So that’s it.  The sum total. I am out of ideas and even though I could just pop open my laptop and find a recipe on the internet like a normal person, I’ve been writing all day and can’t bear to look at my computer screen a moment longer.

TWD does have a few cookbooks but they look complicated.  Plus they’re piled on the counter with a binder of recipes compiled by a former lady friend of his and I’ll be damned if I’m going to accept her help.

So it’s down to me and what I can recollect of the inside-out pizzas my mom used to make for my brother and I when were kids.  I have no idea what they’re actually called (calzones? Rolled up pizzas?) so I can’t even look up the recipe even if I had wanted to.

I grab my car keys and go.

I will say this for the suburbs: the people at the grocery store are very nice.  Either that or I’m just so starved for conversation after sitting alone at TWD’s house all day that I’ll talk to anyone—whether it’s the check out lady or the man at the deli counter who spent ten minutes telling me what I ought to cook for dinner during last week’s pasta excursion.

Unfortunately he isn’t here today so I can’t very well ask if his mom used to make inside out pizzas too, and does he, by any chance, remember how it’s done… but its pizza.  How hard can it be?

It takes me a while to find the dough (I’d enjoy grocery shopping much more if all of the stores were standardized, like Starbucks) but eventually I load up my basket with all the necessary ingredients: dough, tomato sauce, cheese and—because this is going to be a grown up inside out pizza— salami and broccoli.

Of course the dough is frozen so I go to the liquor store (to give it time to defrost, mind you, not because I know this endeavor is going to require copious amounts of wine).

When I finally make my way back to TWD’s house, I’ve got less than 20 minutes until he gets home and although I have no desire to get into a “dinner on the table by 5:00pm” sort of routine, I have suggested that we go to park after dinner and if we’re going to go to the park plus watch the first installment of Pride and Prejudice, we need to eat our dinner at 5:00pm like proper senior citizens.

So I wrestle with the remote controls for a while (does TWD really need FOUR different controllers???) and settle on TLC’s My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding for inspiration.  (Not that the gypsies are the height of the culinary sophistication, but their bedazzled wedding dresses are inspiring in a vaguely horrifying, oh-my-god-she’s going-to-catch-on-fire sort of way.)

I throw the dough in the microwave to finish defrosting and oil a pan only to realize it’s not big enough.  Being that my fingers are now glistening with a thick coat of EVOO, I can barely open the drawer to get a larger pan but inspiration strikes (it was those gypsy dresses) and I grab a towel; it does the trick.  Once I’ve gotten the dough all spread out, I spread some sauce down the middle then add the cheese and our grown-up mix-ins.

I can’t quite remember how you’re supposed to fold everything together but it’s not rocket science so I do the best I can and whip up and egg to coat the top.  (I also can’t remember if you’re supposed to use the whole egg or just the white but I figure the yolk equals added protein so why the hell not?)

When TWD arrives home twenty minutes later, he kisses me on the lips and speaks the words that countless men have spoken to countless women before: Something smells good!

I’m flattered.  I’m more than flattered, actually, but there remains of course the possibility that the insides are totally botched or that I’m going to end up with a frittata pizza because I screwed up the egg part…

But it’s perfect.

Absolutely perfect.

So perfect, in fact, that TWD tells me it’s better than the calzones one of his co-workers makes and she’s Italian.

(And here’s where I’d insert a photograph of said calzone if I was a better blogger… you’ll have to live with the following instead.)

1950s housewife

I try to play it cool (“Why yes, I make Italian food better than the real Italians all the time…”) but I’m tickled pink.  It’s a nice feeling—to make something for someone you love and be appreciated for it—but along with the surge of pride comes guilt.

I’m 27.  My mom has been making me dinner since I was born, plus breakfast and lunch on many occasions and even if you take away the years I was in college or living abroad, that’s upwards of 20,000 meals.  And I know I haven’t said “thank you” or even “this tastes good” 20,000 times.

So thank you, Mom.

And tonight, I’m making dinner.

8 Responses to “Confessions of the Culinary-Challenged”

  1. sarahnsh

    I think that is awesome that you are expanding yor culinary horizons! I’ve been doing that currently because I want to ry new things and before all I knew how to cook was soup…and a sandwich….and….that’s maybe about it. Oh, and an omelette! I love making homemade pizza now that I’ve tried it myself and it does taste really great. Congrats on your great dinner!


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