Thursday, February 23, 2012

On Cooking

Some mornings when I was working, I would open my eyes at 5:30 thinking, what am I going to have for dinner tonight. The fridge was empty, and I had no time that day to shop or prepare anything. 
I like to eat. I sit down at the table, which overlooks the backyard. I have set the table, with the silver (I gave away the stainless to people in Prattsville after Tropical Storm Irene) and a cloth napkin. I do read while I eat; I think you’re not supposed to, but I can’t resist.
James McGreevey, the former governor of New Jersey, told the New York Times that he doesn’t cook, he boils badly. That was so good to read, I cut out the whole article. 
In another Times article, Lois Smith Brady—the best “Vows” writer by far—interviewed seven women and three men, some of them couples, about how important cooking and eating together were/are to their relationships. “Going With Your Gut First, Then Your Heart,” is the title (October 16, 2011).
Really depressing. 
Women look in a guy’s refrigerator and if they see a six-pack of beer and a jar of mustard they hightail it. If a guy looked in my refrigerator—well, it would depend on the day of the week. Friday morning, he might find a bottle of low-salt V-8 and one hard-boiled egg. Maybe a crust of bread, a half-gallon of soymilk, and the ongoing package of oatmeal. 
By Saturday afternoon, the fridge status would be looking up, with greens, some fish, maybe a cooked meatloaf from the farmer’s market. Still not the horn of plenty, but I’ve learned from bitter experience not to risk waste by overstocking. A can of tuna makes lunch for three days; let’s not go overboard here. 
You’re wondering if Dan was green around the gills; if I haven’t already said it, Dan cooked. Fabulously. He had a great sense of food and combinations and timing. I shopped, chopped, and washed up, while he created and cooked. I cleared the newspapers from the table and set it. We sat down together. It was delicious.
In the meantime, whatever few cooking skills I had were atrophying annually, over 25 years. And cooking and eating for one is a whole different experience. To spend an hour preparing something and then eat it, alone, in 10 minutes and then spend half an hour cleaning up—what kind of time management is that? 
Yes, presumably you have leftovers, and I love leftovers. I don’t mind at all eating the same dinner three nights in a row; people all over the world eat the same thing every day. But when the nutritionist said why didn’t I make a beef stew, I thought, why don’t you make one and bring it over. 
In summer my kitchen closes. If food can’t be served cold, I don’t eat it. 
Probably the two aspects of cooking—loving it and being good at it—go together. After forty years, food shopping bores me and there’s still a risk I’ll burn the sauce. I could take a cooking course, but I don’t want to. The other night I knew I should make a spaghetti sauce. I could visualize the spaghetti sauce. I knew how yummy it would taste, how many nights it would last. But I didn’t want to make a spaghetti sauce. I wanted to eat a Kashi frozen dinner and finish the reading assignment for a church committee I serve on. So I did that, and I was happy. 
Isn’t it great when we can be free enough to do things like that, said L. 
But in the meantime, here are all these women offering this gift of love and nutrition, and over here is me, lacking something in my heart, in the way of a nourishing spirit. I tell myself that if I had someone to cook with, it would be fun, but I’m not convinced. 
At this rate I’ll never find a man, I said to K, who is married, and she said, Yeah, but do you want one? 


  1. Cooking, like writing, is best done out of love. You love to write, and I believe you, Ms. Mayer, can learn to love cooking if the incentive is right.

  2. And I thought it was just me.


  3. the Body of Christ has many parts--and they're different, but they all count!!!

  4. I feel the same way about cooking for myself (other than being able to use hot chilies in the dish).
    For simplicity's sake, I love Mark Bittman's weekly page in the NYTimes magazine, with several fundamental recipes for some form of dish (soups, etc) and 3 or 4 variations on those fundamental ingredients, depending on what you have on hand.