I’m afraid I’ve become a cliche.
(You could argue that I haven’t become a cliche, that in fact I’ve always been one, but that’s neither here nor there.)
What I mean to say is that I cook. Regularly. Mid-week. And I never did this before I was married.
And did I mention my husband never cooks? That just adds to the cliche-ness of it all.
(I can hear him objecting, “Hey! I cook breakfast!” but we all know that’s a Saturday morning ritual that happens after 10 hours of sleep, rather than at 6PM after 9 hours of work.)
I have several clear-cut illustrations in my youth that explain just how inept I was at cooking prior to saying “I do.” At the age of 12, while my mother was running an errand and my father was at work, I decided to bake brownies. This should impress everyone, I thought.
Twenty minutes later I encounter the part of the recipe when all of the wet ingredients are in the bowl and the the box calls for the baker to “mix by hand.”
I took this literally.
Amelia Bedelia literally.
My mom walked into the kitchen to find me up to my elbows in cake batter, mushing my fingers through the brownie mix.
Turns out I’m not a baker.
At age 15 I felt sick and decided the greatest idea was to have soup. Don’t all sick people eat soup?
I poured the clam chowder into a pan, heated it, and proceeded to eat it. I did this for three days.
One day, my mom walked into the kitchen to see me sitting down to the bowl of soup.
“What are you eating?” she asked.
“Clam chowder,” I replied.
“It looks awfully thick,” she commented. “How much water did you add?”
“How much…what?” I stammered.
I’d been eating clam chowder concentrate for three days. No wonder I wasn’t getting well.
Experiences like this lead me to believe cooking wasn’t for me, so I never really attempted it again.
Until I got engaged.
I shouldn’t have been surprised to find more than one “Bride and Groom’s Cookbook” in my bridal shower stash. My mom even gifted me with the subtly titled, “How to Boil Water.” While I should have been embarrassed, instead I wanted to weep with gratitude. Surely there must be hundreds of people with similarly disastrous attempts at cooking if it merited the writing of a book!
Slowly, s-l-o-w-l-y, I began thumbing through my cookbooks, sticking post-it notes on the ones that seemed achievable. And by achievable, I mean unlikely to prove fatal for whomever decided to partake of my meal.
For me, the lethal ingredient in learning to cook was perfectionism. For instance, when one finds that one has overcooked the salmon to the point of disintegration, one should take note of the amount of time one cooked the fish and at what temperature, and adjust accordingly. One should not burst into tears and commit to eating cereal for dinner for a month.
And, once married, I didn’t even have that option anymore. I learned quickly that there’s a different level of dietary accountability in marriage than exists in roommate habitats. I once had a roommate whose diet consisted almost entirely of goldfish crackers and diet Pepsi. Did I comment? No. Was she ashamed? No; I was doing nearly the same thing, and so was our other roommate, who had toast every night for dinner.
Then I got married, and all of a sudden cereal or microwavable macaroni and cheese was unacceptable for dinner. Neither Mike nor I could understand why, but it seemed necessary, important even, that we cook a meal and sit down to eat it together.
What’s peculiar about this is I used to think that I was putting unnecessary pressure on myself to be Rachael Ray just because I had a husband. But it wasn’t just me; I discovered others expected it of us “married people,” too.
One day when I was still working at Microsoft, a coworker and I were discussing what we enjoy eating for dinner. She said, completely seriously, “Well, you’re married, so it makes sense for you to cook meals. I’m single, so mostly I make sandwiches.”
I, the one who is obsessed with etiquette, could not for one second think of an appropriate response to this. I wanted to yell, “Have some self respect! This isn’t 1945! You are an accomplished woman working at the most profitable company on the planet, and you’re eating cold cuts for dinner just because you don’t have a husband to cook for?!”
But how could I say that? I had done the exact same thing.
So I tried. I tried, and I failed, and I failed fifteen more times. But then I started getting it right. And even though I hated it for the first six months, once I got through the spills, burns, over-salting and under-peppering, I liked it. And I finally understood what people mean when they say that it can feed your soul to watch a table full of people consume something you created.
Now that I am focusing on trying to cook new meals, eating healthily, and doing so regularly, it’s stunning to me that I waited so long to start. When I think back to my days of dumping a can of soup in a pot, I wonder why I didn’t care for myself the way I now care for Mike. I don’t blame myself, certainly, just as I don’t blame any of my friends who rarely cook. I suppose cooking is one of those things that falls into that opaque category of “You don’t know what you don’t know.”
But even now that I know, I’m still no June Cleaver. Mike has plans tonight, and I am already hoping we’re not out of Aunt Jemima so I can pair it with that Eggo I’m planning on toasting.