I can honestly say that I’ve spent countless years in the pursuit of perfection. I’m not sure at what age this began, or if it evolved from nature or nurture, but it’s been the one consistent goal of my life. I become passionate about things in which perfection is easily achieved. I can craft the perfect pair of earrings or crochet a perfect scarf. When I paint a room, I would challenge anyone to find a single flaw on any surface. Other areas of life where perfection is elusive make me frustrated in my attempts and I usually end up avoiding the task altogether. Hence my distaste for cooking!
I’m an awful cook, I’ll admit this openly and can produce a list of people who will confirm this fact. Of course I struggle with this incompetency. As a homemaker, one of my chief duties is to supply my family, especially my hard-working husband, with a
delicious, healthful dinner on a daily basis. My husband is NOT a picky eater. The man has been known to eat 3-day old sloppy joe meat and half-cooked beef ribs, and that’s just in this past week! He has an iron gut which I can only assume developed over years of his indiscriminating and daring assaults on it. I’m sure he would be more than happy with even the most half-hearted attempts which I could easily provide. The reason I won’t is because I’m no good at cooking and therefore, I refuse to do it.
Nothing strikes fear and anxiety in my very soul than the daily 4 o’clock phone call from my husband asking what’s for dinner. My heart races, my hands shake, and my mind draws a blank. I start to stutter like a kid in trouble and blurt out, “whatever you decide to make!” Of course, I’m immediately flooded with feelings of shame and inadequacy, but they usually resolve pretty quickly. My husband has accepted my defects over the years and hangs hopefully on to my promise of becoming a gourmet chef sometime in the future…when the kids are older…like when they have grandchildren of their own.
It’s not that I haven’t tried, I really have! I’ve gone through ambitious periods where I’ve donned my best June Cleaver facade and pulled recipes off the internet to cook a feast for my family. Inevitably, it all goes wrong. I start the potatoes too late, the fear of salmonella poisoning forces me to cook the chicken to a jerky consistency and the string beans I heat up purely to have something green on the table sit pathetically untouched.
My husband dutifully gulps down every non-green selection while simultaneously telling me about a shortcut he found to work and how it saved us eighty-six cents worth of gas this week. My older daughter, in typical 6-year old fashion, complains about the fare as she does about everything else in life and my middle daughter, who inherited her father’s gut and pallet, enthusiastically begs for “moh…moh” after clearing her first serving. Two out of three ain’t bad you say? It all comes down to me and the utter dissatisfaction I get from anything I produce in the kitchen.
I know I have to change. I either have to learn to love cooking or resolve myself to doing it in the same spirit with which I file my taxes, purely out of duty. My family’s health and happiness depend on it! But cooking reminds me of an exercise I completed in Drawing 101 many years ago in college.
A hack art teacher who thought he was the next Rembrandt but specialized in paintings of pool water of all things gave us this particular assignment. For weeks we worked on a still-life in charcoal and of course I tried to get mine as close to perfect as humanly possible. The day we turned them in, the teacher randomly passed them back out and asked us to erase our classmates’ efforts. The point he was trying to make is that nothing is precious and there are no masterpieces. Strangely he was not one of the more popular teachers on campus.
Perhaps I was so traumatized by this very event that I draw (pun?) the same parallel to cooking. I insecurely spend a good part of the day trying to come up with a menu. I inevitably have to run to the store, three rowdy kids in tow, to purchase that one crucial missing ingredient. I spend several more hours in nervous anticipation of orchestrating all the dishes to finish concurrently in one grand presentation to my hungry family. I risk feeling some pride in my effort and BAM!!!! It’s gobbled down, unappreciated, within 20 minutes time. My “precious” “masterpiece” gone. Nothing to show for it. I sit horrified with the same feelings welling up inside of me that I had so many years ago, an eraser in my fist, glaring at the long-haired boy two seats away vigorously reducing my still-life to virtual non-existence.
I’m both jealous of and mystified by people who love to cook! It seems like mostly everyone I know does and is good at it too. These are the same people who think going to the supermarket is an exciting adventure. The SUPERMARKET! A horrible cold place that smells strange and offers way too many choices to the confused and frustrated who wrestle with the choice of frugality versus quality. Mercifully my husband does the grocery shopping and patronizes me by taking my carefully thought-out list, but often returns with items more aligned with his tastes for preserved meat and party foods. Clearly frugality is king to him.
I often wonder if cooking classes or a list of very simple recipes tailored towards someone with my toddler’s mentality would make me a better cook, but I suspect that I would still always hate doing it. The transient quality of it all. The frustration of being
unable to achieve empirical perfection in such a subjective craft. The anti-climactic feeling of five empty plates on the dinner table and four empty chairs surrounding it while I sit alone anticipating the Joy of…washing the dinner dishes.