I am an indifferent cook; and as a result, I prepare indifferent meals. Although I can remember the smell of fresh baked Parker House rolls straight out of the oven, and my mouth waters as I recall how they tasted slathered all over with butter, I cannot replicate that memory in real life. My mother was a gifted cook who seemed able to whip up supper from scratch after she got home from teaching school all day.
My oldest brother was interested in cooking, and he convinced the cooking teacher at high school that boys needed to learn to cook too. One summer he took a job as a short order cook to hone his skills. Cooking class in high school was my least favorite class, neck and neck with my disinterest in sewing class.
Cooking and learning to cook never interested me. I loved to eat but had no desire to learn how to make the meals I enjoyed. I have often wondered, why it is some people discover early their interest in foods and cooking, whereas still others – like me – have no desire to learn to cook whatsoever.
One of my colleagues at the university had a teenaged son who was fascinated with cooking and begged his mother for a chance to shop for and prepare family meals. Where did this interest come from? I can only assume that an interest in foods and cooking springs from the same place any other interest springs -whether it is music, art, driving, or sports. Perhaps it’s a good thing we are not all alike in our interests. It’s a shame that so many elementary school and high school teachers spend so little time discovering the special interests of their students and cultivating them. If my teachers had nurtured my love of reading, they might have directed me to a career of being a reader for a publishing company. But loving to read was never seen as leading to career opportunities.
Instead, I was expected to be interested in the “home arts” as my assumed career was to be a wife and mother. Women were not expected to work outside the home.
The BBC produced a TV series called “Pie in the Sky” featuring Richard Griffiths as a master chef who was also a police detective. In one episode, Griffiths was trying to dream up a recipe for a sauce while he was attending an uninteresting lecture. I watched, bemused, at the idea that anyone could be so familiar with the flavor of things that they are able to dream up a blend of those flavors into a delectable sauce. An astounding gift!
The script writers contrast the chef’s obsession with all things food with his wife Margaret (played by Maggie Steed) who is completely indifferent to her husband’s cooking and to food in general. As she says, “food is just fuel.”
I am far more like the wife of yet another BBC police detective in Midsomer Murders (Joyce Barnaby) whose cooking is so indifferent that both DCI Barnaby and their daughter are relieved when invited out to a restaurant for a meal. Joyce appears to be unaware that her culinary skills are underwhelming.
My memories of good meals interfere with my enjoyment of current meals. When I was in high school, my mother’s sister, Auntie Mabel, used to take us all out to dinner somewhere in Hollywood. A long drive to the restaurant from Whittier, but worth every bit of it.
Two restaurants stand out for me: Bit of Sweden and Lawry’s. Both were in Hollywood, California. Bit of Sweden was on Hollywood Boulevard and featured a true smorgasbord. I had never seen such a largess of food all on one very long table. Heaven for gluttons like me.
Lawry’s was on La Cienega and featured the best prime rib-carved at the table-I will ever see. The carver would ask whether we liked our cut thin or thick sliced and whether we preferred rare, medium or well done, and carved just the right amount. (If no one was looking, the carver just might slip in some prime rib bones for us to take home to the dog.) The salad was also superb. The waitress would come to the table with a large bowl of mixed greens, ask what kind of dressing we would like and holding the bottle high and turning the salad on a turntable she would pour in just the right amount of dressing, toss it altogether, then distribute the salad to each of us in turn. How she managed to get just the right amount of salad on each plate, leaving nothing left over in the salad bowl, was mystifying. Sadly, that large palace of a restaurant burned down, and Lawry’s moved to a different and less impressive location. The food, however, remained superb.
So much for my memories of great restaurants and the foods they served. They did not trigger in me a desire to enter the food industry to create those foods. I love the eating, but the preparation was best left to others.
My mother and I once visited friends of my mother’s from the ‘olden days’ when we lived in Cebu, Philippines. (While my father was employed by Lever Brothers, the man was employed by Proctor and Gamble. They were living in Cincinnati, Ohio, and still in the employ of Proctor & Gamble.) What impressed me the most about the visit was that they employed a full-time, live-in cook. Something I have dreamed about having all my life. The cook did all the grocery shopping, planned, cooked and served all the menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Heaven! She set the table, cleared away and did the dishes. I was impressed! This was a dream life. Having someone else provide delectable meals without having to cook.
I am still an indifferent cook, preferring frozen meals that can be popped in the microwave or buying freshly prepared foods from the deli section of the grocery store. I do some basic uninspired cooking. Ground beef cooked up and added to a can of green beans or as the basis of a taco. For some reason I have lost my taste for steaks and pork chops, once the basis for all meals. My menus are uninspired and the food “is just fuel.”
I do have the option of dining in the dinning room but found the flavoring the chef uses for the foods not to my taste. In addition, meals do seem to be focused on the carbohydrate not on the protein. So, I am left to my own abysmal culinary skills.