41 and Cookin'

SO I'm 41 and never cooked until last week.

This isn't exactly true. (The 41 part is). There have been a few misguided attempts at egg scrambling, pasta boiling, and grilled cheese making over the years, with varying degrees of success.

In college my roommate noted sadly, as I was eating copious amounts of cookie dough another roommate was making (to her dismay. It was a pet peeve of hers), "I'm the least domestic person I know. Well, except for Deidre. Of course."

In grad school I once tried making a pizza with an english muffin, canned spaghetti sauce and a piece of American cheese. It burned.

In my youth, my mom did once teach me how to make chipped beef on toast in a basic white sauce, which I made a few times, mostly in later years on nostalgic visits home with her supervising in the kitchen. The toast ALSO burned.

When I was a tween she would ask if I wanted to help her cook, and I would very politely decline and then retire to my bedroom to read the latest Sweet Valley High book while inhaling half a bag of doritos (which my father, a dentist, used to leave for me as a gift on my pillow. Don't mind if I do!)

(As an aside, I am from Idaho and ate lots of meat and potatoes growing up. I married a vegetarian.)

Some people say: "Surely you've cooked. You just mean you don't cook MUCH."

Um, see the examples. I could count on my hands how many times I have tried. Maybe one hand.

When friends ask why I don't cook I say, "Why should I? I HAVE a cook. His name is Trader Joe."

Other friends say things like, "OH Deidre, you could TOTALLY cook, it's so easy!"

To which I reply, "Whatever." Cue glassy eyes and change of subject.

Others say, "Here's a recipe you could start with: carmelize some onions.."

STOP right there. I blank out at any cooking terminology.

The truth is, I COULD learn how, Here are a few reasons why I haven't:

1. I just have never had the slightest interest in it.
2. Shopping overwhelms me. SO MANY BRIGHT COLORS.
3. I'm busy. I don't want to take the time.
4. My personal chef provides me with lots of tasty and mostly healthy options and when that fails my husband can cook the rest.
5. I haven't ever even felt remorseful about any of this.

Here I should pause and mention that I have two daughters, ages 5 1/2 months and 3 1/2 years. I borrowed a fancy Beaba Babycooker with my first, thinking it was high time I got my act together. It collected dust until I sent it back to the friend. She has survived just fine. (The daughter. Not sure about the friend).

But last week I got bored, and the timing corresponded with the following:

We recently returned from a family wedding and the baby seemed so interested in our food that we started feeding her little bits of things. When we returned, shockingly, she still wanted to eat food. Are we THERE already? I bemoaned, wanting her to stay small just a bit longer. So-yes, here we are.

And there I was last week, my piano work having slowed down a bit for the summer, my hubby back at work. Truthfully I was looking for an activity to do with my 3-year old, who was tremendously compliant on the plane ride back from San Francisco and who is SO FREAKING CUTE but also SO FULL OF ENERGY. I suggested we make M & M cookies, like we did back in March when "Grandma Idaho" came to visit the new baby.

We shopped. We got the large bag of M & Ms. We made a mess. We made cookies. Technically I know this is baking, not cooking. But we had fun, and they turned out terribly tasty, and this buoyed my confidence.

I tentatively took out the food mill my friend (different friend than Beaba friend) loaned me. I examined it as though it was going to bite me, or sprout wings. When it did not, I figured out how it worked. I mashed up some blueberries and strawberries (Yay! More mess!), threw in a ittle yogurt and rice ceral, and combined. Voila. The baby LOVED IT. Like I had introduced her to crack. Which, in a way, I suppose I did.

Many of you may be thinking, this IS baby stuff. The 3-year old could make that. Heh.

Again, true. But when you've made it to 41 without cooking it kind of becomes a huge elephant in the room. My friend, who recently learned to drive in her late 30s, had a similar experience. For her, turning on the ignition was a cause for celebration. Making cookies and churning out berries in a food mill was mine.

The next day I bought a sweet potato. It felt solid in my hand. Comforting. Being from Idaho, I added a few Idaho potatoes to the cart.

I had to look up "How to Cook a Sweet Potato" on the internet. I KNOW.

I wrapped a cookie sheet with tinfoil, poked holes in the sweet potato and baked it for 45 minutes. Of course I decided for good measure to add 3 other regular potatoes to the cookie sheet.

Needless to say, they didn't get quite baked. But I had come too far to give up now! I persevered and mashed up the sweet potato, sprinkled a bit of cinnamon, made it as mushy as possible and fed it to the baby. Held my breath.

What an awesome audience for one's first cooking trials! She LOVED it! She loves ME! She loves FOOD! I can't really go too wrong!

Excited, I next combined an avocado, banana and hummus, to which my husband later said, after Baby rejected it, "Would YOU eat that?"

Good point.

Unfazed, I tried mashing the potatoes for last night's dinner. I added milk and butter, used the actual MASHER and felt very official. They were lumpy.

At dinner, hubby said, "Oh, you BAKED these?" Trying to keep a straight face lest I murder him. "Usually you boil them if you are going to mash them."

"Oh. Okay". Next time I will Google that.

So- why am I writing this all down? Who cares?

I honestly don't know. On the subway ride home today I thought it might be a fun idea. It does not guarantee that I will ever cook again. Or blog again. I don't want to put that pressure on myself, especially if well-meaning folks start emailing me recipes.

I did ask someone today about other options for Baby and she suggested I steam some spinach.

When I got off the subway I went to the vegetable section, all those bright colors surrounding me, the mist from the sprayer coming down onto Baby's head and making her giggle. It took me a while to find the spinach. When I did I brought it up to the counter.  I said, "Spinach", to the person weighing it and as she rang up my purchase, I felt a bit of a thrill. I'm guessing everyone else in the country has done things by my age like buy spinach to steam it. But not me. I'm a complete beginner. It makes sense to me to do this so so slowly, making what a baby would eat, and eating it along with her, teaching my 3-year old along with me. We will learn and laugh and maybe cry together.

We will eat together.

I'll let you know how the spinach goes.


ps-Going slowly, approaching things like a child, is the way I teach adult piano students who have always wanted to play. They are vulnerable and brave. They are willing to be simple, and also to make mistakes. I will learn from them, too.