Friday, November 5, 2010

Good enough to eat

For a few years now, I've been fooling people around me. People seem to be under the impression that I am an adult. It's an elaborate deception; like an adult, I went to work, I paid my bills, I did my laundry, but I never considered myself to be an adult.

I still eat ice cream for breakfast in the summertime. When I see kids begging for candy at the grocery store, sometimes I buy it not because I WANT candy, necessarily. I buy it because I *can*, and there isn't a thing anyone can do to stop me.

What really convinced me that I am a total fraud is cooking . I do a fine job with executing recipes, but I can't look in the fridge and compose dishes by memory or invention. I watch other people (I call them "adults") glance at the contents of their refrigerators and divine up brilliant and delicious dishes. Not me.

Meal planning is another challenge, mostly because my inner six-year-old wants something different on Wednesday than I did on Sunday (when I was trying to be an adult an plan my meals).

I confessed to Laura that I am a fraud, after she complimented a dish that I had prepared for a pot luck, and she laughed hysterically at my heartfelt, shame-filled confession. Maybe I hadn't been clear enough.

"I don't know how to throw things together. I look up what I want to cook, buy the ingredients, and make it," I explained.

Laura laughed even harder, then declared that EVERYONE is a fraud, and that there were no real adults. Apparently, everyone is guilty of perpetuating an elaborate social ruse. Who knew?

Mom told me that it wasn't about any secret that I didn't know - it was my cookbooks. I picked my cookbooks based on specific dishes or skills; I bought Soup: A Way of Life for the Quibebe recipe, the America's Test Kitchen cookbook for the tomato soup recipe, and the Williams Sonoma "Meat" cookbook for the Texas Chili recipe.

(Yes, there are loads of great recipes, but those were the clinchers.)

"You need a good, basic cookbook," Mom said, "A Fannie Farmer, or the Joy of Cooking. You do the complicated stuff well; this will be a breeze."

Laura mentioned that she had a few copies of The Joy of Cooking, so I asked to borrow one to flip through before investing in a Very Large Cookbook. To my great surprise (and intimidation), Laura GAVE me one of her copies (yes, still plural) of Joy of Cooking, along with a few of the Better Homes and Gardens recipe binders.

A few nights ago, I made meatloaf for the first time. It's not a big deal for most of you, but I am ridiculously proud of myself. I prepped the meatloaf, threw it in the oven, then worked on getting the sides (steamed carrots, green beans, potatoes, and gravy) prepped and timed to be ready when the meatloaf was done.

Before you start admiring my adultitude, wait a moment.

Like with knitting (and everything else in life), with cooking you should read the directions all the way through FIRST. Had I done that, I could have knit through an uninterrupted repeat on my Cece cardigan, instead of trying to figure out why my oven refuses to actualize its potential. (It seemed that while the knob reads one temperature, the oven itself runs 75 degrees colder than the knob claims.)

While I can appreciate LukeWarm (my oven's name)'s desire to tell me that he's hot and ready for my tasty morsels, he's just too small for my needs, and really takes too much time to get me what I need. Which is (in case you weren't clear on it) hot, delicious food in a reasonable amount of time.

(Don't tell LukeWarm, but I've been trying to burn him out with my constant attention so that I can move on with Prince PipingHot. I need size and heat and will accept no substitutes.)

In any case, after figuring out how much I need to compensate for LukeWarm's lackluster performance, when the time came I held my breath for the moment of truth: How is this dish?

A rousing success! Plates were cleared, and for the first time in almost five years of marriage, Andrew went for seconds. Then joked about licking his plate. I thought it was pretty good, too.

With the help of friends and family, I think I might just earn my adult badge someday. Or at the very least, a really convincing fake.


  1. Since I started with the more basic cookbooks, I'm more or less fearless when I put things together randomly.

    I will also admit to looking at the refrigerator and suggesting intentionally silly things so that I don't have to cook, though. "I think we should have ketchup potato salad with heavy cream and chicken bits."

    This usually gets a laugh and an offer to fix dinner. Or go out.

  2. Hehe. Cooking is kinda like knitting.
    There are the instructions that you need to pay attention to (like how the best temperature to cook food at), and some of the things that are important (like the main ingredient).

    However, the rest, you can modify to your heart's conent, and sometimes, just winging it.

    Once you get a feel for what goes together (from using recipes), soon you'll be winging your own because you know the basics.

    Or you can think of cooking as Mad Scientist Experiments, and let your 6 year old cackle a bit as you work with your chemistry / cooking set. :-)

  3. When Luke dies, I've got two words for you: Jenn Air. My new house has a Jenn Air oven/range and I never knew there could be such a difference. Plus Jenn is a cute name. All hail Jenn!

    Ha! my word verification is plates- how appropriate!

  4. My favorite all-purpose cookbook is Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. All the dishes I've made from it has been delicious, and he gives lots of ideas about alterations/substitutions.

  5. yeah - age and "adult" really don't have a strong causal relationship - my inner 6 year old likes cooking though, I think that it really does help to do more of it, because then the individual skills sorta merge and overlap into being able to throw things together, then there was the memorable disaster of the fish and tomatoes that I still remember 30 years later...

  6. The "being an adult" thing is overrated, in my opinion! As long as you retain your enthusiasm for life, who cares what you had for breakfast?

    My fave basic cookbook/jumping off point is Fannie Farmer. If you want more inspiration, head up to Menlo Park and Penzey's Spices (

    (and my verification word is "porkerst")

  7. My favorite go-to basic (and expansive) cookbooks are the James Beard cookbook and Fannie Farmer. In fact I turned to James Beard this past weekend to make some pretty freakin' fab popovers.

  8. Two words.."take out"...ha! couldn't resist. Have you ever thought about crock pot cooking? One place where you can randomly throw stuff into and come out with a yummy dish. And there are crock pot cookbooks too!

  9. What are your thoughts on crockpots? There is a great group on ravelry and since you and hubby work they can make adult meal during the weekdays. LOVE walking in to the smell of done dinner-more time for knitting & Lukewarm would know there is competition (options) in the house!

  10. Fannie Farmer has a great recipe for pancakes (aka griddle cakes).

  11. My dream is to be able to open the fridge/pantry and be like, oh I'll just throw this together and it will be delicious. :)

  12. My teaching cookbook was "Betty Crocker". Of coarse mine is an old copy but it taught me what I needed to know and has great recipes. You will get it as long as you have the will to learn!

  13. I LOVE my Joy of Cooking book. It has helped me make just about anything I want. It's home to all the simple things to make a dish complete. A few weeks ago I wanted to make Chicken noodle soup, but not just any soup. I wanted to make the noodles my grandma used to make. They were in there! Yay it was like being that 6 year old again, but I was able to say "I did that!" We may be "adults" but it doesn't mean we feel like that when we eat our hard won culinary successes.

  14. Jasmin is far too kind to me... For the record, I wasn't joking about licking my plate. I licked my plate all the way back to the kitchen for seconds and it was worth it too. That was some top notch meatloaf. It had that nicely browned crust going on... YUM!

  15. Those Better Homes and Gardens binders are a great resource and a good place to learn the basics. Then you can feel confident when you want to change something up a bit. Substitute one ingredient for another. Everyone has to start with the basics, though. It's not a cop out!


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