the joylessness of cooking

My surgeon’s in-office nutritionist leaned forward and said
to us, very seriously, "Now, you’re going to have to stick with lean
proteins and minimize carbohydrates, especially simple carbohydrates." I
choked on my water. As I quietly keened inside, she continued. "Avoid
processed foods and packaged foods and take-out. They have a lot of sodium and fat, and both
will be bad for your new system." I whimpered. She didn’t seem to notice.
She said, brightly, "The great thing is that if you love cooking, you’ll
have so many opportunities to experiment!"

"Oh, I love cooking!" I piped up, and next to me,
Guy sniggered.

Oh, he knows me so well.

We walked out of that pre-surgery consultation appointment,
and I felt doomed. "I am so doomed," I said. "You know how to cook," he said. "Oh God," I said. "I’m so fucking doomed."

I don’t cook. I can’t cook. Guy insists that I can, and that
I am just to hard on myself, but I insist that he is crazy and when I cook is
when I’m too hard on myself. See, because I’m poisoning my body with my terrible,
awful food that is both terrible and awful and sad. A terrible, awful tragedy
of sadness.

It has been painful on a regular basis, because friends and
I take turns throwing dinner parties. My friends are great cooks who love food
the way food is supposed to be loved. Then, they come to my house and wonder if
food has always looked like that, and if so, maybe they should break up. It is
embarrassing, but I am lucky that my turn only rolls around every few months; otherwise,
I would have died from the shame by now. It is especially painful of late,
being surrounded by lovely ladies with mad kitchen skillz, who would be horrified to know that my lunch yesterday was
a mini can of tuna with a packet of cafeteria mayonnaise smooshed into it. I
have always been this bad.

Here is something I can blame my mother for. Finally! She did not cook. She shook, and baked. She made
tuna noodle salad, which is the very greatest food in the whole world, but is
also basically a bowl of pasta and mayonnaise. I am sure she made other things
for dinner besides Shake and Bake chicken and tuna noodle salad of cardiac
arrest, but I don’t remember anything else. Wait! Macaroni and cheese.
Hamburger Helper. Ground beef with corn. Steak-umms! Do they make Steak-umms
anymore? Sometimes a girl needs a pancake of processed meat.

There was no learning at her knee for my brother and I–all
of us in matching aprons, chopping vegetables, mincing herbs, cooking wholesome
and nutritious meals to feed our bodies and our souls, developing healthy
relationships with food and an excellent work ethic, which makes you more
likely to start chopping an onion when you get home rather than falling over
face down on the futon and begging your sweetheart to please order the take-out
for you because it’s just too hard to dial the phone because life is just too
hard. My mother was not a cook, and she passed that lack of cooking skill, that
avoidance of the kitchen, that love of processed food onto her children.

And thus, my booty was born.

The only problem with this theory–that my mother is
responsible for my fat, for my lack of skill in the kitchen, for my lack of
desire to improve upon my lack of skill in the kitchen–is twofold, yet
encapsulated in the same slightly annoying person: Firstly, my brother grew up
eating exactly the same stuff (as well as instant oatmeal right out of the
packet, Jell-O right out of the packet, entire
grocery pallets of pudding and Rice Krispie treats), and he remains, to this day, super skinny, fit and fabulous.
You can see, here, where the slightly annoying comes in. Secondly, he grew up
to be a pastry chef, and is also a goddamn fine cook who can poach and broil
and parboil and French-technique up his food like a motherfucker, and I think
it is unfair, and I think it is especially unfair because it undermines my
beautiful logic to which I was so attached.

I think the answer here is that I am broken and flawed,
and need to hire a personal chef. The real answer is probably that instead of
joking about the importance of wholesome nutritiousness to feed my body and
soul, I should maybe figure out it is something that is necessary and
vital for my health, the way delicious Thai take-out is neither necessary nor
vital, but in fact probably killing me–and my wallet–softly. That it is
another way of taking care of myself the way I do when I pack my vitamins or
remember to take my antidepressant or schedule time for my run.

But sometimes it feels like a juggling act, and that I am
about to be fired from the lineup because I keep dropping shit and falling down
and setting the stage on fire. It is no wonder I could not do this by myself,
the losing weight, the getting healthy–there is too much going on. I can
exercise and take vitamins, but I’ll be eating tuna from the can, and cheese
sticks, and getting take-out sushi or chicken with broccoli every single night.
Try to add in broiling a free range organic chicken breast or even wrapping up a
little turkey pita, and everything falls apart, and I possibly explode from the
pressure. I packed a lunch this morning; I forgot my vitamins and also did not
remember to brush my hair. There is only so much room for me to work in, before
things fall apart.

There is only so much time left for me to work with, before things stop being
easy–there is a weight loss window, and in 6 more months, I won’t be able to
not worry too much about what I’m eating, because my body will have adapted to
the adjustments my surgeon made, will start absorbing more calories and more
fat. My free pass will be over, and will I have developed any coordination by
then? I better have, if I don’t want to hurt myself. 

  8 comments for “the joylessness of cooking

  1. Dot
    May 2, 2007 at 10:16 am

    You really don’t like to cook? I can’t imagine! I think you should try to get yourself an arsenal of 3 or 4 super easy super tasty recipes that you can master. Once you have a clue, it’s not that hard to do!

    Here’s one I think you’ll like that you can make in 20 minutes start to finish. It’s a Thai chicken curry. And you’ll have leftovers for a lunch one or two days. TRY IT! YOU CAN DO IT!
    NUTRITION INFORMATION
    Servings Per Recipe: 4
    Calories: 269
    Total Fat: 15.7g
    Cholesterol: 59mg
    Sodium: 139mg
    Total Carbs: 11g
    Dietary Fiber: 2g
    Protein: 25.4g

    INGREDIENTS
    2 teaspoons olive oil
    1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast halves – cut into thin strips
    2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
    1 cup sliced halved zucchini
    1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into strips
    1/2 cup sliced carrots
    1 onion, quartered then halved
    1 tablespoon cornstarch
    1 (14 ounce) can light coconut milk
    2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
    DIRECTIONS
    Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken pieces; cook and stir for about 3 minutes. Mix in the curry paste, zucchini, bell pepper, carrot and onion. Cook and stir for a few minutes.
    Dissolve the cornstarch in the coconut milk, then pour into the skillet. Bring to a boil, then simmer over medium heat for 1 minutes. Right before serving, stir in the cilantro.

    You can also add the juice of one lime, minced garlic, coriander, fish sauce, a pinch of sugar, etc., and use any vegetables you like. But I didn’t wish to overwhelm you with ingredients.

    Good luck and let us know if you try it. Really! It’s easy!

  2. May 2, 2007 at 11:51 am

    As soon as you posted this I thought “She will now be inundated with recipes.” I wrote about vegetables yesterday and now have a list of umpteen things to do with a zucchini and recommendations for several strange kitchen devices. Ya’ gotta love the blog readers! If only they would come over and cook for me…

  3. *S*
    May 2, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    Wow, I know how to cook, but don’t always get my act together to do it. I never thought about having “free calories” – isn’t that weird? The Rs put such fear into my heart that I have been doing mostly the high protein/low carb thing – with some major detours. However, with my stomach holding between 1/3 – 1/2 c. I’m not eating too much period.

  4. May 2, 2007 at 4:15 pm

    You may not be able to cook, but you sure as hell can write. So glad that I was directed over to your blog.

  5. Gracie
    May 2, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    My mom “cooked” the same way – shake n bake, manwich sloppy joe’s, La Choy chow mein in a can, rice a roni, and as we moved into the ’80’s she added Ortega taco kits into rotation.

    I have to give her credit though for working full time and then coming home to make us dinner every single night, while my Dad got to come home and watch the news!

  6. K
    May 2, 2007 at 6:32 pm

    I can cook, but I find it a chore (except for cake, which I like because you put a pan of slop in the oven and soon you have cake. But I digress unhelpfully). However, I have a husband who requires to have nice balanced healthy meals as part of managing his depression. So we do it together. It is so much better than doing it alone, and with two of us, we’ve got a meal in 20 minutes.

    Maybe your slightly annoying brother could visit and give you a few confidence-building cooking sessions? If I can get over it, so can you.

    Mind you, I’m still eating plain cottage cheese for lunch. Making sandwiches in advance is just boring.

  7. May 2, 2007 at 10:48 pm

    Apparently you don’t need to know how to cook if you wear a Wonderbra. Seems like an easy choice to me.

  8. Melissa
    March 20, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    Oh..My… Hell… Did we have the same mother?

    “Here is something I can blame my mother for. Finally! She did not cook. She shook, and baked. She made
    tuna noodle salad, which is the very greatest food in the whole world, but is
    also basically a bowl of pasta and mayonnaise. I am sure she made other things
    for dinner besides Shake and Bake chicken and tuna noodle salad of cardiac
    arrest, but I don’t remember anything else. Wait! Macaroni and cheese.
    Hamburger Helper. Ground beef with corn. Steak-umms! Do they make Steak-umms
    anymore? Sometimes a girl needs a pancake of processed meat.”

    THIS WAS MY MOTHER TO THE LETTER!

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