I spent this past week visiting with family from out-of-state, and I had an interesting interaction with my mom, while preparing food for the horde.
She was making a rather “involved” dish, that wasn’t necessarily complicated, but included many steps, and ingredients you probably didn’t just have laying around (unless you did, then, whatever). In short, it was more time consuming than I would have been happy with, but I was merely a bystander, so I didn’t actually have to do any of the work.
Despite that fact, I still found myself getting frustrated while I watched her neatly dice every veggie, and patiently mince the garlic and cilantro (with a filet knife), and expertly blend the fresh limes and herbs and oils, and the whole thing was orchestrated with such a calm demeanor! It made me want to run screaming, because I would never be able to do that.
Matt was laughing, as I watched, horrified. “Are you really her mother?” He asked my mom, obviously recalling all of the times I have made him question whether or not it was a good idea for me to have sharp knives.
When I cook, everything is a weapon, and I’m always ready to use one on whoever wants to “help” that day. I don’t mean to be a dick about it, but I just can’t use your help, because it’s actually more work. And no, I don’t have time to relax, or stop shaking, or blink, or any of that. I have to do multiple moves at once, and they’re all taking too long. I never want anyone’s help. I tell my kids they can watch, but then when they stand by the counter, I tell them to get away, because the stove has a potential blast radius of 12 feet whenever I’m using it, and there are rogue oil droplets flying everywhere, or bubbling starchy water is popping off, or meat is sizzling, or I’m just tired of listening to questions while I’m clearly working shit out in my head (not always to solution).
Don’t get me wrong: I’m a great cook. I can make anyone like anything, I’m certain of it. I used to make some fatty delicious meals that would have you in a coma, but since I’ve started caring about how food affects my family, I have dialed it back. Fried chicken is not off the table completely, but I use canola for the oil, whole wheat flour, skim milk, and boneless skinless chicken breast. I don’t know how to make it any healthier than that, without eliminating it altogether, which I don’t want to do.
I’ve always cooked for people, and sometimes I even enjoy it. The process, however, is not pretty. I fuck up a lot, and I correct it, or at the very least, make it palatable. If all else fails, I make a sauce or a dip that can save the day. I rarely go beyond the point of no return, when it comes to preparing food. That’s not to say it has never happened, but I can’t recall any examples off the top of my head. I think it would take a lot for that to happen, but I get close sometimes. I flirt with disaster, and riff a lot, which is a big no-no when you’re cooking multiple things at once. If I tried to bake something, forget it.
Hey, did you know that potatoes will never ever be done at the same time as your other food? Did you also know that potatoes are my favorite food, and I’ve prepared them over 3,000 times? No matter how many times I give them a go, no matter how early I start them, I will never be confident that we will be able to eat them with the protein and veg at dinner time. The more you motherfucking know.
My family is always telling me “You could go on one of those cooking competition shows, and win!” Which, of course, is not true. I don’t cook well under pressure, and I would be swearing so much, they couldn’t use any of the footage. Plus, as good as I am at cooking, I don’t think I can just replicate a dish on command. I make what I want to make, and sometimes it changes form during the cooking process, but what is the real difference between Fish Fillet With Lime Rice, and Fish Tacos with Lime Rice? I’ll tell you the difference: I fucked up the fillets, and ended up shredding the fish with spices, and it became clear that my Mexican heritage was fed up with not having tacos. I always have fresh corn tortillas in my kitchen, so whatever I fuck up, I just make into a taco. If you said “I want This Meal, cooked This Way” I wouldn’t be able to help you. You’d probably get a taco.
My mom has infinite patience. That’s probably why she makes gourmet stuff, and I mostly live on Success Rice. (Shout-out to Success Rice!) I made Fair Food Night once, which was more of a nightmare than it seems like. It didn’t taste good enough to make it worth it, and I beat myself up (mentally, don’t worry, that’s the good kind) in the middle of the night, thinking about the heart attacks my son will have in 30 years. I don’t cook that shit anymore. That was a bad idea, and I owned up to it immediately. My kids still mention it to this day, but when they talk about it, they say the food was good. They also think Fried Chicken and Waffles is my signature dish, and has been named as the Death Row Meal in our house. I don’t know how we aren’t dead already.
If my kids made their own meal plans, I don’t know how we would survive, honestly. I asked them to each name three things they wanted for dinner this week, and the first thing Sonny said was Chicken and Waffles, followed by Baked Mac and Cheese with Prosciutto. I told him I wanted him to live, so he said “Well, are stuffed peppers going to kill me, or can I eat those?” I think he was mad when I said “I’ll stuff them with turkey sausage,” because he rolled his eyes at me, growled, and said “Nevermind!”
I ended up getting the ingredients for stuffed peppers, mostly because the peppers were on hella sale, and I found some nice meaty ones. I like to eat the males. Did you know, that if the pepper has three knobs on the bottom, it’s a male, and if it has four knobs, it’s a female? Sometimes, there are little baby peppers growing inside of the females. Sonny likes to eat those. Hopefully someone doesn’t tell me they’re poisonous. *Looks up whether they’re poisonous* (they’re not). The turkey sausage only came in the Hot Italian variety, so I said what the hey; I’m part Hot Italian. I can make that work out, I’m sure, right? There’s a chance I might end up eating beer cheese and Triscuit for dinner, but nobody is going to tell me I can’t!
I think, when people are shopping, they end up getting more crap than they need, because sales tell you that you’re going to save money that way. But really, I mean, maybe I don’t want to spend $10 on a “deal” just because it’s a great value, and I just want to spend $3 instead. I just saved $7 by sticking with my original plan, and telling you to go fuck yourself.
That’s not to say I don’t get suckered in once in awhile. It’s usually with meat, because I am always looking for a reason to “use that steak before it goes bad” and if I buy it in bulk, that’s more that I get to eat, in the same amount of time. Some people say that’s gullible, but joke’s on you, because I’d eat a full protein diet if I could, and I’m still iron and protein deficient. (I’m also calcium deficient, and should very much be eating a ton of ice cream.)
I think it’s time I really let Sonny and Dot get hands-on with dinner, and watch how easily they do the work. Maybe they will inherit my assholish nature in the kitchen, maybe they won’t. Maybe they’ll take after Matt. He usually skips around the kitchen, and does a lot of double-takes, and that shuffle that makes you look like you’re wearing an invisible blindfold. But he does try to help. He is almost a great sous chef, and in my kitchen, that’s the scariest job. “Work closely with me, among my unpredictable anger, near the fire and sharpened blades!”
Maybe I’ll just stick with the old tried and true: “It would take less time for me to do it myself, than to teach you how to do it.” That’s my terrible parenting at work. I don’t normally shit on own parenting, but that’s the one that is always there. I never have the patience to teach them to cook, because they always approach me when I’m keeping up with cook times of like 4 different things.
I could just train myself to be less anxious, like my mom, but I know myself, and that looked really weird to me. More power to her (she is the queen of patience, unless she’s driving) but I don’t think I would get anything done, that way. Except maybe a taco.