My aspirational cook book problem

There many ways that Tracy and I are alike. We’re friends, co-bloggers, and longtime colleagues with a slew of shared commitments but we are also very different people. Mostly we both accept that “you do you” idea and let the other go her different ways. I road bike. She runs. That’s just one example but there are many. Also, we don’t generally pine after what the other one has.

But there is one thing that Tracy has that I envy. That’s her love of cooking and her cooking skills. I listen to her stories of cooking as a relaxation thing and I’m jealous.

Me, I appreciate good cooking. I love food. But I have very little patience for making it. Partly that’s a matter of personal history. You try feeding three kids with different tastes for many years and food planning and preparation loses lots of its charm. You try to make something fun, and yummy, and new but really they’d rather have tomato soup and grilled cheese or scrambled eggs or veggie burgers and fries.

For years I’ve had the luxury of complaining about buying groceries. Three teenagers and their friends adds up to a lot of food. There’s all the putting in the cart, bagging it, getting groceries to the car, unloading the car, putting the food away, and then blink, it’s gone. I joke that I may as well ring a bell in the driveway and they could all run out and eat and we could just cut out the putting away part.

Things are a bit better now. Some of the kids are away. Their tastes have broadened and they cook. That’s lovely. Last year when I was teaching late and my daughter would text with me with dinner options I felt I’d truly arrived.

But I still haven’t found a love of cooking in me. I mean, yes, I prepare food. I make salads. I boil pasta. I scramble eggs. But I don’t cook in any serious way. When you’re an academic and you want to know something about a thing, what you do is acquire books about it. That’s been my unsuccessful approach to cooking.

I look at cookbooks and I dream of a better, healthier, more ethical life. I aspire to veganism and if only I cooked, I think, I could do that. (I do pretty well as it is 50-75% of the time and that’s not so bad.) So I buy cookbooks. I read cookbooks. I imagine eating the meals therein. But so far, it’s mostly aspirational. I’ve probably made one recipe out of each book.

This isn’t even the entire shelf of aspirational cookbooks. There are more.

I think cooking from cookbooks is just too big a step for me. Last semester my son tried the GoodFood program where they deliver the ingredients for meals pretty much prepared and the recipes in a giant box. It’s kind of “meet you halfway” home cooking. When he’d had a few weeks I got some free samples and Sarah and I made them. The vegan/vegetarian options were pretty good. But it felt like a luxury, the sort of thing I might spring for on a particularly busy work week when the alternative would be take out.

I’ve also been spending a lot more time in Toronto where the take away choices are pretty amazing.

I might try Tracy’s start small thing and pick one night a week to choose a recipe and make it.

Oh, and no more cook book buying!

How about you? Do you struggle with cooking at home? Love it? Hate it? Why?

9 thoughts on “My aspirational cook book problem

  1. I *hate* cooking. It just feels like such a waste of time to spend an hour chopping and cooking and serving, for something that will be gone in 20 minutes or less.
    There’s probably also an aspect of struggling with self care involved; when I struggle to spend 3 minutes on myself to clean my teeth, the time it takes to cook a proper meal seems like a massive Thing that I just can’t give myself.

  2. I love cooking when:
    there isn’t a tight timeline
    everyone eats the meal
    the kitchen is cleaned before and after by someone else
    other people do the dishes.

    I find I have the emotional and creative capacity to make 1 complicated meal a week. The rest are old standbys that are short on prep and cooking time.

    Anita introduced me to the creamy cauliflower pasta in Thug Kitchen. After making it a few times I can go from start to finish in about 20 minutes. It’s cheap, tastes good, vegan and everyone loves it.

    I also bulk cook soups & stews on the weekend then laddle them into mason jars. 2 cups is a decent serving.

    And when I’m super stressed cooking feels overwhelming. Either other family members pick up the slack or we order in/go out.

  3. It sure is different cooking for children. My hats off to parents who at least can instill reasonable eating habits and palate-development in their kids.

    I too have about 10 cookbooks and over the years, slowly gave away cooking magazines. How many recipes have I actually cooked/used/baked from them? Less than probably 15 different recipes (not books).

    And I enjoy cooking. So does he (his children are grown and live in their own places). What I found most helpful is :

    * find (by serendipity) a different, simple recipe which I create multiple variations later on..once I can master the recipe from memory. These recipes seem to work for me:

    *Requires less than 7-8 ingredients (that includes a spice / flavouring agent, etc.)
    Has less than 2-3 major steps (after chopping veggies or whatever). **Example: preparing a simple stock is 1 step and then 2nd step is throwing all the chopped ingredients into pot (at different times), then add stock in for flavour, etc.

    *Get a recipe where you have most of the ingredients in your cupboard/fridge already.

    *Recipe that won’t be ruined but still tasty if you aren’t perfect in measuring ingredients.

    *I seldom measure my ingredients except for baking. Baking desserts and roasting certain meats (which I never do latter), requires measuring.

    Over 90% of all the cooking I do (and he also), we seldom measure perfectly. We just “guess” and it works. There are several core recipes in my head…over 10 of them from my mother (come on, stir-frying should NEVER require perfect measuring. Loosen up.) that I learned as a teen, as a baseline.

    Again, cooking is partially for me, cultural memory and enjoyment…it really is. Why do you think a lot of Asian-Canadians are such foodies?….after you lose your mother tongue, you have the family heritage recipes/culinary knowledge left.

    It is true, when I sometimes prepare and eat certain dishes, I think of my parents. Thank goodness a lot of the recipes I learned ..are healthy +cultural.

  4. I enjoy cooking for relaxation. It’s also where most of my research interests lie (I was working on medieval sauerkraut recipes before breakfast today). But I get the aspirational cookbook problem. About six years ago I resolved to cook one thing each week, from a cookbook I already own, that I had never made before. This was because my son decided that the quick meals that suited the family tastes and busy lifestyle were boring. He has long since moved on to university and now work in another city, but I still keep up the habit. I have learned to love some great new things, and I also learned that it is okay to get rid of the cookbooks I truly will never use. My daughter is finally starting to take an interest in cooking a few basic things too – hallelujah!

  5. My mom got me involved in the kitchen and cooking early on, and for some reason the baking really stuck but the cooking didn’t. When I moved out, I had solid skills and could always make simple meals that I enjoyed, but there was a whole class of things that I thought were “too complicated” and that I could only get done right in restaurants. (I definitely retained the sense of the low-tolerance requirements of baking and never quite got the “pinch of this dash of that” part of cooking, and maybe that made me think cooking was somehow “harder” than baking.)

    For almost 30 years of my adult life, I lived in fairly dense urban areas with lots of restaurant options mere steps away. And then I moved to a new city and ended up in an apartment about 1 mile from such options, plus I didn’t know the restaurants well anyway. That was JUST inconvenient enough to make me buckle down and learn to cook some of those things I had thought were impossible, and basically dish after dish I’ve found myself saying, “WHAT?! THIS IS SO EASY AND I WAS JUST BUYING IT FROM OTHER PEOPLE LIKE A CHUMP.” I am a selective eater so this has been FANTASTIC and LIBERATING.

    I mostly use cookbooks to read up on the general constraints (Joy of Cooking, for example, for background info about cook times and general techniques). I just plain like books and if I page through a cookbook that addresses something I generally like in a way I like, I buy it, but I rarely open it unless I have to “research.” And hey that’s fine. I just like having books all over the house!

  6. I kind of like to cook, but my family is difficult and my husband would have chicken wings for every meal.

    I have found the instant pot to be my new best friend. Chili in 20 minutes.

    I have taken to eating more vegetarian/Indian influenced. Beans and rice cook in minutes in this thing.

    Mostly I just want food available when I am hungry. I don’t need fancy. I do need gluten free.

    As an aside, we have a live in nanny. She feeds the kids. They are super picky and I am happy to leave them with her to feed. They like what she makes.

  7. I love to cook and try to recreate meals I’ve had out. I think it’s hardest because I didn’t like my mom’s traditional cooking growing up and my husband prefers southern food. I want to eat fresh and healthy and new things, but sometimes meals don’t go over as well on him, then the kids.

  8. What a great post about your aspirations to cook more. For the record, I only love cooking and find it relaxing when I don’t have to do it. If I have to or it’s expected I suddenly lose interest! But yes it’s my go-to for relaxing and I love finding time to get into a complicated delicious recipe! Good luck!

  9. I am trying to hold on to my love of cooking while parenting small children!! I only learned to cook in grad school and it became something enjoyable for me a few years later. Then kids…and I totally relate to your comments above about food prep losing its charm! I love a good cookbook but the stuff I used to enjoy cooking is too elaborate or time consuming for a weeknight with kids who need to eat by 6 pm. I keep a
    Cupboard full in hopes I’ll use them again one day. I vowed to buy no more however, as I have barely cracked them since my son was born 6 years ago!

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