After 15 years of marriage I’ve decided to learn how to cook. I mean really cook. I confess that I’ve been faking my way through this whole time. When a recipe that I follow perfectly doesn’t turn out, then I just throw up my hands in disgust and lament that the world is against me. I don’t really use my brain when cooking. I admit to blindly following the instructions from the magazine cut-out, praying it turns out half as good as the picture looks. But I’ve been burned this way (literally) so many times that it has just perpetuated my general feeling of helplessness which, for me anyway, often accompanies this barren state. So when my husband recently asked me out of the blue if there was anything in particular that I would like to accomplish or learn in the near future, I didn’t even have to think. “I want to learn how to cook,” I stated firmly, as if I had already started making plans on how to achieve this goal. But I hadn’t and I wasn’t quite sure where to start.
Taking cooking classes was out of the question due to cost and time committment. Plan B included the good old standby: get the right books and just teach myself. I had heard that the book Joy of Cooking was supposed to be a beginner’s manual to this field of study and so I asked a culinarily-gifted friend of mine if he would recommend it. He had a copy, of course, but steered me first to Alton Brown’s I’m Just Here for the Food, a similar yet more contemporary and humorous option. This, my friends, is solid gold. I have finally found someone who understands me. Within just the first few pages Alton reveals the pitfalls of my kind of cooking, comparing it to giving a friend from out-of-town directions to your house but not sending him a map.
That’s what’s wrong with recipes. Sure, they can get us where we’re going, but that doesn’t mean we know where we are when we get there. And it would be a real shame to make it all the way to a souffle without realizing that scrambled eggs are just over the next hill and meringue’s just around the corner.
Do you have to know how to scramble an egg before you can make a souffle or how to sear a steak to make a beef stew? No. A halfway decent recipe can get you to either of those destinations. But unless you understand where you are and how you got there, you’re a hostage. And it’s hard to have fun when you’re a hostage. (pg. 7)
Yes!! That’s me! A hostage. I just do whatever I’m told and I’ve never even tried to escape. Until now. If this book really does what it says it’s going to do then my time spent playing the victim is quickly coming to an end. There’s nothing like a little experience manipulating the elements to increase one’s feeling of control in life. I have fought for control of my own body for so many years and I’m convinced that it’s a losing battle. But if I can learn to sear that piece of meat so that the juices remain and there’s a golden crust surrounding it on all sides then I may not feel quite so defeated after all.