Loving to eat good food, that’s one thing; learning how to make it yourself, that’s something else. The first thing I learned to make in the kitchen was chicken legs, put into the oven covered in bottled barbecue sauce at 350 degrees, instructions given to me over the phone by my mother when I was a teenager.
By college, I still didn’t really know how to cook or bake anything. I’ll never forget the first time I scrambled a single egg. I didn’t know you were supposed to add milk or water, nor that a single serving is more like two eggs anyway. I stared down at this tiny lump of egg thinking, “That’s all you get?”
Trying to redeem myself, I bought a cookbook that I had seen on television, In the Kitchen with Rosie, the cookbook written by Oprah Winfrey’s then-personal chef. To the grocery store I went, cookbook in hand, and dropped $40 on the ingredients for one pasta dish. I mistook parsley for cilantro and bought bow-ties because I couldn’t find anything marked “penne” and I didn’t know what that looked like.
Back at home, I began confidently to cook. I started the pasta cooking, and I had the cream sauce bubbling merrily on the stove when I realized that my chicken was still frozen. Panicked, I threw it into the microwave to defrost. While my back was turned to the cream sauce, it over-boiled all over the stove top. My heart sank when I realized it had also scalded badly on the bottom. In the end, I had a pot of gummy pasta and plain baked chicken breast. To eat it, I simply couldn’t face. I went through the drive-thru at the nearest fast-food restaurant and wanted to cry. I never tried another recipe out of that book again.
Graduated, single and in my early 20’s, I had managed to master eggs, bacon and toast (all done at the same time!) and French toast. For dinners, I made a whole roast chicken once a week, every week, which I had seen Sarah Moulton make on the Food Network, which I was just then starting to get on the cable I could finally afford. I purchased the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, which most people recognize not by its name, but instead by its ubiquitous red-and-white plaid cover. Even this I had mixed results with, however. The chili recipe called for diced beef, which I found odd, and many of the recipes didn’t reheat well, a real problem when you’re single. I did learn how to make good scones, though.
I was 25 when I met the man who would later become my husband. I took one look at this wonderful man who even as a bachelor in his late 20’s kept homemade spaghetti sauce in his freezer just in case he felt like making lasagna, and I thought, “Yeah, I can do dishes!”
Over the years though, a funny thing has happened. Our shared dedication to delicious food has allowed us to try hundreds of new recipes from various cookbooks, magazines and websites. When we met, he had a drawer of recipes. I made him our first recipe binder, with a small section in the back of “Recipes to Try.” We now have 12 such binders, 5 of which are “Recipes to Try.”
With his tutelage, ten years’ worth of stay-at-home mom-ing, and access to reliable recipes, I can finally hold my own in the kitchen. I adjust, but don’t create, and I’m ok with that. The worst meatloaf I ever made was when I was just “trying to throw things together.” I have become a real proponent and defender of recipes, written to exact measurements, so it turns out great every time. If I make a change, I write down exactly what I did so I have that information for next time.
Hoping to pass what I’ve learned on to the next generation, I’ve already started a recipe binder for my 11-year-old, her favorite recipes that she can take with her when the day comes that she finally outgrows us. I now believe that recipes are power: the power to feed yourself and do it well.