I never really cooked. I made some easy quicky things like a bowl of pasta or, occasionally, a lasagna, but I never did the cooking at all.
In the early days it just never came up. We ate out a lot or we ate like twentysomethings, scarfing whatever was around while watching TV. When she did have the urge to cook she did so because there was nothing but time. She’s a pretty good cook, so there wasn’t ever really an urgency for me to mess around in the kitchen.
As time went on, however, a narrative was created in which I not only didn’t cook but I couldn’t cook. It eventually turned into the notion that I could never cook, even if I tried. A joke was made about how clueless I was in the kitchen and, like so many other things a married couple neither questions nor challenges, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. A bowl of pasta from time to time. An occasional box of macaroni and cheese for the kids if she were out or running late. But that was it, really.
When we split up last fall one of the first things that made it all seem real was the fact that, at least when I had the kids, I had to cook. But the thing was, I really didn’t have to and, for the most part I didn’t.
One or two nights a week I’d make some attempt at something. The kids decided Tuesday night was pasta night, and that’s easy. Another night involved rushing the kids around to ballet or soccer, so some convenience food like mac and cheese or hot dogs was excused. Friday night has always been pizza night, and I was quick to make sure that tradition was upheld on my every other Friday with the kids. They’re suckers for breakfast for dinner, so pancakes, sausage and fruit was a staple there for a while. On the weekends my parents, God love them, have made a point to cook for us (“Here, I roasted ten chicken breasts for you to freeze!”) or have us over for dinner, always going out of their way to say that they’re doing it because they want to, not because they feel they need to. I think there’s a sliver of truth to that, but when I’m being honest with myself, I know that they’ve been looking out for us. Not that there’s a thing wrong with it and not that I want them to stop.
I could probably have bluffed my way through feeding my kids in this haphazard way indefinitely. They’re not malnourished, obviously. I make sure there’s lots of fruit and, when I’m feeling tough, vegetable matter going down their throats when they’re with me. But it certainly got into a rut as the summer wore on, and began to become a source of self loathing. How many pancakes and grilled cheese sandwiches can one really feed their kids?
For my birthday, the kids (read: my mother) got me a cookbook. That got me thinking about trying to do more, but I really didn’t get moving with it. What did get me moving was Allison. She did something extraordinary: she refused to buy the old narrative that I couldn’t cook and insisted that, if I tried, of course I could. And she encouraged me to do so by collecting all manner of recipes and resources and putting them on a Pinterest pinboard just for me. And she bugged me about it some. So last week I decided to actually try to cook stuff.
On Wednesday I made pasta e fagioli:
On Sunday I made a caprese pasta salad with a white balsamic vinaigrette:
Tonight I made salmon with garlic, lemon and dill:
The pasta e fagiloi was a little too tomato-y, but tasted great. I made too much of the caprese salad, but at least I was finally able to send some food to my parents instead of the other way around. The salmon was flat out perfect. Obviously none of these were terribly difficult, and of course practice makes perfect, but I’m rather proud of myself for cooking a little. I’m gonna keep messing with things until I find a nice rotation of favorites that the kids like to eat and I like to cook.
But I’m getting more than the food out of this. I’m getting some self-confidence and a feeling of greater independence out of it. To be sure, I have never lacked these things in most areas, but cooking has always been an exception. It won’t be anymore.
And all it took was me getting tired of old narratives and the encouragement and support of a person who believes I can do anything if I put my mind to it rather than assumes that I can’t simply because I never have.
What a difference those things make.