Monday, March 15, 2010

In Which Cooking is an Analogy to Life Itself

I've just finished reading Cathy Erway's The Art of Eating In - you may recognize Cathy not from the name of her book but rather the name of her blog "Not Eating Out in New York." Cathy made a promise to herself and her readers that she would not eat in restaurants in New York, cooking all her meals at home, for two years. The book is a recounts her culinary struggles and triumphs. Gimmicky yes. Inspiring, also yes. For instance: last night I was out until 11pm, and I hadn't eaten dinner. Normally I would've rushed into some restaurant, totally ravenous, spent about $40 on booze and food, and gone home feeling guilty for my overindulgence. Thanks to Cathy's influence, I went straight home and looked at what I had in the cupboards. Some whole wheat pasta, parmesan cheese. Quickly, I whipped up some delicious cheese and pepper pasta and was totally satisfied, without spending a cent, without overeating.

Until this past year, I looked at cooking with disdain and apprehension. Cooking was for people with too much time on their hands, for housewives, or naturally talented chefs. But after doing some experimentation, I quickly learned that cooking at home can be healthier in that you control the ingredients, and certainly it's cheaper. In Erway's book she calculates she spends $20 on groceries one week (this is obscenely off - I spend about $60, but then, I'm cooking for two) for eating in. In a week where she eats-out every meal, she spends $221!

I do a fair amount of cooking at home now that I live with my boyfriend. Before cohabitation, as a single gal cooking for myself was a bit of a downer. Combine the social aspect with a kitchen in Park Slope that looked like something out of Taxi Driver, and there wasn't much of an incentive. I ate a lot of veggie burgers, cheerios and tater tots. Most of my meals I spent eating out, spending time with friends, or on dates. I was always jealous of my roommate and her boyfriend, who made intensely delicious dinners (usually on Sundays). The smell from the kitchen was devastating. And sadly, they never really offered to share. Understandable - groceries cost money. But I would have gladly chipped in.

This year, I hosted a Thanksgiving dinner at my house and 12 people attended. Everyone brought a dish (or even two) so thank goodness for that. But I was in charge of the turkey, and I was absolutely terrified. If you haven't ever cooked a large bird, I recommend doing so. It will teach you a great deal about yourself. Slaving over a turkey for six hours was agonizing: constantly basting, ensuring that the bird won't be overdone, and giving yourself a facial every ten minutes from the heat wave of the oven. Watching my friend Sue, who is a culinary master, carve the thing once it was done was like watching someone slaughter my first born child. At one point, I had to leave the room. To make matters worse, herding 12 people into sitting down at the table is near to impossible. And the bird was getting cold. All my work for naught! As Madeline Kahn says in Clue, "Flames, at the side of my face. Flames."

I lost all politeness and composure, barking orders for people to sit the fuck down, shut up, and eat. My boyfriend was embarrassed and ashamed of my behavior. But how could he understand? He had been helpful, yes, cleaning the apartment and going out to buy snacks from Chinatown. But these sort of errands in no way equal the massive amount of pressure combined from cooking the main dish and hostessing. I don't think he will ever fully forgive me for "losing it" at Thanksgiving. I tried to apologize to my guests, citing frustration and fatigue. Who knows if they even heard me over the clinking of silverware.

What Thanksgiving (and subsequent dinners) have taught me is that no matter how upset you get, for whatever reason: whether it's culinary, professional, or personal, you cannot allow your emotions to get the best of you. You must keep a stiff upper lip in public, and if you want to explode or rampage in private, go right ahead. (The gym, too, can be a wonderful safe haven for working out stress and anger issues). But the dinner table, in the company of guests (even if it's just your partner) is never the place to engage in combat with yourself. If you're type A, like I am, you must approach life in the same way: always striving for perfection. Well, it's more about the process, isn't it, than the end product? We should all just enjoy the "doing." Who cares if your place-mats don't match?


Rutila said...

I would have been the same way if people weren't paying attention to the goods. Also, loving the Betty Draper.

Anonymous said...

HA! I also hosted a Thanksgiving event one year and was in charge of the turkey. I'd never felt more stress or fear of failure in my life (work included).

m said...

but telling people to sit the fuck down and eat their meal is an integral part of thanksgiving, no? really gives it a fun, festive, familial feeling.

also, come over and i'll cook for you or we can cook together. i miss you, honey b.

Anonymous said...

your article is interesting and makes me wanna read more. i'm so happy there's not thanksgiving here in finland, so i don't have to work on the turkey :D :D when i'm at work, i have to go out and eat lunch, hate it because it is so expensive. you inspired me for cooking more at home, usually someone else does it because i hate cooking... :D maybe i should start testing a few simple recipes? :D

Snobber said...

thanks for reading ladies. apparently i'm not the only one terrified of turkeys and offended by lack of respect for my culinary efforts. also, i love that em called me "honey b," like gaga calls beyonce. tinja - yes! work on simple recipes, if you have a microwave at work soup is always a great option for lunch. otherwise chickpea salads or chicken salads are my favorite to whip up and take in.