• Hard boil an egg
• Wear a cute apron
• Hand people things
Cooking and baking have never really been my gig.
I was always a much more willing “eater” than a “cooker.” At home my mom did all of the cooking and baking, I was never her helper or sous chef. My job in the kitchen was to set the table and to scrub the sink with Clorox powder after dinner. I was also allowed to pour the pasta into the boiling water at Grandma and Papa’s house on Sundays and at my other grandparents house I was in charge of scooping brown sugar into the Cream of Wheat at breakfast time. That was the extent of my skills, but I was really good at all of those things.
On my ninth birthday I got a gift that I was moderately excited about, a Micro Range Bake Oven. I don’t remember mentioning to my parents that I had wanted one but I was a nine year old girl, so I got one.
All of my girlfriends at my party ooohed and ahhhed, saying how they either had one or wanted one of their own. This peaked my interest in the gift. It was a little mustard-yellow oven with lots of multi-colored fake sticker buttons on it. You could bake brownies or small flat cakes in it.
I think you are either born with this baking/cooking chip in you or you’re not, because even back then my cakes fell flat and I somehow managed to burn my brownies. A 60-watt light bulb burned my brownies. Further proof that even from a young age, baking and I were not meant to be. Like most things that I wasn’t immediately good at, I lost interest in the Micro Range quickly.
Getting my first apartment in college I quickly realized something important. I had zero cooking skills. For a while I lived on frozen meals and boxes and boxes of Teddy Grahams. I had a roommate who did cook, and we came up with an idea. Once a week we would make a meal for each other, sit down, and eat together. The weeks where she was going to cook for me sounded great! The ones where I needed to cook for her sounded terrifying.
I agreed, acting like I was a master chef when in reality if you were to give me a chicken breast at that point in my life I would not know whether to bake it, fry it, boil it, or dig out the Micro Range oven and light-bulb-cook-it.
This simple task of preparing a meal once a week started a chain of what I like to call my “I made this” period of lies.
I could have simply purchased some spaghetti and a jar of Ragu and called it good. This was my college roommate, not some big movie star I was trying to impress. But here’s what I did: I went to the best Chinese restaurant in town, bought a giant sized portion of chicken chow mein, cut the price tag off of my never-been-used wok, plopped the food in the wok, and put it on the stove on a low sizzle. I even bought a side of rice and put that in a pot next to the wok because God knows I didn’t know how to make rice either. (Thanks Mom.)
When Karen came home from her last class she couldn’t believe the effort I had gone to. An extravagant homemade Chinese dinner! She had made her Mexican casserole the week before which was delicious, and I wanted mine to be just as good.
“Lori, I had no idea you were such a good cook! Where did you learn how to cook Chinese food?”
“From my mom” I lied.
“This is so delicious, Can I have the recipe?”
“Um, sure” I said getting nervous, and rightfully so.
“What is in it?” she asked, gobbling up every bit.
“Ummmmm, chicken, noodles…spices.” I struggled, looking at the plate in front of me trying to dissect what ingredients could have been involved.
The charade continued throughout our entire roommate experience. I would sneak out and buy things from restaurants, transfer them into my own pots and pans or bake ware, and take full credit.
The charade then continued into my young adulthood. If I was asked to bring a dish to a potluck I would buy something delicious from a restaurant, put it in my own container, and cover it with foil and claim it as my own.
Finally, I stopped pretending.
It was exhausting having people chasing me down for recipes that didn’t exist. Plus I got caught one Thanksgiving-eve at an upscale grocery store deli buying mounds of mashed potatoes that I was getting ready to pass off as my own.
It was just plain exhausting pretending to be something that I wasn’t.
I have a small repertoire of things that I can cook that are actually pretty good and that are good enough for me. Some people enjoy baking, cooking, gardening, all of those domestic things. And that’s great! So what if I don’t? I don’t feel bad about that.
At the next brunch I am invited to I am happy to be the girl who brings the giant box of pastries from my favorite bakery. I promise to bring it in the pink bakery box, not on a tray with foil over them, wearing my apron complete with a pouf of flour on my face.
I may also bring my Micro Range Oven to warm them up. I’ve learned over the years that nothing warms up a pasty to perfection more beautifully than a 60-watt light bulb.