Learning to Cook

There are two types of people in this world: those who like to cook and those who don’t. Those of us (like me) who don’t particularly enjoy spending time in a kitchen unless it’s to lick cookie dough from a beater, tend to seek out people who do.

Take my husband, for example. He is a marvelous cook. I’d like to say I sought him out for this particular feature, but it unfortunately took me a while to discover his hidden kitchen skills. In fact, for almost the first full year we were married, I did almost all the cooking, as I was a new wife, a stay-at-home mom, and thought I could pull off the Betty Crocker image. Turns out, not so much.

For what had to be 10 excruciating months, my husband patiently suffered evening meals – night after night – from a box. Hamburger helper? Check. Instant potatoes? Check. Just-add-meat Taco Kits? You betcha. Before you judge, let me just say even though I grew up on a farm, I somehow never learned to cook, despite the fact that both my mother and grandmother were amazing cooks. At some point in our early childhood, our parents must have had some sort of late-night huddle and designated my older sister as the house helper. This meant she helped Mom – and subsequently learned – how to cook, sew, can vegetables, tend a garden, shop at a grocery store, and other generally useful life skills.

I, on the other hand, was designated as the outside farm helper – a role I relished, because really, who wants to be stuck in a boring old house when you can be outside with crops to plant and animals to feed? Consequently, I helped – and therefore learned – how to do such things as drive a tractor, harvest crops, sort cattle, fix fence and stack a wagon with exactly 92 small square bales of hay. You know – the sort of skills that come in REALLY handy as a city dweller with a desk job.

Thankfully for my new husband and daughter, early on into the marriage, I decided to return to work. With both of us now working full-time, cooking became a switch-off duty. Well … let’s just say it was supposed to be a switch-off duty, but after about a week of eating real food prepared with fresh ingredients and watching my husband cook with actual pans – wait, we had pans? –  I voluntarily never entered the kitchen again. These days, our house mostly runs like a restaurant. The hubby asks what I want, I give a suggestion, he gleefully cooks it (and seems to enjoy it) and then calls me from my home office when it’s done. It’s true, I AM living the dream life.

Fast forward 14 years. We now have a teenage daughter, who is showing some interest in learning to cook. So far, I’ve pretty much exhausted my list of home-cooked specialties, which includes, and I must stress this – IS limited to: fried egg sandwiches on toast, apple pie made with store-bought crust and pre-made apples, and heating up Schwan’s frozen hash browns. With no tractor to drive, fence to fix or cattle to sort, it appears my list of pertinent life skills is exhausted.

I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe it’s time for both my daughter and me to learn how to cook.

Luckily, a copy of Bi-Rite Market’s Eat Good Food arrived in the mail yesterday – a free press copy from the publisher who hopes I’ll write about it. Check. Written by Sam Mogannam, second-generation owner of San Francisco’s Bi-Rite Market, the book efficiently guides one through the grocery store, one department at a time, and explains how to identify incredible ingredients, decipher labels and terms, build a great pantry, and reconnect with the people and places that feed us (yeah, I copied that right from the book jacket, but in this case, it’s actually true).

Normally I just sort of scan these types of books and then copy something from the book jacket in a review – um wait – but this time I actually connected with the author when I read this paragraph on page 10:

“We have a general idea of what kinds of things we should be eating, but when we’re actually standing in the aisles at the supermarket, it’s hard to put theory into action. With all this knowledge about the food world today, too many of us still don’t know what to put in our shopping carts.”

Whoa. It’s like Sam Mogannam is speaking to me.

It’s true: I do know what I should be eating, and I do go to the grocery store all the time. But mostly I buy bananas, yogurt, cheese, frozen yogurt and boxes of Wheat Thins. If left to my own devices, this would be pretty much be my diet, because I have no idea how to make actual ingredients become real food.

But I have to say – and I am in no way, shape or form getting paid to say this – I’ve become inspired by this book. With easy tips and logical reasoning on why and what to buy at the deli, meat and produce departments, dairy case, bakery, cheese counter and wine and beer department, I may actually be able to pull this whole cooking thing off.

And learning how to cook should certainly be an easier and less expensive way to bond with the teenager than buying a farm, right? Hmmm … I do remember my husband lobbying to buy a tractor a few years back – though God knows where we’d put it or what we’d use it for on our 1/4 acre lot in suburbia. I’m sure he’d think of something. Because if I enter the kitchen and actually start cooking, anything’s possible, right? Someone point me to the pans.