Cooking with Curt


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I recently came across a pair of references to Julia Child. The famous chef was mentioned in the latest post on The Task at Hand at roughly the same time that a story about her popped up on my news feed. And while my thoughts immediately turned to the old, blood-soaked Saturday Night Live bit with Dan Aykroyd, they also caused me to reflect on my contentious relationship with my kitchen.

I don’t think there was a definitive moment when everything went south, nothing I can point to as a single, searing epiphany. Rather I just never learned to appreciate a good meal, mainly because I can’t recall any that made even the slightest impression on me (at least not in a positive way) as I was growing up. Dinnertime was something to be endured, often little more than a battle of wills between me and my gag reflex.

Mom did her best, but as a working parent she rarely had the time to put a “loving” meal on the table. That meant lots of one-pot concoctions plopped on the plate, accompanied by canned green beans, corn, or the dreaded, evil Brussels sprouts. Many a dinner was spent trying to devise a plan for getting those heinous balls of poison past my epiglottis before it had a chance to reject them, violently. I finally settled on smuggling them by, whole, with a gulp of milk, so as not to disturb the rancid, deadly toxins lurking within.

And my step-father cooked only one dish – rouladens. A culinary abomination that would have sent Julia screaming into the night. Bacon and peppers entombed in a cheap cut of beef that had been beaten like a rented mule by way of “tenderizing” it, the whole mess pinned together with toothpicks and baked to the consistency of shoe leather. It was the incessant pounding of the meat that signaled our doom, every thwack another reminder of the wretched meal we would soon have to face. More than simply indigestible, the fist-sized lumps defied the mastication process. Most nights it was all I could do to gnaw through half of one, knowing full well the rest would be waiting for me, as cold as a corpse, the following morning for breakfast.

So it should come as no surprise that, despite Julia’s best efforts, I detest cooking. And that holds for the entire process – from pushing past the disheveled masses in their sweat pants and bed head hair stumbling through the grocery store aisles on a Sunday morning to cleaning all those pots and pans. Screw a flying car – I want one of those food replicators like they have on the starship Enterprise. Where all I have to do is say what I want and it magically appears (sort of like a restaurant, but without having to tip). Then I could have the kitchen torn out and the space turned into a sauna or an arcade or any of a thousand more useful options. With all the cabinets and utensils tossed into a pile in the backyard and set ablaze that I might dance naked around the flames.

The only reason I ever picked up a spatula in the first place was so that Child Protective Services didn’t come and take my kids away (although some days I was hard-pressed to see how that would have been a bad thing). There is no doubt that Rachael Ray is the Devil, greasing the road to Hell with EVOO.

To the Food Network I would say, stop already. Enough with the endless parade of shiny, happy people cooking their asses off, serving up spreads fit for the cover of Better Homes and Gardens. By comparison, my Ragu-drenched lasagna looks like it should come with a hazmat warning. And all I can think of while Giada dirties every pan in her perfect kitchen as she whips up a batch of Chicken and Honey Mustard Pinwheels is, “Who’s cleaning up that fucking mess?”

If nothing else, how about a little balance. Maybe a show for those of us standing in front of our refrigerators in a mild state of panic as we realize tonight’s Beef Stroganoff may be compromised because the sour cream we thought was still viable could, in fact, star in its own Hair Club for Men commercial. While I haven’t worked out all the particulars, segments might include choosing the proper power tools for chiseling burnt brownies from ‘non-stick’ baking pans, or how to reassemble a leftover bratwurst after it goes ‘supernova’ in the microwave. Working show titles include Shut Up and Eat It, Gruel – It’s What’s For Dinner, and The Ketchup King.

Bon appetit.


17 thoughts on “Cooking with Curt

  1. Wow. Well I love to cook and I love to eat and I like cooking shows quite a bit. Of course, my own childhood was filled with delicious food at every turn. All my parents are good cooks 🙂
    I do find it’s not as much a pleasure to cook at times, and for those times, there are take-out menus or a husband who is willing to ‘cook’ ie: take me out.
    I’m sorry for your unfortunate experiences, but boy do you write em well 🙂

  2. I am right there with you! It’s very hard to admit hating to cook in this culture, although I imagine it was even worse for women back in the 1950s. Even today, I think it’s harder for women than men to say they hate cooking. Some of the most scoldy self-righteous foodies these days are men, though (hello Michael Pollan) so neither gender is immune.

    Also, I don’t think it’s solely a learned behavior. I think there’s a lot of genetics there, like there is with picky eating. Your parents hated cooking, so you do. But no need to blame (or lionize) them for your relationship with food.

    After years of struggling with this, I’ve decided to take a slightly different attitude, which is to just view food practically and scientifically, as fuel, and leave the cultural baggage aside. That has made me hate cooking a lot less. Cooking is never going to be something I truly enjoy, let alone my “passion”, but there are a lot of things in this category that I do because they are necessary, or good for me, and I’m able to accept that and move on with my life.

    I’ve become convinced there are upsides to having a practical relationship with food: viewing it as fuel and that’s it. For one thing, no one in my family of non-foodies has a weight problem. We don’t eat for comfort, we don’t eat to fill the psychic hole du jour. If there’s a problem, we have to confront it, not swallow it. We’re not at risk for orthorexia or other eating disorders. We are also quite happy and content to eat roughly the same 7 meals every week. Variety is just not a priority. We have like 6 vegetables and 5 fruits we eat regularly, and we eat most of them most days, often raw or minimally processed. With whole wheat bread, protein pasta, and some moderately healthy protein sources. It makes shopping and cooking easier, if not totally pleasant.

    There are also a few voices of reason out there, who I think deserve another look. For example:

    Amanda Marcotte: “Let’s Stop Idealizing the Home-Cooked Family Dinner”

    Laura Vanderkam: “It doesn’t have to be dinner”

    Steven Poole: “Let’s start the foodie backlash”

    Or, you could try Soylent:
    It’s apparently pretty big here in Silicon Valley. I’ve never tried it myself. But going through the process of thinking about it made me examine and come to better terms with what I personally do and don’t value about cooking.

    Huh. Thanks, you helped me write my own next blog post! 😉

  3. Especially your comment about your gag reflex growing up suggests to me that you may have or have had some kind of sensory processing or selective eating issue, at least as a kid and maybe still as an adult. I did a lot of reading about this when I was trying to learn to deal with my own picky-eating kids. They are teenagers now, and their diets have expanded enough that I’m no longer worried about vitamin deficiencies, diabetes, or other serious health consequences. But I think they will always be “picky” and for them, yes, it’s all about the texture and the gag reflex. I have some of that too.

    Here are a couple more interesting articles, not necessarily directly applicable to your post, but “food for thought” anyway:

    Sensory processing and picky eating in kids:

    Adult pickiness as a serious eating disorder:

    To me, an important take-home from posts like these is that the typical feeding advice is just not applicable to some people, and the kind of relationship with food advocated by cooking shows and foodies, far from being an ideal to strive for, can actually do damage.

    • I view it (at least the over-hyped food shows) much like ‘Say Yes to the Dress’ and other similar programs that are really just marketing propaganda to get us to spend way too much on weddings, meals, house upgrades, you name it. Blow up your tv!

  4. HAHAHA!!! Thank you!!! I, too, would rather be shot naked from a cannon than cook! My Mom was a wonderful cook and it’s sad that I didn’t get some of those genes. When friends start talking about cooking shows, I can feel my eyes glazing over. I think yours is a great idea!

  5. I have to admit that during my many bachelor years “cooking” was largely a non-event; canned soup, sandwiches, and TV dinners were standard fare; speed and convenience was the rule. But once I hooked up my wife insisted on much higher standards, I learned to cook and actually got decent at it. I would admit the motivation is much higher having someone to cook for, especially when I don’t have to do it all the time.

    But I’d agree, no master chef has ever been able to make Brussels sprouts palatable. They should simply be used as shotgun slugs, they’re that deadly.

  6. My first and really only memorable food battle involved Brussels sprouts. I made another run at them a year or so ago, after listening to everyone I knew say, “Grill them! Sauté them with bacon! Do this! Do that!” It’s no use, and I’ll never try again. They are the veggie from hell.

    Otherwise, I enjoy cooking, although I’m not one to devote an afternoon to it — let alone a whole day. I do think cooking for one makes a difference, too. I’m happy enough with a good salad, or leftovers, and I’ve collected a lot of recipes that don’t require much work, but are tasty.

    What I do love is baking, and I’m good at it. I can whip out a pie like nobody’s business. But then again, that cooking for one business sets in. The last thing I need to do is sit down and eat a whole pie, so that means finding someone not on another diet to share it with me. Oh, the trials and tribulations. But a pie is coming, because I have wonderful off-the-tree peaches in the house. If you were closer, I’d share.

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