Coming To Terms With The Kitchen

by Leandra Medine
September 23, 2013
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I think I want to learn how to cook and I’m having a hard time with that. Why? Read the heck on.

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New York is propelling us into fall without even a single needlepoint cushion to assuage the change and that sucks. But it’s not so much the fall that’s bad as it is what the season infers — that with it, comes winter.

Or as I like to call it, the lengthy, frost bite-inducing equivalent of a genital wart that tricks you into thinking it’s just about to depart after you’ve endured the pain necessary to evict it, which only offers morsels of false hope, as it continuously appears and reappears, unsolicited.

With winter, of course, comes plenty of time indoors and with that time comes a more urgent necessity to survive at the hand of home-cooked food. Of course, that’s not entirely true — living in New York means that at any given hour, on any given day, I can assure you that by dialing ten measly numbers, a fresh meal will find its way to my doorstep in 30 minutes or less.

Until about a week ago, I took great solace in the contents of my oven (which were takeout menus), but with a recent health kick now pervading my sense of that-which-is-consumable, my wanting to save money and the dubious sense that my home will never really feel like my home until food is being produced from it, it seems like high time to put that previously-deemed futile spatula to the pan and cook.

Here’s the thing of it. I never, ever wanted to do this. Actually, that’s not what I’m having a hard time with. I never wanted to want to do this and yet here I am, at my behest, veering closer to my stove. I’m no longer shunning the miscellaneous spices ambitiously placed in a kitchen cabinet just above said stove by my mother, and on the rare occasion I very discreetly google recipes like a denial-ridden renegade with a secret penchant for okra.

But I love food. And I really love creating things. I’ve even conjured a theory about my ability to mix prints to parallel my unconfirmed-but-likely ability to combine gastronomic seasonings. So why did it take so long to get here?

Like I do for most things, I am going to blame my mom.

Growing up in a single income home, I always hated that my mother would joke that she was “CEO of the kitchen.” It frustrated me that when we were out or shopping, she’d have to call my father for purchase approval had something costly piqued her interest. As best as I can recall, he never had to call her from work to confirm she’d be making dinner. I can’t remember a single time my dad didn’t come home to the greeting of a beautifully decorated, deliciously executed dinner table plus nourishment.

Don’t get me wrong though, my dad never overlooked or took for granted the sense of I-will-probably-never-have-to-wonder-what-to-eat-when-I-leave-work-again that my mom offered, and if you ask her when she feels most powerful, she’ll tell you it’s when she’s in the kitchen. It’s just never the life I wanted for myself. I wanted to know that if I yearned for an expensive jacket or stupid ceramic bowl, I could get it for myself without having to run it by anyone or thing but my own sense of fiscal morality.

Why I believed achieving such freedom could only come independent of learning to cook a meal seems to lay in my mom’s Gen. X, opt-out-elicited reluctance to do both. That and the fact that she once told me the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Though that may have been true in the case of my wide appetite-driven father, my partner-in-scant-activity has never seen me so much as boil an egg. In fact, he is elated when I remember to buy almond milk from Whole Foods. I’d be hard pressed to say he loves me any less than my dad does my mom.

I guess that somewhere along the way cooking, to me, became akin to assuming the role of housewife. Though I’ve always admired my mother (this only boomeranged a year and change post navigating waters she’d been swimming for 30 years — marriage), like Ruth Reichl, I didn’t really want to become her. But maybe in learning that I can have the marginally platitudinal version of “it all” without ever having donned an unironic apron is now eliciting this curiosity to give it a try.

Up first? Kale salad.

Okay, so maybe I won’t be cooking so much as I will be massaging and tossing but it’s a start on my quest to prove, if only for myself, that to be domestically-adept does not negate my sense of independence and that to be a good wife does not necessarily mean to be a housewife.

REPLIES
  • cici

    cook is really funny ! I agree with u, being a good wife doesnt mean being a housewife

  • Norwegian

    I actually went through this a couple of years ago. I had a mother who was very successful working woman, but, while our nanny usually cooked, she was still a good cook and would try to teach me. I wanted nothing of it (and after burning chicken on my first try, was sure I was not meant to be domestic) until I started dating my husband. I have no desire to be a housewife (I’m a lawyer), but for some reason I do have a desire to feed my husband. While I know he would never expect that of me (he started dating me when I was in my no cooking phase) for me it is a way of showing him how much I love him. And now I actually enjoy it. I know it’s not for everyone. That was just my experience.
    My friends were so surprised that I started cooking, most saying they didn’t believe it, that I started a blog about my journey into domestication (shameless plug http://domesticedu.blogspot.com/).

  • http://sorelleinstyle.blogspot.com/ Sorelle in Style

    If you can do with a kale salad what you do with ripped jeans and a tee, the culinary world better watch out! :)

    ♡jilly
    sorelle in style

  • Heidi

    It’s so funny – we’re complete and total opposites. My mom was the primary breadwinner in my family and my dad cooked. I learned how to cook from my dad and even to this day I fully enjoy cooking up a storm. My hubs is a fantastic cook and we rotate making dinners so that we share the load equally.

    http://jax-and-jewels.blogspot.com

  • TheSimpleDelights

    you can use the stove & have kale salad at the same time! Here’s my recipe. http://thesimpledelights.com/?p=1880

  • http://alcessa.wordpress.com/ alcessa

    I don’t think cooking has a lot to do with being a housewife – not nowadays – and it certainly doesn’t depend on our marital status or needn’t/shouldn’t.

    I had claimed for years I was never going to get married and everyone believed me, probably because they thought no one in their sound mind would want a darkish, feministy :-), clumsy dude like me. Well, they almost didn’t :-)

    Still, I did want to learn to cook even as a child, because I found it exciting.

    And then I got a husband who can cook himself and who’s happy that I cook during the week but doesn’t take it for granted and would simply eat elsewhere if I didn’t or cook himself (as he does on weekends). Yay for modern men!

    This arrangement has the positive side that you are trying to achieve: it is simply much healthier to cook at home, it really makes a difference. In the long term, one can feel notably better for not having to consume all those additives and stuff.

    Plus, I get to see my hubby at noon every day :-) .

    I am sure you’ll be at your creative best in the kitchen in no time – cooking and eating self-made food is SEXY! And creative! And you are both of them, so.

    But … I need to send you my bank account data. You mentioned the K- word :-))

  • http://www.borsalon.com/ Borsalon

    I’m a really bad cooker….

    http://www.borsalon.com

  • Rachel

    I feel like I could’ve written this article. This totally describes my mindset as well.

  • brunetteletters

    Just picturing you cooking makes me laugh!!! hard to imagine…good luck! xoxo

    Brunette Letters Blog

  • Arielle

    I went through this phase about a year ago after having moved across the country with only my partner. First of all, I never had to cook in my life: my mother, father AND brother all are fabulous chefs so I never needed to conquer the kitchen myself– also each time I tried, it was an unsavory disaster. When I moved (and had no one to cook for me) I didn’t want to assign myself the role of “woman of the house and guard of the kitchen” because it felt too much like slipping back in time. However, I was unemployed and broke and so I began experimenting with food and recipes out of sheer boredom. Eventually I found a job and learned to cook on my own time which turned out to be something I really enjoy. My partner and I eventually split up the types of food we each want to cook: he is in charge of Asian, breakfast and steaks while I am the master of Italian, French, soups & salads. I think it takes time to get comfortable in the kitchen and once you learn that sauteing onions and garlic in olive oil is the best scent of all, you will enter the kitchen more often.

  • Maggie

    Indeed, cooking doesn’t mean you’re signing up to be a housewife. In a way, it can show your independence in that you can make what you want, not just eating what’s available to you pre-made. Enjoy your new ventures, hope the kale salad goes well!

    -Maggie
    maggiefinejewelry.com

  • http://www.fancyalterego.wordpress.com/ Heather P.

    Glad to hear you’re diving into cooking. A few pieces of sound advice from someone who’s been at it for a while:

    1. Keep things simple. Don’t try to impress anyone with super complicated food – often times the simplest things are the best anyway. If kale salad is your jam, and it’s good, others will think so too.

    2. Never made food you’ve never eaten before. Try that shit out at a nice restaurant first, then bribe them for the recipe. I once attempted to make lasagna with eggplant in place of the noodles. 3 hours later, I found out I don’t like eggplant and was pretty pissed that I spent my whole afternoon cooking something I find gross.

    3. Mistakes are part of learning. Keep those takeout menus close by, you know, just in case. The internet is also a great tool if you mess things up. You can fix many sins with the right tricks.

    4. If you find you’re getting more comfortable in the kitchen, Martha Stewart is a great person to go to for recipes. I’ve never had a recipe of hers go wrong, they’re super easy to follow, and it always looks like you did way more work than you really did. She’s got some kind of cooking voodoo magic, I swear.

    5. Most of all – have fun! Your mother will tell you that cooking can be soothing, cathartic, and fun if you let it be. There’s nothing like pounding the absolute shit out of some chicken breasts after a long day at work. It’s violent AND tasty!

    • http://alcessa.wordpress.com/ alcessa

      Great advice, all of it! :-) You know what makes me wonder – your Nr. 1: could it be that in the previous generation (since that would be me for most of you: I mean people who are 60+ now) women/wives/mothers simply were supposed to and also taught to cook all those complex, addictive foods and many of us think we are not good or cannot cook because we are not able to reproduce that … stuffed goose on golden leaves with 3 different sauces and 5 kinds of veggies plus a cake?

      So we do not think someone who can fry eggs, add some spinach with cream and a boiled potato has really “cooked” something?

      I was lucky: I became vegetarian and had a good excuse not to reproduce all those numerous variations of “pig on toast” (that’s what my hubby calls such traditional meals with much, much meat) but could go for the simple stuff straight away. Strictly speaking, I still cannot cook, but I can memorize data on temperature and time from recipes and I tend to chose the simplest ones – that’s all. So I guess I’d never impress the “previous generation”, but I do like my veggies and my hubby’s, too.

      • http://www.fancyalterego.wordpress.com/ Heather P.

        I just think a lot of people who start out cooking feel pressure to knock out something overly complicated when they should be focusing on perfecting the basics first. Simple recipes will help newer cooks become more comfortable with chopping, timing, seasoning, and other skills that will come in handy when you’re ready to tackle that stuffed goose.

        As for the generation gap, I think that has more to do with how seldom we entertain (and cook for) guests in our own homes. My grandmother can make some crazy food, but she knows how to do that because when she was my age, her ability to cook for her neighbors, family, or her husband’s boss was a huge part of her reputation and her identity. Our generation doesn’t get so wrapped up in our ability to cook because it doesn’t make or break anything in our social lives. You’ll still have friends if you can’t cook – my grandmother may not have if she wasn’t good at it.

        I’m sure I could write a dissertation on this, but it’s time for me to start cooking my own dinner. Which, by the way, is hot dogs, tortilla chips with homemade guacamole, and a handful of candy as dessert.

        Just because I CAN cook well doesn’t mean I always DO. ;-)

        • http://alcessa.wordpress.com/ alcessa

          Yeah, I agree – I think that’s why it is not really “difficult” to cook nowadays: we are really not defined by it (socially and also in our families), it’s a plus if we can and simple things are often enough simply the best.
          (I bought a cheese sandwich for dinner today :-))

    • Leah

      heather p, do you have a blog?

  • Laura

    The best part about cooking is getting to snack on stuff while you make things

  • Stacey Freeman

    This is a really fascinating article. My mom worked, so always found cooking to be a chore, a sentiment I’ve taken on as a married working mom of one child. The interesting part is that the role of cooking does seem to fall to the woman, despite the fact that I work too. I’m lucky to have a husband who loves to cook (at least on the weekends), but the question of cooking as power or subordination is certainly thought-provoking.

  • Allie Santiago

    Oh my gosh, SAME. I’m getting married in less than two weeks and I just really, really want to learn to cook so we can save money, eat healthier, etc. I feel like I’ve built up this reputation as “The girl who doesn’t cook” and I’m ashaaaamed. Let’s suck it up and burn some food together! *kale salad cheers*

  • Tamara

    Some things bring more intimacy to the home and having a home cooked meal that either you our your significant other labored over, for me, is definitely one of them. We’re both good cooks and often only butt heads in the kitchen (he tends to over season, I like my food “delicate”) but when we sit down to enjoy something that we made at home the satisfaction is immense. Epicurious.com has great recipes and they’re almost all from gourmet magazines so you know they’ll be restaurant quality.

    Good luck!

  • http://rightternes.com/ RightTernes

    I find that cooking with others is a great way to learn how to cook without feeling like you’re slaving away in a kitchen. Making it a social activity helped me learn about using different spices, cutting techniques, and introduced me to foods I’ve never had before. Good luck!

  • lotta

    Everytime you post something like this, I fall in love with your blog even more :) I cannot think of any other place where female intellect (combined with a love for style and fashion) is celebrated like this, where I get inspired to read more books, be independent, question certain images of ‘women’ and just in general feel good about being a girl in our generation. It’s really special and just great that you have created this- thank you so much and please, continue like this!

  • Campus Street

    Perfected kale salad is a god send.

    http://www.collegiatestreetstyle.blogspot.com

  • rhiarhia

    Mark Bittman is a lovable dork, and his “Minimalist” recipes and videos are the bees knees: http://www.nytimes.com/video/playlist/the-minimalist/

  • pytinpty

    I quit gluten a year ago in October, and because of that I found myself with no other choice than to learn how to cook all the things I used to eat with gluten. And I have to tell you, it feels really empowering to create something out of nothing, that tastes good and nourishes your body. I feel a great sense of accomplishment every time I successfully execute a recipe. I think many girls of our generation don’t want to become housewives but why should we sacrifice a skill that is also part of being independent (to be able cook a meal for yourself) for the sake of not being associated with that “dirty” word?

  • Chrissabella

    I really love reading your posts

    Greetings from London,

    http://www.chrissabella.blogspot.com

  • Raluca | WWGwynethDo

    I went through a similar epiphany about two years ago. I couldn’t boil water up to that point, nor did I care to, and now I absolutely love to cook, bake, drink, just be in the kitchen. No one is as shocked as I am, but it’s a newfound passion that came along at just the right time…enjoy it.

  • bloomaglow

    Aww how I love you. As I read this I couldn’t help to think of Carrie B. for some reason. I agree with so much of what i just read. My favorite part been

    “It frustrated me that when we were out or shopping, she’d have to call my father for purchase approval had something costly piqued her interest. As best as I can recall, he never had to call her from work to confirm she’d be making dinner.”

    So well said. I feel the same way about women doing that and specially hate when they have to hide their shopping. (even though they do get carry away sometimes lol)
    I am so agains having to run it by someone when getting something I want.

    Nailed it!!

  • Paula McClelland

    This is a really great post. I definitely think you need to get your ass into the kitchen – it’s not dis-empowering cooking for other people or anti-feminist – it can be super fun (just keep an eye on that pot, it will boil whether watched or not)
    I’ve grown up around excellent cooks: Mum, step Mum, my Granna and I feel a little like I am carrying on their legacy when I bake a fresh batch of cookies or make a yummy casserole.
    It’s just another skill you can add to your portfolio of life :-D

    ♥ Paula Shoe Fiend.

  • Lisa Thomson

    Awesome, Leandra. I believe a woman should have a couple of go-to recipes up her sleeve to impress a friend, partner or bribe her children (best chocolate chip oatmeal cookies). Not saying she should be CEO of the kitchen-nah! In fact my boyfriend took me out of the kitchen and put me in the bedroom and I remind him of that when the oven is empty. He smiles with pleasure and prefers an empty stomach over an empty sex life. :)

  • http://www.hauteinhabit.com/ Haute Inhabit

    So baaaaaasically you’re saying you want to get drunk and light shit on fire. Let me know, I’ll bring the brussels sprouts.

  • Molly

    It is very empowering to cook an amazing meal. It is awesome to realize you can cook a meal that would be $50 at a restaurant for $15. Learning to cook does take practice and patience.

  • Edible Jewels

    Great post! Today women can do it all, I am a jewelry designer, run my own business, cook elaborate meals and write a food blog on nights and weekends! My husband doesn’t expect me to cook but loves my food and helps me out, its something we love to do together. I love to ‘design food’ and be creative. There is nothing more empowering than nourishing yourself the same way you strive for independent financial freedom. I lost my mom a few years ago and if I don’t make myself a home cooked meal no one will so I empower myself to achieve success and balance it all. Check out my blog I have a great kale salad recipe on there as well http://ediblejewels.com

  • Naomi du Plessis

    Growing up, both my mom and dad loved to cook, so I guess that’s rubbed off on me – It makes me insanely happy cooking something delicious and seeing how much someone enjoys eating it. Wow that sounds creepy…

  • Sofia K.

    F*** it,Leandra!We all know you’re much better at layering than cooking,no need to prove otherwise.Freezer section at your local Whole Foods is the way to go,baby x

  • Poe

    As a newly wed myself, I struggle with this same thing! I have realised I can only cook and bake for myself, for enjoyment, for the curiosity of making something new, and for the joy and satisfaction of it not being a complete flop. If I cook or bake for him, I will grow resentful. They say women do 75% of the household chores in dual income households. I already feel like I do more of the household chores (mostly because I notice the dirt before he does), so if I try to be a “good wife” on top of that, I will feel the pressure of trying to be super woman… and my competitive nature being what it is… I WILL be… until I crumple under the pressure. Besides, if I’m honest, I hardly want to deal with figuring out what to eat for breakfast most days, much less doing it for someone else. And there is no way that after a long day’s work, you’ll find me slaving on the stove while he’s firmly planted on the couch watching football. Takeout sushi it is.

  • Ash

    As a wife, I love to cook, but I hate cleaning. I can’t wait until I’m making enough money to hire a maid.

  • Roxana Phillips

    To be a good wife does not necessarily mean to be a housewife!!! Thank youuuuu for that! I needed it!!! just tweeted this quote! dont be surprise to see it on pinterest any time soon!

    Saludos desde Tijuana

    dreamingpencils.wordpress.com

  • Pualani@TheRustedKey

    I also had some inner turmoil in regards to domesticity. I hated comments about how I need to be more lady-like or do something because I have ovaries and a uterus, but I criticized my roommate for not knowing how to cook and how to sew on a button to her coat. Now I just think of it as me being able to perform a certain skill that other people can’t, not me being domestic.

  • hil

    i have had the same ‘problem’ and feelings about wanting to cook throughout my early adulthood. my boyfriend however, LOVES to cook…and i love that he loves it…since i don’t…but it has only enabled me, because when i do TRY to cook…it NEVER tastes half as good as when he cooks the same exact meal. …but since he loves cooking…and it tastes that much better…why would i? …granted i can make a mean kale salad…but really, is that cooking?

  • http://www.lucidnewyork.com HandmadeJewelrybyLucid

    Hehe, excellent. I’ve just got back into cooking myself. Try to master a few meals. Mine if eggplant parmesan, meatballs and Hawaiian coconut dessert haupia.
    Good luck!

  • angeline89

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