I found a recipe online for simmering cranberries with orange and apple slices, cinnamon, star anise, and evergreen. I don’t have a reliable sense of smell, but the coziness of the concoction has me considering adding this to my Advent activities anyway. The mere thought of such a thing marks significant progress in my attitude toward time spent in the kitchen and a disruption in one of my longest-held beliefs. For more than three quarters of my life, I polluted my mind with the tiresome tale that I was a bad cook.
The truth is I was simply an inexperienced cook who needed to be nurtured and encouraged into feeling comfortable in that space. Like yeast in a rising ball of dough, this germ of inaccuracy grew slowly over time. Everywhere I looked, I saw signs to prove myself right: a broken spatula, an overfilled loaf pan, an oven that set off the fire alarm. The list goes on.
I’ve been gifted cookbooks over time. I refer to the ones that teach me without making me feel stupid, but the ones that simply list recipe after recipe did me no good. When a person lacks confidence, as I did, a recipe is futile. I could read and follow a recipe just fine, but what I was seeking was a sense of peace and joy. Tools that could help me gain an “I’ve got this” attitude.
Stepping into the kitchen made me freeze like an actor with stage fright. Any sense I brought into the kitchen promptly swirled down the kitchen drain. So how’d I get from there to here?
With the help of my friends is the short answer. The longer answer looks like this: in countless ways, these women, often unknowingly, introduced me to ways that spending time in the kitchen whipping up something delicious could bring joy to feeder and fed alike. They showed me what it looks like to be relaxed among the pots and pans and how to keep my cool in the midst of the heat of the stove top and oven.
The first Thanksgiving after my divorce when my daughter was with her dad and his family, Nicole invited me to spend the day with her and her family and friends. I brought the one seasonal dessert—Lynn’s pumpkin crumble cake—I knew how to make and stood near Nicole as she cooked. I washed dishes in her cozy cocoon of a kitchen—where my metamorphosis began. I made sure that what she needed was freshly washed and dried and ready for its next use. I breathed in her presence and projected my own feelings, “Do you not feel overwhelmed by the task of making this big meal for these many mouths?” Her answer riveted me, “Oh, I get tired of the daily meal prep for my family of six, but I love cooking a big holiday meal.
Something clicked in me. Pay attention. The energy in this kitchen feels different, lighter than I’ve experienced before. She showed how cooking wasn’t a chore that had to be gotten through. This was a place where flavor and fellowship would be savored.
Tarah asked for my pumpkin dessert recipe and then messaged me in the Novembers to come. “Thinking of you! Shared your recipe with my boss!” These messages made me feel like I had something to contribute when my pantry was otherwise bare and lifeless.
Melissa made my meal plan and grocery list a few holidays ago when she knew I felt overwhelmed by the task of feeding a houseful of family at Christmas. This act of kindness set me up for success in the kitchen.
Cooking confidence with Joanne Weir on PBS was a pre-naptime show I watched with my preschooler. We brought our drowsy bodies and curious minds to the couch and learned together. We played “cooking show” later where we were the experts talking to the pretend camera. I chose simple recipes that we could make together and over time, my confidence sprouted.
Laurie introduced the idea of reading cookbooks for fun. Pamela cooked for me in her kitchen and mine. We conversed about cooking. She introduced the basics with the belief that I could take on this challenge. She recognized my desire to improve and met me where I was.
Andrea’s assurance that google will answer all our questions has issued a new chapter of culinary adventure. This fish could use some tartar sauce. Not any in the fridge? Let’s google a recipe! I’d like to try Beef Wellington for Thanksgiving, what do you think? Next thing I knew I was standing at the meat counter asking for a really good cut of beef.
Mostly, I brought my own curiosity into the kitchen and simply no longer accepted the lie that I was bad at cooking. I celebrated my successes and learned from my flops, which didn’t happen terribly often after all.
The kitchen has turned into a sanctuary—a place of healing—for me. I pull the cookbooks down from the shelf above my head on a regular basis. I read cookbooks now! I meal plan and have learned that preparation is the secret to my success. I am beginning to branch out, try new things, come up with substitutions when my pantry doesn’t have what the recipe calls for. I have met a new version of myself at my kitchen island.
As Andrea wrapped the beef in puff pastry dough, I set out to make my own dressing for the first time without calling home for the recipe. I made my own croutons and substituted yellow pepper for celery because that’s what we had on hand. I felt an abundance of joy and confidence overflowing. I told Andrea, “By the time I’m in my sixties, you’ll never know I was cooking hesitant most of my life.”
I can’t remember when I have so enjoyed a meal and its leftovers—certainly not a meal I have made before. This newfound confidence has me wondering what other misguided beliefs about myself I can tackle next.