October 24, 2007
I’m still learning to cook alone.
It’s funny; when I’m eating with others I usually want to spend time talking with them–chilling at a restaurant or laughing at a bar–rather than cooking them dinner. Last night, I ate some (admittedly delicious) takeout Orange Chicken, for once all by my lonesome in my house. I wondered why I hadn’t simply made some kind of Asian chicken myself, and realized: when other people are around, cooking is becomes this thrilling, unifying Group Activity. Everybody’s got something they can do. Got no knife skills? That’s okay, tear off those cilantro leaves. Scared of plants? Awesome, stir this pot for the next thirty minutes. Just here for a taste? Well, what do you think?
Also, my greatest successes in the kitchen have come with company or when it was for company. I love the solidarity you feel, tasting something alongside your sous-chef. I love the cooking-by-wiki way my brothers prepare chili. And, being as egotistical as I am, I love a flurry of compliments from the peanut gallery once the food is served (believe me, this only works with other people. Complimenting yourself is kinda depressing).
Of course, I’ve spoken about the pride I feel whenever I make something good. But the desire for that pride is always tempered by a combination of laziness and sheer terror. When I step into a kitchen alone, see the dutch oven looming, prepare my mise-en-place like a good little foodie and find it’s twice as big as I expected…I imagine just how much I can screw up. In my head I hear Statler and Waldorf cackling from the balcony.
“Oh, look, here comes my favorite part of the meal!”
“What, the main course?”
“No, the the Pepto-Bismol!”
It’s a little absurd that I’m more eager to try for my peers than I am for an audience of none, don’t you think? Particularly given just how good food can be when you give it your total, undivided attention. I need to remember that cooking isn’t necessarily about being impressive or perfect; it’s about making something that tastes good, and feeling utterly happy with your results. Regardless of whether or not you’ve got an audience.
No matter what these guys say, we can’t give into kitchen fear, or balk at cooking just ’cause we’re only doing it for one. After all, when I make a mess out of a dish and eat it anyway, at least I know I made the attempt; when I call in a cardboard-like Domino’s thin-crust, I’ve already admitted defeat.
Screw laziness, screw terror. I want more pride.
I think I’ll start with this: Chicken Lasagna. Sounds pretty delicious, and with pre-cooked chicken that’s one less step for me to screw up.