PLEASE DON’T ROAST THE CARROTS
I used to be a wonderful cook. Not only was I wonderful cook I was a joyful cook, a creative cook, a perpetual cook. I was a cookaholic. I thought about it constantly. I had hundreds of cookbooks. I would finish one meal and start thinking about what I would make next.
I could whip up a gourmet dinner with the contents of a pantry in fifteen minutes or spend six days shopping and chopping for a dinner for thirty. I don’t say this to brag at all, I only say it as now I hate to cook. I truly do. I don’t hate it in the absolute, like I hate lima beans, something I never cooked; but I do whatever I can to avoid it. I get no pleasure out of it. And I have spent the last several days trying to figure out what happened to my love of all things culinary. Where did they go and why?
I learned to cook when I was very young, like eight. My mother, who was a very good cook taught me. She was mastering the art of French cooking when others were mastering the art of Hamburger Helper. She really was. Part of the problem (among many) of not speaking to your mother is there are occasions like this when I want to ask her “Do you hate it now too?”
“Do you cringe at the thought of whipping up dinner for eight? ” It was something we did together, we cooked, and we took cooking classes, all over the world actually. We learned how to make dumplings in Hong Kong and puff pastry in Paris. We learned how to make Indian food in New Delhi in 1979. We cooked and we loved it together and separately. My separation from my mother has nothing to do with my separation from the kitchen it only stirs the pot of memories if you will.
I lived alone from the age of seventeen unil I married for the first time at thirty-one. I would have to say those fourteen years were the peak of my cooking. When you are single weekends can be lonely. And I have always been good at taking care of my needs so I knew that if I had something to do that would span over three days, I could avoid that – it’s the weekend and my boyfriend is either married, with someone else, being illusive or non-existent. So I would plan Saturday night dinners and Sunday brunches, Friday cocktail buffets, things that required lists, shopping, planning and many activities that filled the time until the guests arrived. Cooking can really make it look like you have more of life than you do. Not for all people, but for me during my cookathon years there was a certain amount of I cook therefore I am not alone.
I remember spending all night on the floor of my kitchen making meringue shells on my stomach. I didn’t make them on my stomach; but I had to lie on my stomach while I made them. I am not sure as to why this was the case, but for those of you who have ever made meringue shells it is not an easy process. And these if I remember correctly were not just shells they were the layers of some elaborate cake that took days to assemble.
It was a period in my life when I had too much time, no need to make money and was rather rudderless. My anchor came with food and all the things it involves. If you are up until four making merangue cylanders for forty it looks like your are actually doing something with your time.
I also have to say that during those years I weighed thirty pounds more than I do today. I often wonder if I jumped the cooking ship because for me cooking signifies being fat and lonely.
I don’t think that is it as I hauled my cooking skills, pots, roasters and seven sizes of tart pans into my first marriage, in which I would spend months going through dozens of meatloaf recipes in search of the perfect one; ditto lemon tarts. I remember a period where I made thirty lemon tarts in three months. Finally I found the perfect one, it called for a layer of dark chocolate just over the crust and then the curd on top. It was divine. Though the way to a man’s heart through his stomach was not proven to be the case in my first marriage.
But I had Taylor and dammit I would cook for her and we would sit at the table every night and we would eat. Many nights we sat there with our beloved Maribel and her daughter Christina and my best friend Bruce, as my ex would work way into the night. We would eat whatever elaborate thing I whipped up, until one day I was busy working on deadline and I handed Maribel a recipe and asked her if she would try it. BTW she could do anything and she turned out to be a better cook than I was. I think it was my first step away from the stove. She was so good I sent her to cooking school. I thought she is too smart and too fabulous to be taking care of houses and other people’s kids forever she should be a cook. And she loved it. She came home with a shrimp dish that I would kill for this second. I don’t know what it was but Bruce and I called it Shrimp Maribel. And I swear the second those shrimps hit the skillet Bruce’s car pulled in to the driveway. Every time we see each other we say, “What would you give for some Shrimp Maribel?” Maribel reads the blog, Hi Maribel!
I know that is like saying Hi to your family when you’re on TV. But it’s my blog so WTF.
Anyway, she got married , moved to Texas, bought a nice house and has a great life there. I miss her terribly. But one day Maribel, Bruce and I are going to show up at your front door and we are going to want you to whip up some Shrimp Maribel.
Then when I married Glenn I cooked quite a lot and he liked it. And we had two kids and we sat down and ate together in my ongoing attempt to turn my bourgeois, slightly neurotic, oddly artistic life into some version of the Waltons. And no matter who cooks we do still sit down at the table, stability does not necessarily demand you cook for it.
The first dinner parties we gave I cooked; but then the parties started getting bigger, book parties for sixty; and I was always on deadline. And cooking in New York is not like cooking in LA. And cooking when you are single with nothing to do for four days is different than cooking for sixty when you have to turn in sixty pages in two days; plus do all the things a mother of two has to do. So I relinquished the party cooking duties to the capable hands of Scott Olson where they still rest.
And then I started roasting the carrots. Now I really think this was the beginning of the end. I no longer took the time or had the interest to pour over cookbooks or magazines looking for the perfect recipe. I wanted to make dinner and make it fast. I wanted it to be edible, healthy and have some flavor. I wanted to do as little work as possible, so I started roasting carrots.
It is very easy to roast carrots. First you buy one of those bags of the pre-washed ones that are little and round. You dump them on a baking sheet, pour some olive oil on the top add a little salt and stick them in the oven. If your agent doesn’t call and you remember to get to them before they burn you have the perfect side dish. Once I discovered this I decided a good dish is hard to find so I made it night after night after night; with meatloaf, roast chicken, pasta, steak, even on taco night somehow there was a bowl of roasted carrots on the table. Glenn got to the point where he cringed when he saw the bag come out of the fridge.
He then would ask what’s for dinner ~ please no roasted carrots. My inability or unwillingness to come up with something more original was the first big indication that I really did not like cooking anymore.
I would buy cookbooks, earmark pages, then totally ignore them. I would tear recipes out of New York magazine, forget about them, then buy more bags of carrots.
Before long Glenn or one of the kids would call for take out before I could get to the carrots.
I realized there were so many things in the world I preferred doing to cooking and I just sort of stopped. Like now we are having eight people to dinner in an hour and a half, there was a time I would be shredding duck for home made duck spring rolls. Instead I ‘m sitting here doing a blog about how I hate be cooking. I’m really happy. I don’t want to be shredding duck, I don’t even really like duck.
AND I NO LONGER LIKE TO COOK, not even roasted carrots. I prefer writing, going to the gym reading and running around with my kids and hanging out with my husband, I prefer buying lipstick.
This morning we were in bed having coffee and the subject of tonight’s dinner came up, I said to Glenn “What should I make?” I bought a very cool cookbook last week by this Argentinean chef named Francis Mallman I was planning to – don’t laugh- he has a very sophisticated recipe for roasted carrots. Anyway, Glenn said “Let’s do lobster salad.” The subtext there is we are going to buy dinner and you’re not making it.
Lobster salad is one of our staple summer party dinners. It started about three years ago when I began wandering away from the stove.
I said “We can’t, the Bernsteins are coming for dinner. Every time they come we give them lobster salad.”
Glenn said this is not true. I think it is. I think I have served Christine and Carl Bernstein lobster salad four times. I said “They will think I don’t know how to cook.”
“So what” Glenn said. “Shouldn’t you be doing your new book proposal, don’t you have the final copy edit due in two weeks on your other book, thought you wanted to blog about Lindsey Lohan?”
Glenn does not want me to cook. He wants to either bring food in or go to resturanants where they welcome him by name and he wants me to produce work, raise the kids and go to the gym. He will also do anything to avoid roasted carrots. So, as I was on my way to the gym he handed me his credit card. We are serving the Bernstein’s lobster salad – for the fourth time.
But I did feel that I had to make something; my inner lonely fat girl cook hasn’t disappeared completely – so for a side dish I am roasting asparagus.
TRACEY’S NON COOKING DINNER
Three Layer Dip from Round Swamp
Cheeses from Caviniolas. I let them pick I as long as they give me tastes.
Lobster Salad from LUNCH in Amagansett
Roasted Asparagus, same recipe as with roasted carrots only substitute asparagus
Pasquale’s fresh mozzarella with tomatoes and basil
Bread from a farm stand
Blueberry, White Chocolate Bread Pudding from Cavinolas with fresh peach ice cream from Candy Kitchen.
Took a lot of driving, but no cooking!