I have written about cooking on the blog before. I have also talked about my complicated relationship with food and my efforts to try and destigmatize food for the people I interact with.
Trying not to be super repetitive here, but I feel like some of the previously mentioned things bear reiterating.
I started teaching myself to cook back in the spring. I went out to Costco and looked for what packaged food I wanted to eat that week to find I had no appetite and nothing looked appealing. Everything in my life felt grey and dead. On a whim I picked up boneless, skinless chicken thighs. I felt like an idiot going back to my car because I figured they would languish in my freezer because I would never have the energy to cook them.
Not only did I cook them, but I cooked them enough that I got tired of them.
For a few months, I basically made the same dish over and over again with a few slight modifications. I made a base chicken stew, then I would add Japanese curry roux to have curry. Or I would add Berbere to have Ethiopian Doro Wat. Or I would add peanut butter and tomatoes to have Sweet Potato Stew.
This last time I made Japanese curry, I was thoroughly tired of it. I wound up freezing half of my last batch because I just don’t want to eat the same thing anymore.
The last few months I have been craving braised meats. Roast beef, pork chops, skin-on, bone-in chicken with skin cooked crispy and then slowly cooked in wine and broth.
I used to have this a few times when my husband cooked, but he always made these things in our Le Creuset Dutch oven and braiser. When we were divvying up the kitchen stuff, he took most of the good stuff with him. He was the one who did most of the cooking and he had specially picked out everything that we had in the kitchen. I let him take most of the good stuff because I didn’t think I would be cooking anyway. I also didn’t get to pick out the color of the Le Creuset stuff and I didn’t want our ugly black ones.
The last month or so I have been seriously tempted to go out and buy replacement Le Creuset stuff. I hadn’t because that stuff is expensive! I just couldn’t justify the cost to myself of buying even one of those things because it seemed like a waste of money just so that I could make braised pork chops perfectly.
Finally, a few weeks ago, it occurred to me that I don’t have to buy any of these things new. They’re designed to last forever. I could buy used ones that people were selling. I went on eBay and went a little crazy. I was hoping to get one Le Creuset thing, but I wound up with four. One was even brand new in the package and I paid less than half the retail price for it.
These are the reason I am writing this post. They are lovely, beautiful things, but I hate them.
I went through a divorce this year. The last few years of our marriage were this terrifying time of extreme dieting and extreme falling off the wagon.
On one of our first dates, my ex-husband made dinner. He had taught himself a bunch of French techniques and actually cooked things in butter, which was something my carb-nut father would never do, and still doesn’t.
He knew how to break down a chicken. He could make steaks that tasted like the ones you get at the steakhouse. He could make anything (except for baking, he was terrible at that).
My ex-husband has always been interested in cooking. We used to go to each other’s houses when we were kids and make cookies and sponge cake. It was a thing we did when we were friends. Instead of playing video games, we would cook. When we reconnected as adults, I was looking forward to doing that.
I only got to cook for a few months of our marriage. My ex-husband made it clear to me that he didn’t want to eat the food I prepared. I got busy with things and since he already knew how to cook, I just kind of let him take control of the cooking duties.
He did all the grocery shopping, so I never really knew what we had in the house. If he left, I couldn’t just cook something for myself because I never knew what we had around. I used to marvel that he could just open the fridge and make something out of what we had. I didn’t realize that he also knew everything else we had in the house and had a catalog of meals and techniques he knew how to do.
Then, around the time he turned 30, things got rather nightmarish.
All of a sudden, everything in the house had to be organic. It had to be fancy. Above all, it had to be low carb. He went from making smoothies in the morning to eating a pound of bacon because it was “healthier.”
He wanted to lose a hundred pounds, but he wanted an easy answer. He thought if he just ate bacon cheeseburgers without the bun that the pounds would melt off and he wouldn’t feel deprived. Except it doesn’t work that way.
Eating low-carb takes a lot of time. You basically have to make a new meal every night. We both would get busy and tired and more often than not, the thought was fuck it, let’s cheat tonight. Since we’re cheating, let’s get lots of fried and greasy Chinese food. But we’ll definitely behave when this is gone. Totally. Not.
We rarely had chicken or steak anymore. Pasta and potatoes were banished from the house. Suddenly we belonged to a meat CSA and our freezer was full of lamb chops. He ordered organ meat online and had packages of sheep testicles in the freezer. For about two years we had an whole pig head in the freezer. It was wrapped in paper so you couldn’t see it’s lifeless eyes staring out at you, but I knew it was there, lurking under the paper.
Why I Didn’t Want to Cook
When he moved out, I told myself that I would not cook. I did not want to be consumed with collecting $400 counter top sous vides so that I could make rare, gelatinous pork. I did not want to spend hundreds of dollars on weird organ meats and doing weird French cooking.
I didn’t want to have a meat CSA for the sole purpose of telling strangers I met on the street that I had one to make it sound like I was more posh than I was.
I feel like the cooking thing reached back into another personality trait my ex-husband had even when we were kids: The need to feel better than other people.
We went to the prom together when we were sixteen. He and his friends rented a limo for the prom. In the back they brought along bottles of non-alcoholic white zinfandel. I asked them why they had the bottles. My ex’s best friend said that they were training their palettes. They said they were all planning to be rich and that one requirement of being rich was that you knew how to appreciate fine wine. I didn’t ingratiate myself to them at all by pointing out that no oenophile would consider any vintage of White Zinfandel to be fine wine.
I feel like my ex’s life was a giant performance art piece to try and convince everyone that he was better than they were. We had to buy art every year at the Art Fair on the Square so that he could casually drop in conversation that we had extra money to spend on art. He was angry when I had a prolonged period of unemployment when I went back to school because he couldn’t tell people that we went cruising every winter anymore.
I associate my Le Creuset cookware with all of the things we bought not because we liked them, but because we were showing off to people about how much better we were than them, even though we weren’t.
I noticed the longer our marriage went, the worse my ex’s food became. He started out cooking it because he wanted to make food he enjoyed. Towards the end, it became something he did to show off how much better he was than everyone else. Cooking is an expression of the soul. If your soul isn’t in it, then it shows.
The Best Laid Plans
I didn’t want to cook. I spent years trying to carve out time to work on programming or any of my other hobbies. I gave up on cooking. I didn’t want to do it anymore. I wanted to learn electronics and build robots in the basement. I wanted to join the local maker space and hang out with guys who built rockets and soap box derby racers. I had plans. These plans have not happened.
I am angry.
I am angry that I want to cook. I am angry that I just spent hundreds of dollars on cookware so that I could cook my chicken perfectly. I am angry that I bought new knives so that I don’t cut my finger off while processing a sweet potato.
I am angry that I wasted a bunch of time this morning looking through all of the books that my ex boxed up because he didn’t want my things in his house to see if he had gotten rid of my Ruth Reichl books. I found one, the other one is still MIA.
I am angry that I feel myself turning into this weird shut-in lady who doesn’t want to leave the house. I am afraid the neighbor kids will start saying I am a witch and that all the stray cats are going to show up at my house because I am going to be the weird crazy cat lady who lives alone. I am hoping the pugs help keep the cats away, but that opens up an entirely new possibility of accumulating a grumble of pugs.
I am pissed off that I have no one to cook for. I felt like there was an implicit agreement when I got married that my ex would agree to eat my food and not banish my cookbooks to the basement. I am angry that I have not gotten to bake a cake in years because I know no one who will eat it except me. I am angry at our society for telling people not to eat cake because I like making them and I would desperately love to share it with people who do not judge me for eating cake. I am angry that I want those things and I can’t have them.
I am angry that my brain and my body wants to do this right now. I wanted to want to go to the gym before going to the maker space and soldering circuit boards, but I don’t want that right now. I am tired. I am sick. Leaving my house drains all of my energy. I think the mailman hates me because I order canned tomatoes and flour from Amazon because I don’t want to put on a bra to go drive an hour to the grocery store to get those things.
I am angry that I haven’t lost any weight since my divorce. I am angry that even though I am going back to eating a normal diet with food I prepare myself, I am still heavier than I want to be. I am angry that it doesn’t bother me and I actually like how I look right now even though I know I should probably want to lose weight.
I am afraid. I am afraid this will never get any better. I am afraid I am pathetic. I am afraid to say I want this stuff because I am afraid it will make people think I am not the cool girl who builds robots and drinks scotch. I am afraid to stop going to conferences because it is the only time I am forced to interact with people and put on make-up and make sure I don’t just devolve into an animal. I am afraid that I go to too many of them and that it will affect my job. I don’t know how to explain to people that I need this in order to not just allow myself to be trapped in my own little world with my pugs.
I hate my new cookware. I hate everything it represents about me. I hate feeling this way and being this person, but I know it’s who I am right now. I know that eventually I will snap out of it and want to do other things, but that time is not now. Now I need to wallow in my own self pity and braise chicken thighs. I hate the fact that this is who I am right now, but it is.