I come from a long line of non-cooks.
Neither my mother nor my grandmother ever cooked dinner that I recall. At the time of my marriage, when my mother realized I couldn’t afford to hire a cook, she sighed and shook her head. Then she bought me a copy of the "I Hate To Cook Book."
My first kitchen consisted of a hotplate and a portable oven with a fridge in the bathroom of our third floor Connecticut apartment. My husband worked locally, but I worked in Manhattan. By the time my train got in, the grocery stores had closed.
Charlie kindly took over the shopping, but he bought things I’d never heard of, like lamb shanks.
When I got pregnant, we bought a lovely white Cape Cod with blue shutters and a proper kitchen. I studied "The Joy of Cooking" as if it were a college course and I was gunning for an A.
Soon, I’d mastered a few casseroles and learned to simmer lamb shanks in a delicious red wine sauce to serve with wild rice. My husband was the perfect guinea pig for my experiments.
Whatever I made, he smacked his lips, exclaiming, “My favorite dinner ... food!”
When we moved to California with three young children, I plunged into spicier dishes with a Mexican accent. Tacos were easy, but enchiladas were a bit more challenging.
My chile relleno was a piece de resistance, especially when the adults drank a lot of beer with dinner.
I still made Stayabed Stew, the only successful recipe I’d found in the "I Hate to Cook Book," but I was known in the neighborhood for my excellent Boeuf Bourgignon.
Then the clock moved on and the children moved out.
Now it was just Charlie and me most of the time. As we entered our eighties, we weren’t as hungry as we used to be and dinners got simpler and simpler.
I cruised the aisles of markets looking for anything that I could simply heat and eat. I sometimes descended to cutting up an apple and serving it alongside some sharp cheese with a bit of dark bread.
We got familiar with local restaurants, usually bringing home enough leftovers to get us through the next day.
Now Charlie can’t get in the car. And I need to provide dinner for the nice Nigerian who helps care for him. An apple and cheese won’t do.
I am back to meat or fish and two veg, but something has changed.
The Stayabed Stew stayed in the oven too long and became a glutinous mess. The spinach, on another night, was painfully over salted. My casseroles are either too dry or too wet.
The hideous truth is: I Have Become a Bad Cook.
And I don’t have the will or the energy to bury my head in my old "Joy of Cooking" or to delve into my wooden box of favorite recipes.
A quick glance at the hand-written cards in the box assures me I once made paper-thin oatmeal cookies, turkey croquettes and a family famous chocolate cake, the one where you pour oil, and boiling water over thrice sifted ingredients.
Well, actually that cake was pretty easy and pretty darn foolproof. Maybe for the next family birthday, I could pull myself together and make it again.
But I’ll buy our dinner at Marie Callender’s. My mother would approve.