The joy of cooking

Posted: Sunday, January 09, 2011

I like to cook.

Well, it’s not so much that I like to cook, per se. Let’s just say I enjoy preparing a good meal. Wait a minute, what am I saying? This coming from the woman who boasts that she’s never cooked a Thanksgiving turkey in her life? In fact, if truth be told, there’s not much about cooking that appeals to me at all. It’s hot, hard work and then when you’re done and you bring forth a masterpiece of culinary art, it gets devoured with no trace left behind, to the chorus, “What’s for dessert?”

Pies are the worst. Whoever thought up the phrase, “easy as pie,” was obviously not a baker. Pies are hard. You have to peel and chop a bunch of fruit, and then you have to make the pie crust. That’s no simple endeavor. Anything that involves a rolling pin is hard, in my book.

When I was a young newlywed, I didn’t have a rolling pin. I used a drinking glass to roll out my pie dough. It’s straight and round, and actually works okay, to a point. Still, I was glad when I received a heavy metal rolling pin as a gift. My friend said, “Oh, good. Now you’ve got something to keep your husband in line with.” I retorted, “Now I’ve got something to bake him a pie with.”

In actual fact, I make really good pies — two or three times a year. The family specialty is nectarine pie — sweet and tart and worthy of comparison to the nectar and ambrosia of the gods. But don’t ask for the secret recipe — I might have to whack you with my rolling pin.

What I really like to bake is bread. Not yeast bread, of course, because that’s hard. True confessions: I’m a lazy cook. I bake quick breads, like Irish soda bread or biscuits. Cornbread is the best — I can get it all mixed up before the oven’s done preheating.

The thing about cooking is I really like eating good food. A person could live on fast food and microwave dinners, I suppose, but where’s the fun in that? Give me a good home-cooked meal of chicken and rice, and I’m happy. Ask me to cook it, and some of the joy dissipates, but not all. I do take a certain pride in serving up a tasty dinner to rival any restaurant in town. When the kids clamor to eat out, I tell them we’re dining at the Barnhill Restaurant. We always get a laugh out of that, because there really is a chain of Barnhill Restaurants in the South. We ate at one in Florida years ago — it was an all-you-can-eat buffet featuring lots of fried chicken and supersized plates. We like our Barnhill Restaurant better.

Occasionally I get bored with my culinary repertoire and reach for the cookbooks to try to discover something new. A word of warning — not all cookbooks are created equal. Some are harder than others. (I’m a lazy cook, remember.) I steer clear of any recipes with more than 10 ingredients, or anything that has to be blended, beaten with a mixer or rolled out on the counter. I know that any recipe that calls for homemade chicken stock, defatted, is not going to end up on my table in an hour or so. I actually make good homemade chicken stock and I always skim off the fat, but that’s not the point. It’s the principal of the thing. Just call it chicken broth, and leave the rest to me.

These culinary experiments do take their toll. Putting a new meal on the table usually involves numerous trips to the store for novel ingredients like lemongrass or steel-cut oats, and I invariably use every pot and pan in the kitchen. That’s when the true nature of cooking is revealed — that’s when you cross over onto the Dark Side. You can call it doing the dishes, washing up, running the dishwasher or purgatory — it makes no difference. It’s hard, hot work of the least satisfying description.

So, what’s for dinner tomorrow night? Macaroni and cheese from the box. Get over it.

• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother and aspiring children’s author who lives in Juneau. She likes to look at the bright side of life.



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