You eat, so why not cook?

I was out with my neighbor the other night at a new local growler shop because beer is an important part of a balanced diet (a topic for another article).

We were talking about having a love of food — and for me, a love of cooking — when she mentioned that she doesn’t cook, mostly because she didn’t feel confident in the kitchen.

It got me wondering about how many people I know who don’t cook, and I wondered how much of a role confidence played in their hesitation to get in the kitchen and make a mess.

Sure, I’ve had my fair share of mishaps in the kitchen, including one historic occasion in which I presented dinner to my husband and wished him "good luck" (because Julia Child said to never apologize). As a matter of fact, just last night I made a layered taco salad for dinner and it was so spicy my mouth burned for nearly 45 minutes after I finished eating, and I kept checking the ends of my hair for flare-ups. I even had my husband top off my water bottle in case I spontaneously ignited on the couch.

But no matter, every week you’ll find me poring over old cooking magazines (Gourmet) and various websites for dishes that make me salivate at the mere thought. Even on a budget, I still manage to put together meals so memorable that for weeks later we’ll still be talking about it: herb roasted pork loin so succulent and redolent with the fragrance of rosemary, sage and thyme that when I took it out of the oven I just wanted to break into song — and I hate musicals.

Cooking never came natural to me. I’m a klutz by nature, forever dropping things on the floor, tripping and, my husband’s favorite, making food fly whenever I chop anything. Early on, I had many instances in which I had to pull the pan off the stove because the recipe called for something to be added to the pot that I hadn’t quite finished chopping, slicing or dicing.

After many trials and errors, I hung in there, and why? Because eating came naturally to me. I love food. By rights I should be a prime candidate for the Biggest Loser. I love flavors, tastes, figuring out what works, and what doesn’t, but mostly I want to know what I’m eating, what are the components that work. I recall making a meatloaf for the first time. Memories of my own mother’s meatloaf haunted me (she is an amazing cook of Asian food, but American food ... um, not so much); her meatloaf was more like a 100-year-old brick pulled from an old abandoned church in England (tasted a little like that too).

The recipe I found called for dried prunes. I thought it was a misprint, but after double checking with my glasses on, it did list dried prunes. I made the meatloaf and it was nothing short of ambrosial, if it’s possible for meatloaf to be described that way.

I guess what I’m suggesting is simply to get involved with what you are eating. Experiment, and have fun, get your family involved. After all, if everyone is eating dinner, why shouldn’t everyone get involved with making it?

— Kathleen Cressler lives in Medford.

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