I Didn’t Like to Cook Before the Pandemic. I Don’t Like to Cook Now
Go ahead and post your sourdough selfies and your pandemic paella pics — just leave some chicken fingers in the freezer section for me.
Twenty or so years ago, I gave my dear friend Ruth a cookbook for her birthday. She looked at it, looked at me, and without any hint of a smile said, “I don’t like to cook. Please don’t ever give me a cookbook again.”
Now I know how she felt.
I understand that food is a BFD for most Philadelphians. It used to be for me, too. Back in the day, I liked to try out new recipes for my family, show off at dinner parties and potlucks, thrill the neighbors with fancy Christmas cookies. I don’t anymore. Once the kids left home, cooking grew routine and boring. It just no longer interests me. I’ve made a roux. I’ve baked cinnamon buns from scratch. I have no trouble concocting a perfect vinaigrette. I just don’t want to do any of that anymore.
I’ve got nothing to prove and nobody to show off for. I’m not on Facebook or Instagram. My husband and I work opposite hours, so he usually eats dinner at the cafeteria at his job. I have my supper after he’s gone to bed, and I sure as hell don’t want to do anything fancy for just me. I’m happy warming up some frozen chicken fingers and boiling some broccoli. (Speaking of which, if you all are so busy cooking up sea urchin fritters and fettuccine made from scratch and salted caramel budino, why are there never any chicken fingers left at the grocery store?)
I love my only daughter more than life itself, which is why I’ve only seen her on Zoom for the past two months. But two Christmases ago, when she proudly gifted me with a shiny red Cuisinart stand mixer, I stared at it, aghast. And I thought of Ruth. “To make it easier for you to bake Christmas cookies!” my girl explained brightly. How to tell her that every year, I agonize over whether to even bother with those goddamn cookies? I’m tired of baking cookies. I’m tired of making my very good chicken curry, and my mom’s terrific lasagna, and roast turkey and stuffing for Thanksgiving, and grilled flank steak with mushrooms, and, frankly, anything more than some chicken fingers and steamed broccoli. I’m kind of over food. And now, with the pandemic, I find everything about it even more annoying, from trying to figure out when the grocery store might not be so crowded to remembering to follow the arrows on the floor (who shops that way—down every single aisle and then back up the next one?) to surveying the sad, swept-clean wine section to wiping everything down once I get it home.
Not to mention that there’s something disconcerting about coming across the photos you guys post on Twitter of artfully arranged tacos al pastor featuring tortillas you made from imported masa when they’re interspersed with headlines like “April saw the sharpest increase in grocery store prices in nearly 50 years” and “Food Bank Lines Stretch for Miles as Desperate Americans Struggle Amid Pandemic Crisis” and “Covid-19 Could Reverse Decades of Global Progress.” Don’t get me wrong; I’m delighted you’re eating so well. I’m glad cooking serves as a distraction, something to occupy the dreary hours of this enforced isolation. It just makes me feel funny when you gloat over the finished product while one in five children in this country don’t have enough to eat.
But you go ahead with the sourdough starter and the pandemic paella and the quarantine couscous and everything else you’re so busy making out of the gourmet charcuterie you’re ordering from Di Bruno’s and J Ambrogi, the grass-fed spring lamb you snag from Lancaster County, the precious baby artichokes you get through your stellar CSA. Go ahead and cook yourself into a food coma. Put on that COVID 15. I would, however, consider it a personal favor if you could leave some chicken fingers in the freezer section for the kids and me.