Many years ago in a vintage row house in Philadelphia I got to know a young woman* who told me something I found baffling. During the course of our conversation, she said, “I don’t cook.”
I couldn’t figure out how that would work–she was not someone with a staff of servants, and I doubted that she went out to eat for every meal. In fact, she had just fed me a bowl of very tasty chili. I came to understand that she was drawing a distinction between “cooking” and preparing something to eat. Perhaps the chili had come from an expensive can, or maybe it was the one thing she knew how to make. Whatever the case, the existence of the chili did not interfere with her sense of herself as someone who did not cook.
Up until that point I don’t think I had given much thought to how to label food-related activities and processes that result in food being ready for people to eat. Since then, I’ve contemplated the different ways that people around me get involved with food.
Some people have a collection of recipes that they follow exactly. Some people have a well-stocked freezer with packages containing things that can be heated for prescribed lengths of time using a variety of appliances. El Guapo is one whose ideas for things to cook must be prefaced by opening cupboard, pantry or refrigerator doors. He might consult a recipe for a hint about an unfamiliar process, but he doesn’t generally follow one otherwise.
My son-in-law is a fine cook, very creative with a dash of this and a dollop of that. What he doesn’t yet know how to do he will get a feel for with some judicious experimentation. But I think he might say, “I don’t bake,” meaning, recipes that involve precise proportions of ingredients whose chemical interactions are in charge of the texture and structure of some final product are not where he wants to spend his time. It’s not that he hasn’t baked, but that he’s not a baker by affinity.
“Baker” is a label I can embrace for myself, and I’ve shared some recipes in previous posts (like this pie or that, or a crisp; the word “recipe” in the search bar will bring up more). To illustrate that owning the word doesn’t have to wait until you never have a mishap, consider Exhibits A, B and C.
Do you consider yourself a cook, a baker, a foodie, a package opener? Do you live to eat, or eat to live?
Perhaps it’s time to transition from discussion to action. If you’re game to try a very tasty granola bar, let me recommend this recipe:
Melt in large pot over low heat (or in large bowl in microwave):
1/2 cup butter (or 5 T. butter, then add 3 T. oil)
Remove from heat and whisk in:
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
heaping 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups crisp rice cereal
2 cups rolled oats
3/4 to 1 cup chopped dried fruit bits (craisins, raisins, apricots)
1/2 cup sliced almonds or some sliced, some chopped (I ended up using 1/2 cup almond flour, whisking it in with the flour above)
Press mixture into a 9×13 pan sprayed with oil. Bake 15-20 minutes @ 350° until golden, being careful not to over-bake. Score while hot, but let cool in the pan.
*Mormons have a sort of buddy system set up: every woman has a couple of women who try to check in with her monthly, with a visit, a call or a note, to make sure she’s doing fine. As a visitor, you get a chance to meet some very interesting people, like the woman mentioned above. As a visitee, there are helping hands for occasions when you’re not “fine,” whether you’re ill or needing some other support. It’s called Visiting Teaching, and it’s a network with a lot to recommend it.
[Images: Josh Bassett@flickr Commons, CNN Money, me, El Guapo]