On Cooking

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On Cooking —

There was quite a Facebook firestorm a few weeks ago when an adult daughter lamented that her mother no longer cooked. She interpreted this change as a sign of depression, and asked for advice on how to get mom out of restaurants and back into the kitchen.

She received a less than united response. Some readers agreed with her assessment; they pointed out how difficult, some said sad, it was to cook for one person, and recommended cookbooks, recipes, and new cookware  Others took her to task for not being more present, not visiting, not giving her mother someone to cook for.

However, a large contingent took another view. They maintained that, after who-knows-how-many years of cooking, she should give her mother a break, or, even better, a gift certificate to her favorite restaurant.

No easy answers here, and it caused me to consider my thoughts about cooking.

My mother didn’t cook. (At the time that didn’t seem odd to me, though I envied those friends whose mothers inhabited their kitchens.) But on a few Sundays each year, she would don an apron over her black silk lounging pajamas and cook a special breakfast for us. My father and I raved about it, and I was way too old before I realized that creamed chipped beef on toast was not the height of the culinary universe.

When I married, I saw cooking as a primary domestic function, and made sure that meals were, if not delicious, at least on a well-laid table most nights.  Filling the house with friends and the table with food for holidays became a focus of my year.

But then. And there’s always a “but then.”

It became harder and harder to think of what to cook. Red meat had become anathema, chicken tasteless, fish mercury-laden, and soy, well, there was only so much one could do with tofu. Too much salt, too much GMO, just too much.

I used to cook for company. Now I don’t even do that. We meet friends for dinner, or they come here for drinks and cheese and crackers. Sparkling china goes untouched; silver tarnishes in its chest. Crystal gathers dust.

We are down to the two of us now, and my husband is uncomplaining about meals. For a few years I had convinced him that a baked sweet potato was a main course. I still cook, but most of the time I don’t like it. It’s the daily-ness of the job. There is always tomorrow’s dinner to figure out.

Life has changed; we have changed. More’s the pity, because cooking, when one is in the mood, feeds the soul even more than the body.

And thinking of the daughter at the top of this post, I do think that I would be happier if I still liked to cook. Every once in a while I rally, find a new cookbook, try a few new recipes. But all in all, the thrill is gone.

So, to her, I give this advice: Ask your mom why she’s eating out. If she gives you a pitiful reply, see how you can help. If she just says, “I’m done with that,” understand. You may be there yourself before long.

And now I must go; I have a pot roast on the stove….

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