I HATE FOOD. Not that I don't consume it. I just hate shopping for it, preparing it, serving it, and cleaning it up and putting it away, though I would take cleaning up over cooking any day. My approach to cooking is not unlike the approach many people take when confronted with their least favorite exercise in a fitness class: I fake my way through it, hope no one's watching, and wait for it to be over.
Since I almost never read recipes all the way through before getting started, any prep work I deign to undertake is inadequate at best. I leave out ingredients. I botch the timing in countless ways. I forgo measuring spoons, ignore burner settings, and choose pans based not on their suitability to the task, but on the degree of difficulty involved in extracting them from the cabinets or hoisting them onto the stove (I have absurdly weak wrists).
The key to contentment is to live life to the fullest within the confines of your comfort zone. Stay in safe waters but plunge as deeply into them as possible. If you can't cook and refuse to learn, don't beat yourself up about it. Be the best non-cook you can be. When asked to bring a side dish to a dinner party, go to the supermarket and get the nicest prepared dish you can afford. If you're feeling poor, get macaroni salad. If you're feeling rich, get a balsamic roasted beet salad or butternut squash risotto from a gourmet deli and put it in an elegant ceramic serving dish. If the hostess says, "This is wonderful. Did you make it?" you can say, "I made the money to buy it" or "I made the five-mile trip from my house to the store." Or you can lie and say you made it, though that comes with the risk of being asked for the recipe.
I've had plenty of time to learn the difference between braising vegetables and blanching them, how to make risotto or carve a turkey. That I've chosen not to says less about my mother's lackluster cooking than my innate recalcitrance. That I have found myself in the prime of life in an era of Cronuts and artisanal pickles is both sadly ironic and kind of sweetly perfect. Because one of the great pleasures of trends is the option of sitting them out. Being a non-foodie in a world of heirloom tomato ketchup and chanterelle mushroom omelets means saving time and money that could be spent elsewhere—for instance, on Heinz ketchup slathered on greasy diner omelets. Being a non-foodie isn't necessarily the same as being a picky eater. In fact, it's the opposite: being willing to eat pretty much anything. It's about being just as glad to dine on Lipton onion soup casserole in the southern Midwest as raw octopus in Tokyo. It means it's not necessarily a tragedy if you die before making it to Italy (not that it wouldn't be very sad). It means respecting food items that are too often denigrated and mocked: Miracle Whip, butter-flavored margarine, baking mixes of all kinds.
My parents were not religious, but we did celebrate Christmas. And every Christmas morning, my mother served a marbled coffee cake that had somehow been dubbed "Baby Jesus' birthday cake." She'd make it the night before, and my brother and I would decorate it with plastic nativity figures, placing Mary and Joseph in the center to suggest a kind of holy wedding-cake topper. I'm not sure how many generations back the cake went, but the recipe my mother worked from was in my grandmother's handwriting. Later, I worked from a recipe my mother had written out for me, though now I know it by heart. I can't give it away, but I can tell you that it calls for white cake mix, vanilla instant pudding, and a carton of sour cream, among other ingredients available not just at your local supermarket, but probably at your local 7-Eleven, too. I can also tell you that everyone I've ever made it for has said it's the best thing they've ever tasted.
Adapted from The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan Daum, to be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux on November 18.
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