Monday, November 23, 2009

closer to where we want to be

I'm not a cook... I'm a baker.

Yesterday, for our own private Thanksgiving before we have 3000 miles between us on the actual day, Benni and I cooked cornish game hen, a green bean casserole, corn, stuffing, and for dessert: Trader Joe's Spiced Apple bread.

So freakin' good, that meal. And then we watched Elf, which I'd never seen before, during dinner, and it just made everything absolutely lovely.

And as Benni whisked around the kitchen doing eight things at once (I can't even do one thing at at once) and eye-balled olive oil and milk measurements (I have to measure out EVERYTHING) and as he substituted dry vermouth for white wine ("But it's not the same thing," I said. "Doesn't matter," he said) I realized that I'm not a cook. Not at heart, anyways.

Cooks can improvise, and substitute, and guesstimate measurements, and do eight things at once and look at a fridge full of random food and leftovers and somehow come up with an amazing meal to create out of it.

I can't do these things.

I follow the recipe exactly, I don't taste my food until it's done, I don't snack and sample while cooking and I can screw up a grilled cheese sandwich. I can't substitute, I can't improvise, I can't make it up as I go along. I can't look at a bunch of pieces and make a whole out of it. All I can do when it comes to cooking is follow orders and look at what is supposed to be versus what actually is.

Thanksgiving is hard for people like me. And not just because of the cooking.

I'm betting, against all odds, that your family is weird, and complicated, and layered, like mine. It's got a past, it's got a present, nobody's quite clear on the future, and these are all people you're supposed to feel close to but don't always quite understand. Sure, you love them...but you don't always like them.

How am I doing so far? Guessing fairly accurately? Yeah, I figured.

This Thanksgiving is going to a particularly weird one with my family. I'm doing my best to hang in there, to let people be who they are (as a friend once said to me: "You have to forgive people for not being you.") and to be a cook, not a baker. Oh sure, I've got gravy and cranberry sauce and some appetizers to contribute the day of, but that's not what I mean.

What I mean is, when it comes to family gatherings, it's much better to be able to improvise, play along, guesstimate, drop your expectations and not stick to the recipe as much as listen to what other people actually need from you.

Toss the recipe out, sample and snack as you go along, and just let it be what it will be...and let people be who they are.

Bakers tend to follow directions and measurements exactly, place it all gently in an oven and trust that because they did everything right, it will turn out perfectly, and they only get to taste it once it's done (unless they lick the batter, like I do.) And there IS a time and place for a baker's attitude and instincts.

But spending time with your family requires the flexibility and spontaneity of a cook, not a baker. It asks that you look at all the random and leftover pieces (and people) and make something amazing and unique out of it.

Thanksgiving demands that we leave our expectations at the door and leave room for something greater - and therein lies the reason for our gratitude. Because what we usually get out of life, and our family, and the people we love, is infinitely better than anything we could have planned.

I think that's what family, and cooking, and Thanksgiving is all about.

23 comments:

jennifer from pittsburgh said...

I love Cornish game hen!
Anyway, sounds like you and B had a good time with everything :)
Happy Thanksgiving with the family!

drollgirl said...

well said, and you are so right.

and i hope your thanksgiving goes well. :)

Lira said...

Just like we all have to learn how to love our family, cooking is also a skill that takes time.

And baby steps.

First off, since you're a baker, go to the store and buy boxed brownies. Then go to the candy aisle and pick out what you like and think would taste good in there. (Hint, don't put in gummy candies.)

After you master brownies with add ins, then you can graduate to Fried Rice! Fried rice is glamorous leftovers. And everything tastes good in there (hint, except for gummy candies.)

Baby steps, baby steps.

And epicurious.com :)

Wilder Konschak said...

Elf is one of my favorites.

Phoenix said...

Thanks Jennifer and drollgirl -- happy Thanksgiving right back at you guys!

Wilder - isn't it a great movie? Great balance of not too overly sweet and not too dark...just right for a holiday movie. :)

Lira - yep, I'm all over epicurious.com. Mostly for the chocolate chip cookie recipes.

Des said...

Another insightful post. That last paragraph perfectly sums up the holiday.

drollgirl said...

thank you for your sweet comment. you are so super. you really are.

Jenn said...

i totally understand, my friend. i am a recipe follower as well. with cooking, i'm finally starting to think "ok a little lemon here" or "more basil" or "more garlic - always more garlic" but i do not mess with baking at ALL. it's too easy to mess up baking & i get scared.

and don't feel bad. i've heard learning to be a "real" cook takes a long time. :)

Maggie May said...

i am going to post a poem i wrote about the weird ole holiday gatherings. i feel ya.

Happy Hour...Somewhere said...

Such a beautiful post. I am definitely not a baker, but when I learn a new recipe, I follow directions exactly and then after that improvise like mad. My daughter has taught me not to "follow the recipe" when meeting new people, but as you say, let will be what will be.

I have also found it so enjoyable now that I realize "not everyone is me" to have people just clarify their positions on something and not in anyway persuade someone to my stance. I have learned a lot about myself and other people that way. Some family members, however, are obnoxious no matter what.

Enjoy your holidays and make sure to watch the Muppet version of a Christmas Carol~!

Wine and Words said...

I cook, as you cook. I cook as I live, a rule follower for the most part, not prone to substitutions nor adventure, but going back to the same recipes again and again. But I collect cook books. What the hell does that say?

Gwen said...

I think you definitely have a keeper in Benni!!! I'm so glad you enjoyed your dinner and the movie and I truly hope you both have a wonderful Thanksgiving even though you have to be apart. XOXO

Iva said...

you are SO fantastic!!!

Happy almost Thanksgiving!! :)

Burnt Reynolds said...

That's probably why I have social problems and am the pariah of both families! I'm a baker!

Burnt Reynolds said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joker_SATX said...

I am so with you on this..I can moderately keep my eye on different things cooking but sooner or later I will be distracted and then boom! My meal becomes a religious event...complete with burnt offerings.

Barbara said...

Absolutely brilliant post!
I started out feeling sorry for you cooking-wise and by the time I read the last paragraph, knew that you understood (more than many other cooks) what it's all about.

Nahl said...

Aaah i hate playing along to family conversations at dinners...it's so annoying! It's like you have to censor who you are by keeping shut abt things that matter. Anyway, I'm not going to make this any harder on you.
Happy thanksgiving!

LENORENEVERMORE said...

well...you know how I feel about being in the kitchen! hee*
We all need some kind of guide book to survive the Holidays sometimes!
Wishing you all the best darling!
ps: thank you so much for your kind sweet words for me...means lotsss!
xo as always~

krista said...

oh, how i love me some metaphors.

xoxo
start having 'quickfire' challenges with your man. you have a set number of ingredients and you must make something. granted, that something might always be bad, but you'll learn and you'll surprise yourself with how adept you can become in the kitchen if you let go a bit.
then again, i don't usually know what the hell i'm talking about.

jonas wunderman said...

Hello :)

Thanks for all your comments, and for writing such wonderful and long posts to keep me occupied!!


jonas xo

Angie Muresan said...

True. I love my family, but I don't always like them. With the ones I like less I do a lot of *cooking.*

Clarity said...

How did it go? Did you cook or bake? I like the metaphor and your insightfulness about yourself.

Peace and love, xxx.

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