The holidays are upon us, and once again, I find myself swimming in a sea of ambivalence. There is so much I enjoy about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; I find so much meaning and inspiration in the words and observance of my friends and community, both online and in real person.
But there’s this one thing that gets me every year, and every holiday. It starts with the constant barrage of recipes on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, and all my favorite blogs. (Yes, I’m talking to you, Kveller. And I don’t appreciate it.) It ends with me in a state of near panic and desperation.
I’m talking about the damn food. Don’t get me wrong; I love to eat it. But I don’t love to cook it, and the reality is that I just don’t know how. As we prepare for our erev Rosh Hashanah meal at my in-law’s house, I’ll happily volunteer to make a salad, prepare the crudités (yes, fancy words do make me feel more competent in the kitchen, even if it is just cut vegetables), or roast some asparagus. But that’s as far as I go. I don’t bake, so the honey cake is out, I’ve never successfully cooked a piece of meat, so I’m not touching the brisket, and, well, to be honest, I’m not sure what else would be on the menu.
Because I don’t cook.
Every once in awhile I decide that I’m going to make a change, and reboot my relationship with food. I download recipes and buy cookbooks and make a desperate, well-intentioned, and ultimately failed attempt to cook a casserole or roast a chicken. I don’t know why it all falls apart in the kitchen; it’s an odd combination of anxiety, self-doubt, boredom, and stress that ultimately results in overcooking the garlic or forgetting the salt or dropping a raw chicken on the floor. But it’s more than just my klutziness in the kitchen. There’s something fundamental about cooking that I just don’t get. There’s an art to meal preparation, an appreciation of the process and the outcome that well, I’ve never really felt. Believe me, I like good food, but I was also perfectly happy eating the tasteless fare of my college dining hall for four years. It just doesn’t matter that much to me.
Except when it does, which didn’t happen until I had kids. And then I started feeling like cooking is something a mother should be able to do. Don’t get me wrong, my girls eat a fairly healthy diet of fruits and vegetables, quesadillas and whole wheat pasta with sauce. But when it comes to family holidays, potluck dinners, and hosting evening playdates, I end up feeling wholly inadequate. I’ve made numerous resolutions over the years, even here on Kveller, and they all end up burnt, just like so many meals I’ve attempted in the past.
Well, this year is different. No, I’m not turning into Joan Nathan, not even close.
I’m turning into me. I’m thinking about the kind of mother I want to be to my daughters, and how I want to guide and advise them when they come up against major challenges in their life. I don’t want them to shy away from difficult tasks, especially those that are important to them. I want them to try, and try again, and I will support them in any way I can. But after they’ve hit their head against the same wall for years, I’m going to suggest they try a different wall, a different door. Because we’re not all going to be perfect at everything, and my daughters certainly won’t be. So, they can either accept who they are, and focus on their strengths, or they can constantly obsess about the fact that they’ve never made a matzah ball.
I’ve tried the latter. Again and again. It sucks. And I certainly don’t want it for my daughters.
So, let me start this post again. I’m Carla. I don’t cook, and I’m OK with that.