Please HELP: I Can't Cook and I Have No Idea Where to Start

With your help, I will one day become the ideal Italian-American woman, with big cooking skills to match my huge hair and giant boobs.

Mar 5, 2013 at 3:30pm | Leave a comment

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Photo by  Rachel Fershleiser.

I'm an Italian-American woman who can't cook. This is akin to being a fish who can't swim, a dog who can't bark, and a cat who can't throw nasty side-eye. It's shameful. It's sad-making. And I'm not quite sure what to do about it.

A gentleman I know suggested that it's not that I can't cook; it's that I've never really tried. I grew up with a mom who worked during the day and, for at least a few years, went to school at night. She grew up with a single mother who worked at a diaper factory. There wasn't a whole lot of time to impart cooking skills.

As for cooking talent, well, everyone knows you can't teach talent; it's either there or it isn't. For me, my mom, and my grandmother, cooking talent just didn't manifest itself. The last great cook in our line of women was my great-grandmother, whose Sunday feasts are the stuff of legend. But she's not around to teach me anything, so I'm wondering what I ought to do.

Oh, I've tried a few things! I joined Pinterest, because folks told me it was a great way to get excited about the domestic realm. Intimidated by other women's collections of recipes, I ended up making pinboards with titles like Knob Porn, which (spoiler alert) is just a collection of photographs of knobs. Also see Several Photographs of Barbeque Potato Chips, which is exactly what it sounds like.

Once, I went on a cookbook-buying spree. I chose venerable tomes like "The Joy of Cooking" and "The Moosewood Cookbook" and "The Tassajara Bread Book." I threw in Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," just for good measure. I arranged them proudly on the windowsill above my kitchen sink, where they collected dust, and occasionally got splashed by water.

I have signed up for cooking courses and then bailed before the first class even took place. I have carefully researched Weight Watchers-friendly recipes in the morning only to find myself in line for Chipotle in the afternoon, mentally calculating how many points are in a burrito bowl. I have wasted countless dollars on frozen grocery store meals, take-out, and gourmet restaurant entrees. 

When it came time to move to Los Angeles from New York, I found my dream house online. My prospective landlord warned me that the bungalow kitchen had no oven.

"Oh, that's perfect," I said happily. "I'll feel less guilty about never using it."

I am fortunate to have several friends who are great cooks. The one with whom I eat the most is wont to grill up some salmon and serve it over a bed of fresh greens with a delightful mustard aioli. One time he made Texas chili, which was "just" a bunch of beef simmering in perfect sauce. Another time he made vegan fettucini by shaving some kind of unidentifiable squash into "noodles" and bathing it all in some amazing marinara that he freaking made himself. 

Then there is my best friend Alexandra, who will do complicated things with homemade granola and Greek yogurt and berries. She alleges these maneuvers are quite simple, but to me they are mysterious and magical.

I have another best friend (I have like three) named Katherine who lives in Houston but comes from New Orleans, and she knows how to cook duck, which is crazy. Who the fuck knows how to cook duck? Also, she knows the right wine to go with the right kind of meat or ice cream or whatever.

And then my best friend Gert in Milwaukee is really good at anything involving cheese or meat or potatoes. 

I go to their houses and I eat their food and I marvel at how amazing these friends are. To them, cooking is simple; to me, it is about as decipherable as medieval recipes for alchemy. 

I could devote time to exploring my cooking aversion in therapy, but I'd rather spend that time talking about my aversion to cleaning the house, or my aversion to driving to the Westside (it's all one word out here. Isn't that wacky? Oh, LA!) I decided the better move was just to write about it and to request suggestions and tips from you gals.

So here are my questions, in order of importance:

1.What the fuck am I supposed to have in my pantry at all times? I have no idea how to stock a pantry.

2.What are some easy and delicious things I can make that do not require an oven? I do have a stovetop and a microwave; I mean, I'm not a monster.

3.How often am I supposed to shop for food? Am I supposed to go to the grocery store once a week, or am I supposed to be all French and get fresh things every day from la bonbonerie or whatever.

4.Is there a cookbook or a website specifically designed for people who, like me, don't know what the fuck they're doing in the kitchen?

As always, ladies, I thank you for your time and attention. With your help, I will one day become the ideal Italian-American woman, with big cooking skills to match my huge hair and giant boobs.

Posted in Relationships, cooking, food