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Never cook at home. Or, why I cook
I AM a home cook in New York City. I have shared more than 1,400 recipes on my website, Smitten Kitchen, and I've written two cookbooks. I am the kind of insufferable person who squeals when the first tomatoes of the season show up at the farmers' market and I post about them on Instagram with abandon.
But there are many good reasons to never cook at home. I know because I bail regularly.
First of all, those tomatoes are often staggeringly expensive, as they should be. Farming is brutally hard work. And the results are highly unpredictable, I've found in my few failed stints as a Gentlewoman Balcony Farmer.
In a city where rents have never been higher, groceries also cost huge chunks of money. As long you can buy five dumplings in Chinatown for US$1.25 - forever, I hope - it's never going to be purely economical to cook at home.
And what kind of monster wants to turn on an oven in August, anyway? Do you know what doesn't overheat an apartment in August? A Popsicle for dinner.
It's also hard to cook dinner if work never ends. The extinction of a 9-5 workday has largely decimated whatever cushion of time one might use to prepare a meal. And when we get home, we're more exhausted than ever. Netflix, not a sink full of dishes, beckons.
Restaurant delivery is a glorious thing. Everything goes in the trash chute and you have zero dishes to wash. (Unless you're the kind of civilised person who transfers takeout to plates, in which case, warmly, I believe you've brought these problems on yourself.) Cooking, especially a new dish, is a huge gamble. Did the recipe author forget that you don't have line cooks doing your prep? Was the ninth ingredient in that recipe a confit you were supposed to have made weeks ago? Do they chide you for not using the "best" butter? So many potential pitfalls, all of which could be avoided by not participating.
Even good recipes lie. The yields are often bananas. The cooking times are always dubious, too. A "20-minute recipe" seems to take me, on average, about 75 minutes.
But everyone knows that cooking is really the least of the hurdles. Creating a meal alone - schlepping groceries, doing all the prep, all the dishes, and being stuck with days of leftovers - can feel like an education in why you should definitely not do that again anytime soon.
Obstacles to cooking can come from inside the house, too. Any of the spouses, partners or roommates we have invited into our lives can come home any day and tell us that he or she has adopted a new diet and can no longer eat whatever you just unpacked from the grocery store or love the most.
Let's say you and this spouse or partner have worked out your mixed-dietary relationship and decide to build a mixed-dietary family? Adding more humans to your life means you will have to prepare food with more urgency, thus eliminating the joy it brings you.
Maybe you have one of those types of kids who willingly eats kale. Enjoy your good luck, but keep this to yourself. You've beaten the odds and it's impolite to brag.
Also, sanctimonious cooks are annoying. You feed your children what? Honestly, nothing makes me crave a bowl of cold cereal for dinner like someone telling me the most important thing I can do for my kids' health, IQ, the economy and even the earth they'll inherit is to cook dinner every night.
We're in a time when there is such fandom, such fervour over cooking. But those high-speed hands-and-pans videos only remind me of what a slow, inefficient cook I am. Instagram pictures of flawlessly styled plates of food make even my most successful attempts at home look flat. Professional chefs show off elaborate recipes in cookbooks. Sometimes the most sensible act of rebellion tastes like a bowl of popcorn.
I am supposed to say: You should cook anyway. Because it's the right thing to do, we've been told ad infinitum. But I don't want to. There are enough people lining up, eager to lecture or cast a side-eye at your bowl of popcorn.
Here's why I cook: I like the way that closely following a recipe can alleviate pressure after a long day of having to make all the decisions.
I love how a dish that worked, or a meal that everyone liked, has the power to change my day.
I like that pulling off a good meal when you least expect it is the fastest way to feel victorious, even when real life does not.
I like the way that, even when I'm standing over the stove, cursing the recipe writer who suggested that onions might caramelise in 10 minutes, I'm totally absorbed. I'm not on group texts. I'm not following the outrage of the moment on Twitter. I'm getting a brief, needed respite and refuel from fretting over our democracy or forcibly separated families or any of the other horrible things humans do to one another.
This thing - focus, concentration, a goal and the reward of something delicious I get to devour - is so rare in my day-to-day life, I'll take it when I can. And if someone wants to do the dishes or schlep the groceries, or can give me their word that the recipe contains no surprises, I might do it again tomorrow. NYTIMES