Cooking with Clumsy

By Beacon Staff

I’m only good at one type of food preparation – the kind that will make your sides soft and give your tummy rolls. For someone my age, I can hold my own when baking. My monster cookies, complete with peanut butter, oatmeal, chocolate chips, pecans, and M&Ms, have earned me more than a few friends over the years. I’m learning to replicate my grandmother’s apple crisp almost perfectly. I can bake pies, cakes and muffins.

When I bake, I’m comfortable throwing in a bit of this or that, tweaking that recipe and combining this one. But when it comes to preparing a meal – an honest-to-God meal, one without confectioner’s sugar – I’m lost. My adventuresome baking spirit and confidence is replaced by a tad of tentativeness and a cup load of fear. Add a twist of incompetence and I’m a – cheesy pun intended – recipe for disaster.

I have a carefully devised plan for avoiding these disasters: Not trying. My diet revolves largely around three things: Me cooking the basics – spaghetti, breakfast foods, chili, etc. – that I know I won’t screw up; my boyfriend – a far better cook than I am – making me dinner; or eating out.

In my defense, I’m even further behind on the learning curve than most recent college grads, because I spent all four years at the University of Montana living on campus. As a resident assistant and then supervisor in the dorms, my room and meal plan were part of my pay. Making dinner meant taking a two-minute walk across a parking lot to the cafeteria. By my junior and senior year, I dreamed of having my own kitchen; now I know it’s wasted on me.

Against my better judgment, I have made some tentative steps outside my cooking comfort zone since moving here. When my family visited over Thanksgiving, my mother left me with a nine-pound ham. I promised my boyfriend a home cooked meal only to hand the ham over to him when I started gagging after unwrapping the slimy carcass. Pathetic. I know.

A weekend cooking class at Flathead Valley Community College was awesome, but what took the instructor 30 seconds to chop and prepare would’ve taken me hours. She was helping us learn gourmet; I was hoping for hot dish. I made a friend in the back row, a widower who relied on Marie Callender’s dishes, and the two of us enjoyed sampling the meals we knew we’d never replicate. On the final day, I brought him a recipe for a five-ingredient casserole, mostly made of food from cans.

Last night, I tried an Italian sausage and potato soup. It was good – not great, but definitely edible. But as I struggled to dice onions, carrots, celery and potatoes, I couldn’t help but think about a new recipe for lemon bars I’d rather be trying.