Weekend Wanderer: Suggestions for the Bad Cook

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In a week’s time, I will attend the company picnic for this very publication. I work remotely, which means some of my co-workers will be meeting me for the first time.

I read the invitation, which assured us a side dish was the only price of entry. Everything else would be provided.

Well, I’m sure we need to bring bathing suits and towels. I haven’t been to a company party since my single days, but if nudity wasn’t acceptable then, I’m going to assume it’s not acceptable now, either.

That’s a story I’d rather not tell.

Anyway, I pretty much fell apart with the invitation’s side dish requirement. While I have largely been a stay-at-home mom for more than a decade, I can’t cook.

Well, I can cook spaghetti. And tacos. And two chicken dishes. But that’s the extent of my repertoire.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, surely I serve my two chicken dishes with a side. Well, first you probably wondered how I’ve gotten away with being a stay-at-home-parent if I can’t cook. Then you turned your attention to the side dishes.

Let’s just say when you’re the girl who maybe has a good story about nudity, a company party, and a free shot of mystery liquor, you have some wiggle room on the household duties. Your husband doesn’t always notice the three straight days of tacos.

When your dad hears that story on the news, he is less forgiving.

In case you were wondering.

But yes, I do make sides with the chicken. I make two whole varieties of biscuits. I feel like biscuits at a July pool party maybe won’t go over so well.

It’s not as though I haven’t tried to be a better cook. After all, I’m an ace baker, and isn’t that supposed to be harder? If the picnic had called for desserts – or my family could live off my grandmother’s chocolate chip cookie recipe, or the peanut butter pie recipe passed from my husband’s great-aunt to my mother-in-law to me – no one would ever know my dirty little secret.

The inability-to-cook dirty secret. Not the naked-company-party dirty secret.

When the pandemic began, I – like the author of this piece for The Washington Post – tried to cook different things. Things outside of my comfort zone. I was cooking seven nights a week. There’s only so much spaghetti in the world.

And if you get ambitious one night and make the spaghetti from scratch, there’s even less.

So last spring, I expanded my recipe book.

The Sloppy Joe venison burgers I made were a hit. The author of that recipe runs a whole website full of recipes. I tend to be very monogamous with my cooking – if one recipe works for me, we are soulmates. I will cook anything you throw at me. I will buy whatever you’re hocking. Just keep me flush with dinners.

I was on a roll – or, in my case, a biscuit – for a few months. I lost my momentum when the kids went back to school. We took little bites of the world, hoping no illness befell us.

We take the same approach with my dinners.

My newfound skill atrophied as we came out of the pandemic, just like my quads and lats atrophied going into the pandemic. The problem of running around a corporate pool party with back fat now pales in comparison to serving a side dish made with fatback.

Resigned to my fate, I dug out my husband’s renowned Medjool date appetizer. It’s straightforward and includes bacon. If the simplicity doesn’t help me, surely the bacon will.

And if all that fails, I’ll distract everyone with a killer story.

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