I want to start off this post by saying that I DO know how to fold things into a batter, so in that sense, my mother gave me a better cooking education than Moira Rose gave to David. (#schittscreekisthebest) BUT, that being said, I’m definitely no gourmet chef, capable of poaching eggs, braising things, or preparing any sort of multi-course menu. I know people who instinctively understand which flavors go well together or how long things need to be cooked to achieve just the right texture. I am not one of those people.
Give me a recipe to follow and if it’s the right combination of straightforward instructions and forgiving measurements, I’ll end up with a pretty good dish to offer you. But add in any sort of required attention to detail and the result is a crap shoot. One day the steamed fish will be perfectly seasoned and flake off the bone nicely, a week later it’ll have the consistency and appearance of tire rubber. Thankfully, over the years, I’ve curated a collection of tried and true recipes that allow for my less-than-exacting approach to instructions and still end up tasty enough that I’m confident serving them to people who aren’t relatives or roommates. Therefore, I’ve reached the point where I feel comfortable telling people that I can cook and dinner parties aren’t quite so intimidating these days.
The two things that finally pushed me beyond the five or so standard recipes I used to cook were: 1) becoming a housewife and 2) a global pandemic that prevented us from going out to eat for over a year. Don’t get me wrong, for most of my life, I’ve not been a regular restaurant patron. As a kid, I went out to eat with my family only on special occasions and getting McDonald’s or other fast food was limited mostly to road trips. All the same, I never found myself inspired to cook and felt a little out of my depth in a kitchen. Combine that with full-time work and/or school and I relied on sandwiches and cereal for many meals before moving to Germany.
Taking German classes for 3 hours a day left me with a lot of time on my hands and going grocery shopping was a perfect way to practice my new language skills while filling my afternoons with something productive. I also rediscovered my favorite cooking website, Smitten Kitchen, where creator Deb Perelman routinely comes up with recipes that are deceptively easy AND dependably delicious. Perhaps it works so well because her dishes have to succeed in a tiny New York City kitchen and I’m cooking in a kitchen that’s about the size of an airplane bathroom.
Needless to say, by the time COVID-19 came along and shut down Germany’s dining industry for many months, I’d bookmarked numerous tasty meals ranging from mushroom bourguignon to chickpea shakshuka to roast chicken with dijon sauce (my mustard-loving husband’s most-requested recipe by far). Being the head chef at Chez Binder for months gave me the practice I needed to relax in the kitchen and start taking small risks, substituting one vegetable for another or recognizing where I could follow ingredient proportions more loosely without consequence.
These days, I’m back to not cooking as frequently, but it’s more the result of a busier schedule rather than not knowing what to do when I don’t have all the ingredients for a specific recipe. The kitchen and I have become pals and I look forward to a lifelong friendship full of delicious meals and only the occasional tire rubber incident.