You say that you can’t cook; I say, Give it time. I know it looks like people are born with fresh muffins coming out of their ovens, but it’s not true. Everybody starts somewhere. And the first time you try to cook, especially if that first time is when you’re no longer a kid and there’s nobody around to tell you what to do, it’s scary because you don’t know what will happen. Everybody knows this. Most people forget this, but everybody knows this. We all have different motivations for trying something in the kitchen at the beginning: adventure, curiosity, boredom, hunger, need. Whatever yours is, I probably felt it at one point or another. I grew up in a cooking household, the kind where my mom made dinner every night and my grandma’s life centered around what was simmering on the stove. I don’t remember learning from them to love to eat; I think I absorbed it naturally, the way I absorbed language or liking to laugh. Learning to cook was something different, though. Learning to cook took time—takes time—I mean, because, in a lot of ways, learning to cook is something I’ll be doing for the rest of my life.
Here’s what I know you already know, at least if you’ve already burned or dropped something, the way, for the record, I dropped some hot handpies this past Saturday morning. Cooking can be disappointing. It’s hard to convey the depths of discouragement when you make gray cakes and destroy pumpkin pies, and innocently bring home four artichokes but then have no idea what to do. Preparing food, for most of us, takes a little practice. The rubbery chicken and the mealy potatoes result in the same kind of feelings as a lost job or a broken heart or a project gone wrong. You feel like a failure. You want to give up. This is normal! Wait!
I have to tell you something, the thing not enough people talk about when they talk about learning to cook, but the thing that keeps so many of us returning to the kitchen again and again: You can fail and fail and then, one day, experience the victorious feeling of, miracle!, pulling a fresh, puffy loaf of bread from the oven, surrounded by the heady smell of yeast, so you stand there, staring at the golden food before you, thinking I made this! You don’t have to be something extraordinary to make a good meal; you just have to practice. One night, you’ll come home from work and open the door to the smell of wine and garlic radiating from the crockpot you started before you left, and you and your family will ladle hot, hearty stew into bowls, sighing as you sip, and you’ll get addicted, I swear it’s true. These are moments hard to forget. You taste what it’s like to nourish your family, to fill someone’s stomach, to meet another’s needs, to put your hands together to make something good.
And later, after many failures and many good meals and many nervous afternoons trying to learn how to hold a knife, even more amazing things happen: The kitchen becomes more familiar. You cook with an extremely confident friend, creating dinner with your weekly farm share, and you don’t feel unsure around her capable hands. You spend a night with your old roommates making handpies, and you know what to do.
You and your husband wake up on a Friday morning and go straight to the kitchen, inspired and eager and working as a team. Your hands move without conscious thought, the way they do when you drive to the grocery store (and you pull into the parking lot and think, When did I turn into this spot?). Just as mindlessly, now you’re forming the dough, you’re rolling it out, you’re adding more flour, you’re cutting rounds and topping them with root vegetables that your husband’s sautéed on the stove. People say pie crust is scary; but wasn’t driving scary when you started that, too? Then, before it’s even 10 a.m., the two of you are sliding golden handpies onto racks, their decorative edges catching your eye, the buttery scent making your stomach growl. When you take your first bite, it’s that same cooking miracle, that same pure wonder that has created a world of cookbooks and cooking shows and unending food blogs: This flaky pastry in your hand, this morsel you just ate, this magic came together through your own craftsmanship, right before your two eyes.
Here you are, loving something you’re eating—and that something you’re eating is something you cooked. Hang in there for these moments. I promise, they come.