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what does my lack of cooking ability mean?
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what does my lack of cooking ability mean?

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Deirdre Fidge has not yet mastered the basic skill of cooking.

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I have lived in my house for eight months and do not know how to turn on the oven. I could ask my flatmates, but the Venn diagram of my need for an oven and fear of being awkward has zero overlap. Oven schmoven; gimme the microwave!

Cooking is a basic skill I haven’t yet mastered. Annoyingly, it’s a skill that constantly needs to be put into practice. When I approached 30, I was shocked to realise there are only three basic recipes I’d feel confident serving to others (well, four, if you include toast). Still, I have mastered three recipes – I’m basically Manu.

Food does not hold connotations of family or community to me. Like a lot of white people, I find a roast on Sunday is as exotic as it gets (if you know how to use your oven, that is). I appreciate meals when I dine out, but cooking doesn’t interest me. And my palate is as bland as my ancestors’ potatoes.

How do I survive? I’ll typically cook one enormous meal, and that will be my dinner for the week. I’ll make one of three things: lentil and vegetable soup, a variation of a pasta sauce, or a curry. Truthfully, these are the same dish in various forms. The ‘soup’ contains virtually the same ingredients as the other meals – the ingredients are just going for a swim.

As long as I’m getting my fruits and vegetables, I’m satisfied. I would happily take a pill once a day if it fulfilled my energy and nutrient needs – I’d be like a cool astronaut! (If that astronaut had nothing to bring to a dinner party, and was banned from space.)

My dismal culinary skill induces immense shame when social events come around, like picnics or Christmases. Other people prepare fancy salads, homemade dips and miniature puddings with teeny tiny leaves carefully sliced from jellies. And then there’s me. Anyone for Pizza Shapes?

As a love language, cooking is a tender and generous act: whenever someone cooks for me, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. The time, energy and thoughtfulness of preparing a meal is never taken for granted. But I worry that I can’t reciprocate.

What does this lack of ability mean? Am I a failure? A typical grown-up breakfast surely consists of more than a banana or hard-boiled egg that’s been overcooked so much it’s become a stress ball. Even children can cook – just look at those tiny freaks on Junior MasterChef!

As I peel back the plastic on a ready-made meal called Protein Powerhouse Chicken, I tell myself it’s better than eating something frozen. I steam vegetables and add them to pre-cooked rice – at least I’m saving money by not ordering takeaway. As the microwave gently spins this bowl of defeat, I gaze at the oven. My secret nemesis, the unspoken challenge I am yet to overcome.

Would my life be different if I cooked more often, and with more variety? Would my confidence improve if I could invite friends over for dinner and not ask them in advance what I should order? Would my former colleagues at the workplace I brought the same lentil soup to every day for two years have respected me more? Would an air fryer cure my depression?

Maybe I’d be more popular. Maybe I’d have more appreciation for the entire farm-to-plate journey. Maybe I’d have less anxiety – chopping and cooking can be very meditative (I read this in a magazine at my psychologist’s office). This worry often builds and rises in my chest, and I feel deeply ashamed.

But clearly, that worry is not as powerful as my laziness, as I have not learnt a new recipe in the two years since turning 30. Instead, I choose to accept this lack of skill. I’m probably really good at something else. And if I ever get stressed, I’ll just squeeze my egg ball.

This piece was originally published in frankie 104.

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