Thursday, August 26, 2010

Finding Freedom in the Kitchen

I come from a family with an absolutely pathological commitment to homemade cooking. My grandmother was a dietician, who bore six children in the 1950s and cooked hot meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. She taught her five daughters and one son to eat a plate of food only if it had different colors of food on it, and at least one of them had to be green.

So dinner growing up was almost always meat, carbohydrate, green vegetable, salad and a glass of milk. In college I continued to eat like this. My roommate called me "the Side Dish Queen" because even when I was cooking for only myself, I'd dirty every pan in our little kitchen making rice pilaf, steamed greened beans and pork chops.

Grandma, Mom and my four aunts took their upbringing seriously, too, and never, ever brought anything store-bought to a holiday dinner. Not even rolls. There wasn't always a lot of joy in this tradition. Food prep was pretty stressful, especially when the yeast mysteriously didn't rise in a double-batch of Thanksgiving rolls. And the only time I ever remember my mother cussing was when she made the family pie crust recipe; made with flour, egg and lard, it is legendarily tempermental. I avoided pie making for years, believing the phrase "easy as pie" to be a cruel ruse on the American housewife. Still, when I was newly married, my husband suggested we bring a Marie Calendar's pie to my grandparents' house and I looked at him in horror. I would be humiliated to show up with a pie in a box.

These days, I'm easing up on things, however. I really do love to cook, and I do prefer just about anything homemade to store bought, but giving myself grace in the kitchen is part of my new life philosophy. Born out of my thirties and my mother-of-young-children life stage, I like to call it Imperfectionism. Trader Joe's frozen side dishes, and even entrees, often find their way on my table, and my kids like them better than the "whole foods" that I make from scratch.

I can't be an Imperfectionist alone. Like any other addiction, kicking the habit of always doing things the hard way in the kitchen takes a support group. I'd like to take this moment to thank my sponsor, Tristina, who believes that ordering good food in is actually a spiritual discipline. She told me about all Trader Joe's wonderful bottled salad dressings. She encourages me to show up at our mommy groups with a box of doughnuts instead of homemade muffins (she doesn't even want me to transfer them to a pretty bowl with a homemade napkin). And she makes me order pizza for our families when we get together instead of cooking -- and even to have it delivered!

I'd also like to take this moment to thank a couple of other women who have helped on my path to recovery.

* Jenni, for getting me on bagged salad, and also introducing me to Costo's pre-shredded Mexican blend cheese

* June, for teaching me that you can be a good person who loves the earth, and still occasionally buy bottled water

* Grandma Gardner, for buying me the Cake Doctor cookbook, which uses boxed cake mix to make incredible desserts

* Susan, who, despite being a phenomenal cook, turned me on to Pilsbury pie crust. It is seriously so good.

* And finally, my mom and dad, who actually praise me whenever they come to my house and find me serving something I didn't make, like frozen quiches. They celebrate the freedom my generation has found.

Now, farewell, friends. I'm off on vacation. When I return, more on my conversion from a Perfectionist to an Imperfectionist.


  1. Eryn hates all of my homemade breads: banana breads, pumpkin breads, muffins. The ONLY BAKED GOOD she will eat? Trader Joe's pumpkin bread from a box.

    Sigh. Only our cousins can understand the pain!

    Good for you on the middle road, though...?

    OK, now I'm done for the night. Will have to read the rest of your blog later, or just stay up to date now that I know it exists!