Food

What Quarantine Taught Me About Cooking

It all started when he asked me to mince a shallot…

A few months ago, I was standing at the kitchen counter while my boyfriend Steve made us linguine and clams. It was the first time he’d cooked for us, and I asked if I could help. “Sure! Can you mince that shallot for me?” he said over his shoulder. I immediately picked up a shallot and a knife like I knew exactly what to do, then I paused for a second. What the hell did I think was about to happen? I didn’t know how to mince. After a few seconds in a catatonic state, I offered to help drain the pasta, instead — a two-person job!

I’ve been lucky to be quarantined with an experimental foodie. He’s like a mad scientist, making red wine reductions for sauces, remaking recipes from our favorite restaurants, and mostly chopping garlic and onions (and shallots) into oblivion. Week after week, we’d plan our grocery list and he’d ask for requests, but I wanted in on cooking duties, too. Every night, like a bedtime story, we watched Bon Appétit and NYT Cooking videos until we got tired. As is the case with all rookies, my confidence expanded past capacity. I truly felt that through osmosis I could pull off any meal. A couple nights later, I made my specialty salmon dinner and for some reason, Murphy’s Law reared its ugly head. I over-salted the fish, the oven temp was too high, the sweet potatoes didn’t cook all the way through — complete disaster. “I…HATE this.” I said slowly, tears welling up. “Are…you crying?” Steve asked. “I just wanted to contribute!” I wailed.

I’d choked under the pressure of my own making. I’d created a couples cooking fantasy where we were both amazing cooks, creating incredible meals together, despite the state of the world outside. One night during our bedtime cooking show segment, I noticed that I really locked into the desserts and baking segments. In the same way Steve nodded along to facts about chemical reactions in an acidic dish, I would nod along to the order for mixing ingredients for a cake.

Cream softened butter and sugar together until well blended, add one egg, add vanilla extract, mix with dry ingredients.

I just got it.

The thing is, cooking dinner is not my preferred thing. I’m actually happy to make dinners here and there — I redeemed myself the other night, with a killer shakshuka — but my affections lie in pouring pancake batter or melting chocolate on a double boiler for mousse. The other day, anxious and avoiding responsibility, I made cookie dough because I just needed to make a dough. The endorphin release I get from creaming butter and brown sugar together is the reason I’ve baked half a dozen (successful!) loaves of banana bread the past few weeks. It helps set my mind at ease, and I think the freedom to experiment with recipes and sauces helps Steve, too, so who cares if he does it without me? Now, when we make the weekly grocery list, I ask for breakfast and dessert requests with zeal. Instead of looking for where I fit into the dinner process, I think about my own.

Throughout quarantine, whenever possible, I try to hold a “look for the helpers” perspective, and it’s kept me afloat. Besides the most obvious helpers, working to keep us safe while we’re safe inside, I think we’ve all been each other’s helpers — daring to be hopeful, sharing in support, baking a million loaves of sourdough. Some people are great cooks, and some are great bakers. If we weren’t quarantined together, I’d probably be eating a lot of scrambled eggs for dinner; if I weren’t here, he’d probably be eating tortilla chips for breakfast. We’re working from our strengths and doing our best. It is such a bizarre time, but also a great time to become inspired. If not now, then when?

Do you have one thing you’re really great at cooking or baking? I’d love to hear!

P.S. Why I never feel alone when I cook and what weird things do you do to feel better?

(Photo of Tina Turner)

  1. Hayley B says...

    Not to toot my own horn, but I make a sublime flourless espresso-chocolate cake. It is literally the one thing I must bake every Christmas and tote on the 3-hour car ride back to the hub’s hometown especially for my MIL, who enjoys it so much that she can literally polish off the 9-inch cake on her own! She now regularly has her friends over for a dinner party with my cake as the dessert centrepiece, and she’s told me without a smidge of embarassment that when her friends inevitably ooh and ahh over it and ask to order it for themselves, she straight up tells them that the cake is “from her DIL and only for family and friends!” LOL!

    It’s nice to know that there’s an appreciative audience for my baked goods ;)

  2. mark forsyth says...

    This I can relate to. Not fully but partially. I couldn’t care a hot for cooking before lockdown here in the UK. But now? The kitchen is the one place I feel I have a purpose. Experimental? You bet I am. Mainly cook for one as well, recently handing larger portions out for folks to try and give me feedback. It has certainly filled a gap these last 10 weeks. Lovely story.

  3. I’m married to a Frenchman and I have to say cooking for him brought up under years traditional French cooking can be nerve racking. He mostly likes what I cook but isn’t interested in things like a tuna fish salad sandwich but wants the tuna in a fresh salad. When I made my first meal for him while dating I pulled out a bottle of orange French dressing for the salad and he said, “What’s that?” and made a vinegarette dressing for me-there was no going back. You would think someone who grew up eating snails or foie gras would be an experimental eater but that is not the case for him.
    On the other hand, my grandchildren always say, “Mimi, why are your brownies so good?” I tell them it’s because love is mixed in the batter but, really, it’s the butter.

  4. Kenny H says...

    Sounds like a great story!
    I saved it for later!
    Enjoy cooking/ Don’t forget the 🍷🍷🍷

  5. Yes!

    Since quarantine I’ve been trying to perfect basic meals and I am proud to say I’ve perfected my Salmon, mashed potatoes, asparagus, Brussel sprout meal.

    I’ve always struggled with making rice, so I’ve almost perfected that.

    Thank you so much for being transparent & sharing your downfall. My partner Dances circles around me in the kitchen & I love that you reiterated that it’s okay to just be a helper.

    Thank you!
    <3

  6. KT says...

    I was always the foodie friend and homecook until I started dating my current S.O. who blows me out of the water between the precise, beautiful, and creative dishes he makes. Quarantining together has never made that more apparent and intimidating to someone who always managed to be more of a casual cook. It was hard to make that transition of seeing “food and cooking” as ‘my’ thing to ‘our’ thing, (did I mention he bakes his own breads and cakes too?). While I’m grateful that I get to be the avid taste-tester and recipient of his delightful dishes, it struck a sour note that I just wasn’t as thoughtful or creative in my attempts. He, however, has been fueled by being stuck at home and has turned our small kitchen into one with semi-restaurant capabilities driven by his endless imagination. After lodging my ‘wanting to contribute’ complaint, he has now involved me more in the process by asking for my opinion on dishes and encouraging me to try out new recipes of my own, and even teaching me how-to’s with side by side pans on the stovetop (I know, he sounds like a keeper).

  7. Abby says...

    I’ve always thought cooking was an art and baking a science, and I’m very much a baker instead of a cook.

    This was underscored for me recently when I finally bought a kitchen scale so that I can *even more precisely* measure my flour/sugar/ingredients for baking, and it’s made the whole experience that infinitely more pleasurable for me. You know why those cookies came out so perfectly? The flour was measured out to the GRAM!

    Requisite note too that my initial disdain for cooking was 100% a reaction to the expectation that a girl/woman needs to learn how to cook for her family. While that is increasingly not true in individual couples/households/families, it certainly is still true on a societal expectation level, and I always hated that. I was always told growing up that I’d start singing a different tune about cooking when I became an adult/lived on my own/got married/had kids. All of those things happened and, huh, turns out, I never had to learn how to cook and still hate it.

    But I can make you some consistently perfect cookies!

    • Hayley B says...

      GIRL. Are we the same person?!? Because this is *exactly* how I feel about cooking and baking, to a tee. Cooking is a drudgery to me because of all the inherent sexist expectations, and the fact that it’s really just another chore rather than a pleasurable activity. I mean if all those fancy cooking shows with TV chefs and wannabe Masterchefs actually showed the parts where home cooks without the phalanx of behind the-scenes assistants actually have to clean out the gross bloody bits of chicken/fish/prawns/pork and what have you, and the utterly mind-numbing boredom of having to endlessly rinse and dry and prep veggies on their own for every meal, instead of having a beautiful pantry with perfect ingredients all laid out for them to choose from, the whole cooking like a chef at home illusion would shatter fast. No sooner are you done with one meal than you’re having to prep for the next! Plus the mental workload of having to constantly think of what to cook next to keep the family alive and thriving is like an extra invisible yet thankless burden that’s traditionally been foisted on women to shoulder uncomplainingly, which just puts me off learning to cook even more. I mean I *can* actually do it when I have to and sometimes I’ve even wanted to when the mood hits, but I just cannot with the daily grind of it.

      Baking on the other hand makes my heart sing and is fun precisely because it’s like playing as a child all over again, except at the end you get a delicious creation of your own making to consume or share with others. To me it’s basically a totally frivolous yet delicious hobby, and the fact that gifts of cookies/cakes/breads/ scones/whatever never fail to put a smile on the recipient’s face just adds to its appeal. A baking project can take as long or short a period of time to complete as one likes, and unlike with cooking, there’s no ticking clock of hangry mouths constantly badgering you over when lunch or dinner is going to be ready.

      So yeah, baking wins over cooking every time. That’s what takeout was invented for!

  8. Alice says...

    My boyfriend and I both LOVE to cook, and my greatest joy of lockdown has been cooking together. We peruse cookbooks together, typically on a Thursday night, and then on Saturday mornings we go to the butcher, greengrocer, and fishmonger to get as much as we can from there, only going to the supermarket when we can. We have been making the FANCIEST and most PHENOMENAL food, and have had several friends respond to our cooking adventures on instagram with “Can you deliver that to me?!”. It’s just been such a joy to have so much time to spend in the kitchen at the moment- the calm, the soothing repetition of chopping and stirring and dancing to playlists- it’s just the loveliest end to the working day.

    • Sri says...

      This sounds great! What’s the link to your instagram page please.

    • Liz says...

      Ooooh how does one find you on Instagram?

  9. Sarah says...

    What a beautiful way of looking at things! I’m definitely going to adopt this view point as well. I really enjoy cooking and finding new recipes. I’ve been on a real Half Baked Harvest and Chrissy Teigen kick lately. I’ve tried a few baking endeavors this quarantine season (blueberry muffins being the most requested from my family) but I’ve realized I don’t enjoy that process as much as cooking. With cooking I feel more of a freedom to kind of veer into my own version where with baking it’s all about being precise. I think it has a lot to do with my job as I do need to be fairly precious in what I’m doing there. With cooking, I get to flex that creative side of me that doesn’t really get the chance during the “9-5” hours (although its more like 8-6 if I’m being honest).

    Just a very long winded way to say thank you for sharing and you made me really think about how much I truly do enjoy cooking. I need to make more time to do it once this whole quarantine season is over.

  10. Caro says...

    Wow, it is uncanny how much my boyfriend and I mimic you two! He’s the wonderful cook, loves to experiment and can whip up a dinner with the most random fridge ingredients. I can’t do it. I’m breakfast and baking. We help each other when we can but I like that wr both honor each others strengths. I made banana cake with cream cheese frosting the other night and was told me it deserves an EGOT, haha.

  11. Tyler says...

    I make really good pasta! All kinds.. it’s just my Thing. Pasta is my favorite food so makes sense. I am the adventurous one in the kitchen but I know my limits. Last weekend I decided to make b’stilla, and I told my husband I would need his help with the dough part. He’s very methodical and precise. Sure enough, the pie took hours and by the time I got to the phyllo I was in tears almost immediately. He helped me lay out and shape the dough perfectly :)

  12. Siheme Sebaa says...

    This quarantine was the perfect opportunity for me to try all my mom’s recipes. She is Tunisian and when she came to the US to visit 3 years ago, I decided to watch her cook my favorite meals and write the recipes inside an empty notebook (My mom cannot read or write) . Best decision ever! I was able to recreate my childhood dishes. Let me tell you that they bring me a sense of comfort and safety during these uncertain times.

  13. Tshego B says...

    My brother (he’s 22 now) finally got interested in cooking during lockdown ( 2months long) and he started with chapati (of all things) and sweet potato soup. It was so delicious! I might have taught him by starting with a simple grilled chicken and rice but it’s soooo on brand for him to divide right into a complex dish with no worries.

  14. The little glimpses of your relationship from quarantine — the head shaving, the cooking — it’s so sweet, Kim! So happy for you both. Love the self-awareness, vulnerability, and curiosity you show in your posts. And I love how you get back to self-love, always.

  15. I think cooking is a lot like other creative pursuits — it helps to know yourself, because all of you will come out in the learning and the doing.. I’ve seen this, now, with my own grown kids home with us. My artistic daughter insists everything she does be beautiful, even, colorful and arranged on plates. I hate scientific precision — struggling to have multiple dishes done at the same time –to me that’s like Thanksgiving every day. I like to make soup, stews, casseroles. My husband LOVES the challenge of juggling multiple burners, the grill, the oven, all in pursuit of the same meal. It stresses me to even type that! hahaha

    • C says...

      “I think cooking is a lot like other creative pursuits — it helps to know yourself, because all of you will come out in the learning and the doing”

      Well if this doesn’t get featured in a CoJ comment round up. Beautiful.

  16. Jessica Burke says...

    I also love this idea of being each others helpers! It is such a weird time, and lots of people in my little orbit are being helpers in all sorts of ways.

  17. Marjolein says...

    I really really hate it, cooking! (or baking)
    I guess growing up with a mum who hated it as well (and also wasn’t very good at it) but still had to provide her family with meals (other times/generations and all that) didn’t help. So she never encouraged me to learn this thing she hated herself. Of course I did my share of chores around the house but never any food preparation. Also there were no other role models around who did like to cook. So I guess it never grew on me.
    Luckily for me, in my adult life I ended up with partners who can cook (is that a coincidence? 😉), even though my present partner says he doesn’t particularly likes to do it (he is very capable though and good at it too).
    So, till now, there were not many times or periods in my life when I had to take care of myself in this aspect. (And there’s always the take out – option or eating out of course 😝).
    Over all, the “being dependent of someone else” part of all this is what I don’t like about it. And of course I know I take care of other aspects of our shared life and household, which my partner doesn’t like or isn’t good at (for example our tax, or all digital things for that matter), but still. It’s no funny feeling.
    Anyone who recognizes this?

  18. Sharon in Scotland says...

    I live by myself and am working from home. I made a promise to myself at the beginning of lockdown that I would not bake and only have wine at the weekend, (I truly believe that the end of lockdown will leave people either 2 stone heavier or 2 dress sizes smaller…………I’m going to be the latter).
    I have been eating much more consistently and well, I see a recipe and make it within the week instead of circling it like an angry cat for weeks.
    But this weekend I am going to cave. I have almost all the ingredients for Debra Perlman’s salted chocolate chunk cookies………….wish me luck and I hope this is not the slippery slope to the dark side

    • Janet says...

      I made Deb’s cookies for about the 5th time the other day. They are sooo delicious!

  19. Cece says...

    My husband is a truly excellent cook. Historically, I used to work in the evenings a lot so I got out of the habit of cooking, and then since having babies dinner became his *thing* – while I’d be busy feeding the baby to sleep, he’d be unwinding from a day at work in a peaceful kitchen. And somehow I just lost my confidence. On the nights it’s my turn to cook I’d almost feel panicky.

    But after a second round of maternity leave (England! Let’s not get into US mat leave), and then lockdown, I’ve regained my mojo. I’ve always been a competent baker and I’ve always made the traditional English foods he likes but won’t cook (he’s American) – like toad in the hole or pies. But now I’ve become The Bread Lady. Sourdough starter, sourdough crumpets, pancakes, flatbreads, pizza dough. And having confidence in one area has really helped me feel more at home in the kitchen again. It feels gooood and we’re basically a foodie dream team right now, but I’m still always happy when he’s cooking ;)

  20. Kay says...

    I am a baker but cook because I have to for the family. If I never had to cook another meal again I would be a happy girl, cooking real meals is boring but necessary. I try to make it more interesting by having new recipes each week but there is no joy in it for me. Baking is my happy place, I have so many baking books and files of recipes that they are almost a hobby in themselves. It is not Christmas if I don’t get another book to browse through and experiment with. I am happy to spend hours in the kitchen and fill every surface with cakes, muffins, cookies, scones etc, the more I bake the happier I am. Now my two eldest have left home and my son doesn’t eat sweet things there is only my husband and myself to bake for. I tried not baking because we couldn’t eat it all but went slightly crazy with sadness so now I bake and just give it away, anyone that comes near my house gets cake, even the window cleaner has had warm muffins. If you can bake then you can always make great gifts for people, who doesn’t love a cake! Cake is simply happiness and love on a plate.

    • Kat says...

      Love your comment! That is me too!

  21. Kristin Henriksen says...

    I like cucumbers, red onion, and red wine vinegar in a mason jar, in the fridge. I’m kind of the experimenting type, so I add garlic, cilantro, and sometimes radishes. It’s great tasting, and it’s refreshing. It will last 2 weeks. You can do smaller amounts of vinegar to taste. I eat it when I want to snack, or put it on salads, eggs, or just about anything! Great garnish!

  22. Anon says...

    I got married quite young to an excellent cook and consequently never got into cooking. Now in my late 40’s, it started to bother me that I can’t cook or bake. So, I’ve started to cook and bake. With cooking, I’ve had to accept that, even though I enjoy doing it, I am not a precise and patient cook. My meals are a bit hit and miss. I’ve decided to be okay with that. I will learn to cook experientially because I am impatient with recipes (I can’t help it! I get impatient just thinking about a tedious recipe!!). But I can now whip up some decent suppers. I intend to keep going until it’s second nature. My meals are not fancy, but they stick to your ribs and I do enjoy the process. I am making progress. As for baking, I’m into banana bread and love making that. Have made a few batches of cookies, too, and they turned out well. I want to get to a point where I don’t feel as inadequate iN the kitchen, where I can have enough confidence to prepare things for guests or a bake sale. I don’t need to be a chef extraordinaire, but I love feeling like I am capable of making dishes that are not distractingly bad, so we can enjoy a great time together.
    And thank you to the commenters who pointed out that clean up after the meal is a valuable contribution, too!

    • Allie says...

      I so relate to this comment! Well said.

  23. Sophie says...

    @Claire I am exactly the same and need to cook solo. Anyone peaking over shoulders while I’m cooking is really jinxing the entire process and sets a bad juju over the entire meal.

    @Susan I loved your comment about joy in this difficult time.. It’s all anyone really needs to get through life – a little bit of joy :)

  24. Sarah says...

    I am also the baker in our household, and though not sure how accomplished I am, there is something soothing about it for me as well. My new quarantine master skill has been making crepes! I love making them….and eating them. My girls fill them with their favorite fillings (strawberries and cream, brown sugar and butter, cheddar cheese and avocado, cheese and mushroom…..) Such a fun, easy meal. I tried to turn it into a homeschool lesson and teaching them about France and learning some French, but they weren’t having it! Lol. They just want to eat!

  25. Jessie says...

    My husband is a wonderful cook. I clean the after-dinner dishes, and I love baking. It’s all about balance!

  26. Taylor Jacob says...

    Team Baker!

    The first 3 weeks of quarantine I cooked so much then I got burnt out and just started making simpler things but really using my Sweet Laurel cookbook and making fun treats!

  27. I’ve always loved to cook and bake and this is the only positive of this pandemic for me. I’ve gotten so much better at it, since I’ve had more time to practice. Basic things like making salmon, marinara pasta, perfect shrimps, I feel like I’ve mastered them and honestly do not miss restaurants, only for sushi and such. I now have a killer chocolate chip cookie recipe and even have my own twist on the perfect lemon blueberry cake. recipe -> https://pinksole.com/2020/05/weekly-update-5-5-2020/

  28. Amy says...

    I don’t bake much (don’t need it in the house), but I probably treat cooking like baking. I follow recipes (sometimes combining a couple to get it the way I like), weigh my carrots, and take notes for next time so that once I get it the way I like, I can just follow my instructions so I can rely on the recipe in the future.

  29. Jamie says...

    I love this new interpretation of “look for the helpers” and also the push to be a helper in a different way. Maybe I have too many conference calls to watch the kids most of the day, but we can bake together and I’ll make sure they get their vegetables. xoxo to everyone

  30. Katie says...

    I love this! For years I thought I “couldn’t cook” because baking isn’t my thing. Then, during my late 20’s, out of nowhere I discovered I could easily roast a chicken, whip together salad dressings, and make huge pots of soup. Who knew? But just like you have noticed….I still can’t make a reliable batch of cookies to save my life. Baking is much more my husband’s thing (he’s a surgeon… obsession with precision coming in handy I guess!). I think we should pitch cooking vs. baking to kids growing up as two different skill sets! That way if someone only has one or the other, they won’t be scared out of the kitchen.

  31. YESSS!! My husband is a very go-with-the-flow, carefree spirit who excels with cooking. A spice here, some anchovies there. I, on the other hand, am incredibly precise and take “mess-ups” personally, so recipes are king for me. Baking is my outlet for those times when I need to feel a sense of control, when my mind needs to focus on nothing else but measurements and step-by-step instructions. We learned this early on in our relationship, and I will say, it’s magic when we accept exactly who we are and what we need…those differences create a whole meal :)

  32. Jennifer S. says...

    Baking cookies takes me to the intersection of being my mother’s daughter and my daughters’ mother, and soothes my mind, soul, and home. The most delicious meditation out there!

    • Erika says...

      I love this thought.

    • Lori says...

      Oh I love how you said this.

    • Sarz says...

      A baker *and* a writer. 😊

  33. Jen says...

    This post is so sweet and right on the nose. Baking well is really an art, so carry right on with that noble goal!
    And thank you for inspiring a bit of reflection on my cooking trajectory, and the happy realization that I’ve gotten really good at this over time. When I started cooking for more than one, I made short lists of basics I really wanted to master: mashed potatoes, roast chicken, rice pilaf, roasted tomatoes, really good vinaigrette…then just tackled them one by one on repeat until I got them right. It took time. I took a lot of notes. But inch by inch I built a repertoire and now I can pull off a full-on meal with my eyes closed. And my mashed potatoes are legendary.
    I wonder if quiche or savory galettes might be up your alley. Homemade pastry is such fun and you can do a hundred things with the basic recipe.
    Savory breads might also be something to test out. They are so satisfying and lovely with marinara sauce and salad, and keep forever in the fridge!
    Also second the NYTimes website. After my Mom, most of my favorite recipes come from there. Sam Sifton and Martha Rose Schulman are my favorites.

  34. Meghan says...

    Gosh, I’ve had my fair share of “is this dinner a metaphor???” moments with my boyfriend (not super new but newly living together in light of the pandemic). Our first week, I made a lentil marinara sauce that I enjoy as a part of my mostly vegetarian cooking routine and was *crushed* that he didn’t like the texture much. When he asked me later, “is everything okay?”, followed by a very gentle “is this about the lentils?”, I had to admit that this had become the test run for the entire future of our co-habitation and I was scared it wasn’t going well.

    8ish weeks later, it’s still hard sometimes – he eats lots of meat and is happy to have one large meal a day, I prefer smaller more frequent meals and am sorely missing the flexibility to pop into the grocery store every couple of days to pick up a couple of things. But that just means we’re different, as two humans are likely to be :)

    • Mary Barnett says...

      “is this about the lentils?” should be a tee-shirt! That’s fantastic.

    • Sarah says...

      Would buy this t-shirt

  35. J. says...

    Embarrassed but honest confession: I have NEVER cooked ANYTHING in my life like… lived in my current apartment for 6 years and have never once turned on the stove or oven (I am very lucky to have food provided at my work + big city living = tiny kitchens and lots of restaurants, plus eating at restaurants being one of my truest joys).

    I’m quarantining with two friends, and one of them spent THREE HOURS with me on Saturday morning so patiently, kindly, and gently teaching me how to make — of all things– a shakshuka! We could have terms this Inept Pre-Remedial Cooking 001 as he taught me how to hold a knife, cut a bell pepper, peel garlic, crack eggs, …use a stove and oven. I was so overwhelmed with gratitude at his patience and thoughtfulness while he cheered me on each step that I nearly cried!

    I was super proud of the finished product (mixed with a lingering twinge of embarrassment that this is the first dish I’ve ever cooked for anyone), but then I thought to myself: I genuinely, truly *LOVE* cleaning up kitchens, emptying dishwashers, wiping countertops, doing dishes (especially in quarantine– so much control! a clearly-defined, manageable problem with an evident beginning-middle-end!)–plus creating the perfect playlist to listen to while the chef is at work and for during dinner. I’ll sit in a kitchen for 3+ hours keeping someone company and talking as much or as little as they’d like while they bake or cook and clean up the entire thing afterwards, and I know in the last 10+ weeks that that this has been a reprieve for people who often cook AND clean. So thank you for this article helping me remember that that maybe I am helpful too!

    • Amy says...

      Wow you sound like the IDEAL person and partner! What I would give for someone who loves to talk and listen to music and just *be* with me while I cooked, even enjoying the food I made—the cleaning is icing on top! This is a rare and wonderful gift you should be proud of.

    • abi says...

      Love this!

    • Sarz says...

      I was privileged to be raised in a household with two incredible cooks. When I was younger, I’d coast on my father and sister’s delights, knowing they’d be more than satisfied with a clean kitchen in exchange for their services. It seems like most people’s cooking skills increase at least a bit with time – mine did, and that feels good. (Be proud of that shakshuka! It’s not the easiest thing to master!) Whether novice or master oneself, being a grateful recipient of a meal will always be welcome in any dining space. And an empty sink afterwards? That’s heroism, J, seriously. :D

    • S says...

      I love this J. One of my sisters is a fabulous baker and I am a great cook but my other sister is hopeless at both and just not interested – BUT! She pours us drinks and plays music and dances around making us laugh and brings us snacks. We all have our skills and contributions to make!
      Can’t believe that writing those words has made me tear up! Gosh I miss them. Will happily cook a thousand dishes and clean the kitchen a hundred times to be able to spend time with my friends and family like we used to.
      Hugs to everyone who is feeling the same way today x

    • Rachel says...

      I can’t remember if it was here, but someone wrote about the fact that you only need know how to cook one or two things. You don’t have to know how to do EVERY SINGLE COOKING TECHNIQUE (which is way overwhelming), just pick one recipe (like shakshuka, or whatever) that you’d be happy with. And when it suits your fancy, or you have a friend that wants to teach you something, you can pick another recipe. In between, you sound like a great kitchen companion!

  36. Anne says...

    I used to be really good at making bread. Up until a year ago I made at least two loaves of whole wheat bread every week, one for me and one for my parents across town.

    Then I had a kid who couldn’t eat gluten, eggs, soy, corn, or dairy. And I found out that my own lifelong anxiety and depression were from a gluten and dairy intolerance. So….now I’ve been working on finding new recipes–the best allergy-friendly cakes, cookies, breads, rolls. It’s crazy hard to cut out both eggs and wheat while keeping the texture the same, but I feel like I’m finally getting the hang of it.

    • Emily says...

      “anxiety and depression were from a gluten and dairy intolerance” I wish you had omitted this, Anne. This may have been true in your specific case, but mental illness are lifelong health struggles, just like any other health condition, and they wax and wane. They’re also not the fault of the individual, and not due to that person’s diet. Your comment plays into dangerous and wrong views about mental illness.

    • Jessica says...

      Emily-Anne made a comment about her own case, her own life, and she shared that as an intelligent adult with knowledge of her own body and mind. She didn’t make a sweeping statement about the complexities of mental illness for the masses. One way to further stigmatize mental illness is to ignore one’s personal account about their own life.

    • Nicole says...

      As a psychologist, I just want to chime in, in response to Emily’s note. Environmental factors (such as diet) can absolutely impact mental health and even psychopathology (look up the diathesis-stress model). Further, I did not read this as Anne in any way minimizing anyone’s struggles with mental health, but rather explaining a treatment she has found to be effective for her and the sacrifice that treatment entails. Anne has the right to communicate about her own story honestly.

    • Karyn says...

      @Emily. Diet: especially allergies, intolerances, nutritional deficiencies etc. absolutely can have a direct correlation on your mental health. I too speak from experience which took me many years, numerous doctors and thousands of US dollars to figure out. Please do further intensive research on
      this before commenting so negatively and inaccurately. There are many incredible books out there regarding the gut / brain axis. Fascinating reading and I’m hopeful this will eventually become more mainstream in western medicine.

    • jane says...

      I can confirm that my lifelong suicidal depression evaporated when I removed processed foods and went mostly raw. That was a wildly unanticipated benefit in my case but it is now common knowledge that diet makes an enormous difference . Science needs to recognize that life forms are holistic.

    • Anne says...

      Emily– I had a kid with severe behavioral issues related to food allergies and intolerances. Removing gluten from his diet made him significantly less anxious and moody. It later did the same for me. Celiac disease and gluten intolerance can manifest in different ways for different people, behavioral changes being one of those ways.

      Acknowledging this does not discount the experiences of those with clinical depression. My husband is a psychiatrist who suffers from clinical depression. He takes prescription medication. Prescription medication did not work for me (I had a very ambitious psychiatrist seven years ago and I’ve tried every kind of drug). Likewise, removing gluten from my husband’s diet would likely not help him.

      If you would like more information regarding gluten (and casein) and how they may affect mental health for some people, please read an article my husband recommends: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4809873/

  37. Erin says...

    But what banana bread are you making repeatedly?? I’m looking for a good solid recipe!

    • Martha A Segovia says...

      OMG the kitchn’s recipe is the best. i made some banana bread on suunday night and it was gone by tuesday. Prune’s recipe is also really good

    • Kristen says...

      To me, Smitten Kitchen’s Jacked Up Banana Bread is perfect!

  38. Naomi says...

    I’m with you… I’ll sous-chef when needed, happy to chop and prep, but cooking isn’t my thing. Too many things happening at once, no precision in the heating of the stove, always worried something will burn, stick, not be cooked. Timing… ugh.

    I much prefer baking and have ever since I was a kid. It’s methodical, orderly, calming, … I see how others might find that boring, but it’s perfect meditation (usually) for me.

    A perfect in-between? I just discovered the ease, joy and deliciousness of make our own tortillas! It’s like baking, on the stove, for dinner!

    • Kim Rhodes says...

      you just took the words right out of my mouth!! thanks, naomi! (currently looking at tortilla recipes!)

  39. Quarantine has helped me re-fall in love with two things: grilled cheese and tuna melts. Crispy, crunchy bread, gooey, hot melty salty cheese, endless opportunities to fancy it up or you can just keep it unfussy and casual – what’s not to love?! Plus bon appetit recently released a youtube video of 8 chefs showing you how they doctor up their grilled cheese sandwiches, so you couldn’t possibly get bored.

    Sidenote: I need to re-make the balsamic veggie one that was on cupofjo ages ago. Does anyone remember that one? So good!

    • Sarz says...

      I thought I was up to date on BA. :-o I need to open that tab next. I mostly run with a grilled-cheese-purist crowd, but it’s nice to mix it up!

  40. Eliza says...

    I much prefer baking to cooking and often feel a little heartbroken about how things turn out when I’m really excited and hopeful and they don’t go according to plan, but one thing I’m trying to remember (and model for my kids) is patience with myself when my attempts dont go as I hope – cooking and baking really are experiments and it’s okay to have a failed experiment, it’s great that I tried (I say repeatedly in hopes that one time I’ll believe it!)

  41. Jessica says...

    Staying at home more has shown me exactly how uncomfortable I am with making food that is not a part of “my culture.” Considering my culture is kinda a mish-mash of west coast urbanism, what this really shows me is my discomfort (due to lack of familiarity, which breeds discomfort, which leads to lack of trying, which increases lack of familiarity) with the foodways of non-white cultures.
    It’s a real eye opener on my whiteness and how, like many people of my background, I expected the benefits (food!) of other cultures to be available to me easily (Thai takeout! taco trucks!) without me having to delve into other cultures and learn more about their cooking.
    Examples that come to mind: I am deeply intimidated by chiles in Mexican cooking. The dry ones have different names than the fresh ones! The smoked has another name, too! How hot is hot?!?! Which ones get more hotter with cooking? Which ones mellow out? But I can give you a precise, practically poetic, flavor description of every herb known to man – just ask me about lovage!
    This is pretty much the same as being able to remember all the characters names on Game of Thrones while, at the same time, thinking “black sounding” names like Keshawn or Deiondre are complicated. (I don’t think that, but I’ve certainly run into it)
    And this also speaks to my reliance on white interlocutors: The first “curry” I made without opening a pre-mixed “green” or “red” curry jar? Alison Roman’s chickpea stew, which – because of some questionable appropriation issues that Alison has since addressed – I didn’t even understand was a curry at all. My limited Thai knowledge comes from a few things I tried in Hot Sour Salty Sweet – written by a Canadian.
    So for the next phase of staying home (which, while not as strict, is likely to last longer) I want to challenge my whiteness and find some recipes for Thai and Mexican food that are authentic, not too too hard, and push me to learn more about non-white foodways by listening to non-white chefs.
    Anyone want to help get me (us?) started?

    • E says...

      Jessica, I appreciate how thoughtful this comment is! In addition to blogs, I would recommend considering buying cookbooks by women of color from the cultures you wish to cook from, if you are able. That way, you can support the people (monetarily) who are doing the real work of translating their experiences, culture, and, yes, oppression, into almost literally digestible form for a white, English speaking audience, I love Indian-ish, as a start, and have also enjoyed May Kaidee’s cookbooks for vegetarian Thai food. If there are (often higher-end) restaurants you love, sometimes they will have cookbooks. I also found this thread — https://stainedpagenews.substack.com/p/open-thread-cookbooks-by-women-of/comments — very helpful.

    • Ashley B says...

      Hi Jessica, how cool that you’re wanting to explore cuisines and cultures other than your own! I really admire your awareness of the fact that white culture is so often taking the good things from others ie: delicious food, hairstyles etc and shunning the rest that doesn’t suit them. I don’t have any Thai or Mexican recipes as my family are a mix of black and south Indian, but I will link you some easy and delicious south Indian recipes to try. These are recipes that our family eat ALL the time, but with some differences, because the recipes i’ll link are from someone else’s kitchen! haha. Obviously if you can’t find an ingredient, you just sub out what you have- will still be delicious.

      Again! your comment is SO appreciated! Thank you!!! xx

      https://food52.com/recipes/31747-meen-moiley
      https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1017153-classic-masala-dosa
      https://food52.com/recipes/60889-thoran
      https://food52.com/recipes/70299-kachimoru-kerala-style-spiced-yogurt-curry

    • Melinda says...

      Jessica, just wanted to say you sound like such an awesome, thoughtful and compassionate person. I have no interest in cooking at the moment (am pregnant and just want to eat whatever I can hold down and get into my belly within five mins) but when my cooking self re-emerges, I’m coming back to your comment :)

    • Roberta says...

      Gosh – surely cooking is all about nourishment and fun? There is nothing wrong with using, say, a Jamie Oliver Thai green curry recipe to explore a type of cooking that you are unfamiliar with. And there is certainly nothing wrong with going to a Thai restaurant or ordering a takeaway from it…there is nothing tone deaf or “culturally appropriative” about doing these things!

      How else is one meant to explore something under their own steam? If you are familiar with, say, Jamie Oliver, and you trust his recipes (so feel comfortable investing in specialty ingredients), go forth and cook! If that’s a success, one then can explore more broadly. It is unreasonable to expect people to dive straight into something they are unfamiliar with – surely we should be applauding all attempts to broaden our horizons? I guess what I’m saying is, cut yourself some slack and continue to cook/eat away!

    • Christina says...

      I am part of the (us)!

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Jessica, and thank you to E, Ashley B, Melinda, and Cait for your helpful responses. Bookmarking these links for my own reference.

    • Rusty says...

      “Cooking With Kurma”! It’s a great book, full of multicultural dishes and he is quite a blend himself.

    • Jessica says...

      Roberta – cooking is about nourishment and fun…. and entertainment, and community, and pleasure, and culture. Should I only find these things in… whiteness?
      While there’s nothing appropriative about ordering takeout, you may notice that I came to this realization in quarantine? The restaurants that I relied on to provide me with the flavors I love, but are not comfortable cooking, were closed!
      So I ask myself (and you): what makes a recipe seem easy and fun? Why can I go to Chez Panisse and have a mind-blowingly good risotto with citrus zest, spinach and salmon and go home and attempt to recreate it (this happened: I’ve been making risotto inspired by a meal I had when I was 19 over two decades) but go to Langbaan and just act like it’s all a magical mystery? (Probably the same reason that the chef, Akkapong “Earl” Ninsom, goes by “Earl.”) Why are you or I comfortable with Jamie Oliver or Alison Roman more than some other cook?
      In essence I see your comment as asking me: Why are you bothering with things that make you uncomfortable? I’m not worried about having fun. I consider myself a pretty accomplished cook and I take a huge amount of my daily joy from doing it. I am using this moment to notice that there is more fun to be had, and less boredom for my tastebuds, if I examine the sometimes uncomfortable realities of the way whiteness weaves into my cooking, and try to dismantle some of that discomfort instead of shying away from it.
      As I see it, confronting the not-fun now means YEARS of pleasure later. If I could make a white curry even 1/2 as delicious as Earl’s for my leftover barbeque? I’d pat my own back for the rest of my life! If I could make a carne asada worthy of a fairly good LA taco truck, I could probably save 1000’s of dollars in airfare! There is more fun, and nourishment, to be found in breaking down my mental walls than shying from them.

    • Roberta says...

      Hi Jessica – I guess I just find the framing of your position a little strange. As a white Irishwoman living in London, I grew up on Irish food and Mediterranean food, as that was what my parents cooked. Now when I cook for myself, I default to those sorts of dishes as they are most familiar to me. Is this an expression of “whiteness” or just familiarity? I can cook baked ham with parsley sauce and colcannon without a recipe, but would need to refer pretty closely to a recipe in order to make a lamb biryani. Does that make me a hopelessly “white” cook or just an Irish home cook?

      I suppose what I was trying to say was not that one should shy away from the unfamiliar, but that there is nothing wrong with finding the unfamiliar delicious but intimidating, particularly if you’re staking your dinner on it or investing in pricey ingredients. Accordingly, using a food writer that you are comfortable with (e.g. a mainstream cook like Jamie Oliver) as a gateway to that exploration is an understandable and perfectly valid way of exploring the unknown. Rather than framing your desire to explore new food cultures in a negative way (“I need to break free from my whiteness”), perhaps it could be seen in a more positive light (“now I have the time to have a go”)?

  42. Krista says...

    I’m definitely in the baking camp too— it comforts me instead of stressing me out. Let me whip up cookies and cakes and waffles and even a good casserole! Trouble is, no one else in my house likes to cook, so that falls on me too. I’ve got a husband with dietary issues who wants things to be healthy, and then 4 picky kids ranging from 7-19 who all want different things. God forbid I make things where multiple foods touch. I’ve definitely had tears when I’ve been excited to make a dinner that doesn’t turn out, or that everyone rejects. I’ll admit that I really envy people who have partners who do the cooking. And still fantasize about the things my amazing cook/ex-boyfriend made me so many years ago. Should have married him instead (kidding-not-kidding).

    • Naomi says...

      Sounds like it’s time for the teenager(s) to start cooking! While I prefer baking, I started to learn how to cook as a teenager for my mom who hates cooking… Expectations for perfection were low, which was great. And once I found one or two things I liked making, we just had that more often (I was good at making lasagna!)

  43. Thea says...

    What a great post. We don’t have to be great at everything. We don’t have to enjoy doing everything either. I enjoy and am good at both cooking and baking. Baking makes my heart sing but cooking dinner after 34 years of marriage is becoming more of a chore. As my husband said, bake the brownies and order dinner. It’s OK.

    • Kim Rhodes says...

      I love this! My thoughts, exactly.

  44. Kate says...

    I usually do most of the cooking and am pretty good at it, but really I think I’m just god at following recipes. My mom, who taught me to cook/follow a recipe always said “If you can read, you can cook” and I’ve found that to be mostly true.

    Quarantine has found me working full time and my husband unemployed. With the extra time, he’s ventured into cooking and having some trouble, which has made me realize that there’s a lot to learn about cooking and some of have learned it over years, but it’s hard to start something new with no baseline. I’ve been pointing him to various resources and his Sri Lankan mother has sent some oddly incomplete and confusing recipes, but I suppose, like any new skill, he’ll have to develop it over time.

  45. Charlotte says...

    I totally get this Kim, although in the opposite direction! I bake and cook frequently and always figured I liked both because I always enjoyed the end product. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I realized how often I became snippy and irritated when baking. It dawned on me that the pressure of having something turn out right in baking didn’t suit me. I’m much more comfortable cooking, where everything seems much more salvageable. Thankfully, my partner has been more than willing to step into the baking role and can focus on what I actually enjoy in the kitchen. I’m so happy for you that you and yours have struck a similar balance!

    On a side note: that picture of Tina Turner is so stunning, she makes my heart sing.

    • Mary Barnett says...

      My son, accomplished at both cooking and baking, says “cooking is art, and baking is chemistry.” You can mess around a lot when you’re cooking, but there are very specific guardrails in baking! My son, for one, definitely prefers art to chemistry, and it sounds like you do, too!

    • Elle says...

      I’m with you, Charlotte! Baking makes me irritable and irrationally angry. I love the idea of being a serene mom in apron baking with her children, but I just can’t. It’s the measuring -how precise it all needs to be – that stresses me out.
      Cooking, on the other hand, is more intuitive. I can know the ingredients without needing to know the amounts or steps. And if I need to adjust (more liquid, more salt, more acid), it can almost always be salvaged. But baking is so finicky and final. So I get my kids to bake solo, which they love, and they can help me cook when I’m a much nicer, calmer version of myself.

  46. Maddy says...

    As with many others during this quarantine, I’ve discovered the art of making fresh sourdough! Before you roll your eyes, hear me out. Besides the obvious euphoria that washes over you when you’ve made a good loaf, there’s something that I’ve found to be really special about the process, the blunders, and the hard work you put in paying off. I’m a single gal, living alone, and it feels really fulfilling to know that I’ve been able to accomplish something I never thought I would. Even if it’s as simple as a loaf of fresh bread. The world might be falling apart, but I choose to take delight in these little, beautiful victories.

  47. Sarah says...

    I’ve been making this every week, it’s so satisfying to make, easy, and delicious (a good beginner vegetarian dinner recipe!): https://www.budgetbytes.com/vegetarian-french-dip-sandwiches/

    PS My husband and I don’t cook together, either; I’ve had similar dreams of a romantic cook-along, but it’s just not gonna happen. You’re not alone!

  48. Laura says...

    Quarantine has shown me how many of my friends and acquaintances truly do not cook and know so little in the kitchen! Which is insane to me since cooking your own meals is so much cheaper and healthier.

  49. Sarah says...

    This sounds very mundane but if someone asks me what I can cook best, it’s a grilled cheese. I’ve mastered the crunchy edges of bread (tip: melt butter in the pan, rather than spread it on the bread) and the totally melted cheese (tip: low heat!). Everyone who eats my grilled cheese is thrilled. I’ll take it :)

    • Lib says...

      hot tip! use mayo instead of butter on the outside…spreads easily and the egg in the mayo makes it extra crispy… THANKS CLAIRE FROM BA!!!

    • the BA youtube video on how to doctor up a grilled cheese sandwich had me drooling. Dying to try Molly Baz’s version since it’s the closest thing to a Cuban sandwich you can get in the Northeast

    • Sarah says...

      Give me a good grilled cheese and I am a VERY happy girl! I think this is a really great quality and skill to have!

  50. I just love this post so much. I feel like it sums up this time of life so well and how everyone contributes something to the collective + metaphorical table.

  51. jane says...

    But Kim, you ARE the perfect couple, cooking beautiful meals together, you see that of course you’ve gotten your wish: he finds joy in the meals and you find joy in the desserts. Perfection.

    As for me it doesn’t matter whether it’s sweet or savory – I just enjoy the process and success is simply an appreciated bonus.

    • jane says...

      PS: love that Tina Turner photo

    • Kim Rhodes says...

      Jane, you’re so sweet! It is fun being good at different things and enjoying the other’s strengths. And I totally agree! The process is just as exciting as the outcome to me!

  52. Claire says...

    This was so encouraging, Kim! I, too, wish I was a more creative cook, but my experiments to make sauces for a stirfry or marinade for tofu just don’t pan out (I never put in enough oil or fat and it often burns or, worse, tastes so bland). My brother, on the other hand, sounds a lot like Steve. He’s worked in restaurants and has been trying out new recipes three or four nights a week. His inspiration has been watching a lot of Bon Appetit videos and exploring NY Times recipes. They always turn out really well, even if there are some tweaks he wants to make in the end.

    Me, on the other hand? I feel much more comfortable experimenting with baking, just like you! I’ll research half a dozen recipes for scones, cookies, or a bread and glean the most important details, then make it my own and change any number of components. I’ve created recipes from scratch, in attempts to replicate my favorite lemon coconut scones from the tea shop I used to go to.

    My dinners are fine, but they’re nothing exciting. But it’s desserts that get me excited!

    • Kim Rhodes says...

      Yes!! I’ve gone through 3 rounds of scones, 5 chocolate chip cookie doughs, and 4 rounds of chocolate mousse. I usually hate the learning curve but it’s been fun to see the differences up close! Thanks, Claire!

    • Sara B says...

      Stir fry sauce and tofu info: thewoksoflife.com. I used to live in China and this blog is legit.

  53. Mouse says...

    It’s so interesting about the divide between people who like to cook and those who like to bake. I find the truisms about it–that bakers are attracted to the rules and cooks like to be improvisatory–not often actually true. I never particularly liked to bake until I met my husband, who never met a sugared carbohydrate he disliked. I have learned to enjoy baking and am now good at it because I love his joy in eating the finished product.

    • Laura says...

      I definitely fall into that truism! I don’t like the stiffness of baking- you have to measure ingredients perfectly or the end result comes out tasting bad- and I am definitely someone who hates rules and authority in real life too :) I like that with cooking a dish you can truly do whatever and as long as it’s to your taste, it’s enjoyable

    • I am a die-hard rule-following goody-two shoes, and I *hate* baking. I find that rule-following side of my personality gets really stressed out about over-beating this or under-measuring that, and it takes the fun out of it. So definitely not true for me.

    • SuzieQ says...

      Is the preciseness demanded by baking maybe just a myth? I love baking and am a very sloppy sloppy measurer. I just eyeball the vanilla, baking powder, salt, and baking soda, including new recipes. But, things basically always turn out fine – hundreds of baked goods a year that are all edible and yummy without a single leveled-off cup of flour.

  54. Agnès says...

    this quarantine has really been interesting in some aspects, it is teaching us a lot about ourselves… I love preparing dinner with what I find in the fridge: sad left-overs, a lonely carrot, two boiled-eggs, one piece of bread. It’s mostly about presenting the eggs, cut in two in a cute plate, chop the carrott in length to deep in what’s left of mayonnaise, reheat the left-overs adding fresh parsley or grated cheese or a drop of cream. I really enjoy the surprise these dinners provoke in my family and the “oh, that’s nice” emotion. Thanks for the post (I’m starving now)

    • Jana says...

      This is my specialty too! I love the challenge of emptying the fridge into a meal. So satisfying!

  55. Sophie says...

    As I finished my college semester with nowhere to go but my childhood home and ride out the quarantine, I’ve been graced with the opportunity to cook meals for my parents who couldn’t be more appreciative. There is an equal load off my mother who is tired of being asked what’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner by my ever-so-hungry (re: bored) father and it really makes me feel good to be cooking for more than one person again.

    The way my father oohs and aahs with each dish served, makes me think I should have gone to culinary school rather than Design school. He’s either lying about what a great cook I am, or he was really tired of my mom’s super healthy vegetarian menu!

    • Claire says...

      Haha, this is just like my parents! They ADORE any new recipe or cook in the house, however mandane the final product must be. They’re an easy crowd to cook for, but, oddly, I feel kind of nervous cooking for them. I like to be alone in the kitchen and don’t want the pressure of something not turning out very well (and people going to the fridge or cupboards to find a spice or sauce to tweak it with). I’m hoping to build my confidence a bit as it makes my parents so happy when my brother and I cook! I’ll happily bake, though. :)

    • Celeste says...

      Oh my what a great living situation!

    • Susan says...

      Sophie, how wonderful! My college age kids are home, finishing up their classes online. We’ve shared out the dinners, giving ourselves 2 nights of take out to take the pressure off. We all like to cook very different dishes, so it’s been really fun to enjoy each other’s meals. It’s a little bit of joy in this difficult time – I don’t think we’ve eaten this many family dinners since the kids were in elementary school.

    • Kelly M says...

      This photo! I had no idea it was Tina Turner until I got to the bottom of the article. Fabulous!!! I like baking more than cooking. I agree that they seem like different interests and skill sets for a lot of people.