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Falling short of the cooking ideal

Here comes the fabulous food season. Thanksgiving kicks it off. And then there are Hannukah latkes, party canapes, Christmas cookies and don’t forget the hot cocoa. This time of year, I can no longer deny that I’m a cookzophrenic.

That means part of me relishes the creative, delicious world of food preparation and consumption. The other part of me runs shrieking at the mention of a potluck supper or cookie exchange.

I have never been adept in the kitchen. I can scrape by, but I lack motivation. That simple Chinese wok recipe loses its magic after I have chopped my 14th vegetable. I am best friends with my microwave.

I made one classic Christmas dinner with goose, ham, Yorkshire pudding, gravy and the works. It was pretty good, but during the three full days it took me to clean up, I vowed never again.

Yet my love-hate syndrome can be activated by a host of stimuli. It always hits me when I wander into a gourmet kitchen store. Knowing full well I will never use a garlic press, a deluxe spatula, a strawberry huller or a combination deep fryer and FM radio, I nevertheless want them.

It can strike when I’m simply watching TV and happen to flip past “Good Eats” or maybe a cake bake-off. You would think I had actually iced a layer cake or successfully handled one of those decorator icing bags.

But no. I just find myself wanting to after a couple of TV cooks make it look so simple. I have to fight the urge to race into the kitchen and begin preparing peanut brittle from scratch. I need to remind myself of the multiple batches of fudge I measured, mixed and threw out one year.

The odds are further stacked against me as my oven has a real burn-the-top, undercook-the-bottom problem. Nonetheless, I’ve been known to fantasize about busting out a perfect standing rib roast.

I am equally vulnerable anytime I pass a Martha Stewart or Bon Appetit magazine on the rack. When they show those glossy photos of a beautifully set table groaning with at least five courses, I begin to lose touch with reality.

Suddenly it doesn’t matter that each recipe has three parts with 10 ingredients and instructions that cover two pages. Fully cognizant that I probably can’t afford the exotic ingredients, much less find them, I still want to flip on the oven, gather it all up and cook up a storm.

When I snap into consciousness and face the fact that just one of those five dishes needs more than an hour of my attention, I get over myself.

All that effort so it can be eaten? I think not. Were I to invest that kind of time and creativity into something, I want it bronzed and put on the mantel. Uh oh. That paella recipe on Pinterest sounds so easy. Make me a reservation, quick.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer and culinary lazybones. Contact her at [email protected].