How to Cook Nothing


“Anyone can cook, and most everyone should… In fact, cooking is a simple and rewarding craft, one that anyone can learn and even succeed at from the get-go.” – Mark Bittman

That’s from How to Cook Everything, a gigantic cookbook that I own and was attracted to because the words “simple” and “basic” come up a lot, because I am indecisive and therefore can’t easily choose a niche cookbook, and because Mark not only goes over, essentially, what a pot is at the beginning but takes the time to talk about the equipment you need in this manner:

“Salad spinner: Nice item…”

“Brushes: Great for spreading oil…”

“Blender: Perhaps not for everyone.”

Why are blenders reserved for an elite group? Also: who does not know what to do with a brush? But I appreciate that he tacitly acknowledges that there are people out here, here where I dwell, who might try to slice bread or stir eggs with a silicone basting brush.

The first recipe in the book is Roasted Buttered Nuts and the last is Egg Nog. I have made the former and you will never see me drink the latter because, and I just don’t care how meaningful Egg Nog is to you and your wintertime boozing, Egg Nog is how alcoholics drink cake batter.

Somewhere in between the nuts and the nog there must be one “simple and rewarding” thing I can make for dinner. So far on the evening in question, I have read over the menus of six takeout places, opened the refrigerator eight or nine times, and conducted an online search involving the words “no-cook meals” and “healthy kids.” That yielded recipes for “loaded pizza hummus,” a bunch of desserts, and some kind of chia patty that looks like it was molded out of dung and the sunflower seed casings swept from a Major League Baseball dugout.

I try that game where you just flip open a book and let whatever you see first dictate your subsequent actions. I land on Marinated and Stewed Rabbit, and have neither a rabbit (or the desire to eat a rabbit) nor the “2 cups good red wine” that the recipe requires. If I did have the “2 cups good red wine,” I would just drink it and leave the rabbit. 2 cups good red wine: Nice item. Rabbit: Perhaps not for everyone.

I next land on Red Beans with Meat, which comes with the directions: “Don’t turn this into a bean-flavored meat dish, because it should be the other way around; the meat is the seasoning.” The meat is the seasoning? Also, who is he talking to? He’s all like, “Donna, don’t turn this into another one of your goddamned bean-flavored meat dishes, Donna. Jesus. Can’t you see that the meat is the seasoning?” Then I get to Baked Chard in Bechamel, which makes me imagine a paperback book just retrieved from the fire and then doused in Egg Nog, then Basic Pancakes (because the spine is broken and the pages split here – this is the one thing in the book we actually make). I strongly believe in breakfast for dinner, but I am alone in this conviction, at least in my household.

At this point in my process, the toddler has come roaring into the kitchen and has grabbed my thighs from behind. He arranges himself so that his head, which like all the heads in this genetic situation is bowling-ball-sized and hot as a live coal, is jammed right up in my crotch. He is difficult to disengage from this position, and as I try various Tai Chi moves to get free (wave hands like clouds, golden rooster stands on one leg), he starts hollering, “Mooooooooooom! Moooooooooom!” in an upward-facing manner that seems to be an attempt to scream my womb into just immaculately conceiving a new sibling for him. “That’s an echo chamber, sugar,” I say, and then the kindergartener comes in and starts saying, “What’s an echo stranger? Why did you say echo stranger? Why are you sighing? Why did you just sigh right now? What’s an echo stranger? Can I have something to eat?”

So I start piling things on the counter. These things include raw vegetables, one cucumber that has gone liquid in a plastic bag, some lemons, bread, a thing of plain yogurt, two small containers of blueberry yogurt, a brick of tofu, hummus, two avocados, and a lot of strawberries. I start handing out things that the kids, for no reason I can discern, want to eat. They each eat a wedge of lemon and ask for a piece of toast, dry. They each eat strawberries and a marshmallow. I make ants on a log, and the toddler methodically picks all the raisins off, licks the peanut butter off the celery, and then places the celery behind the couch. The kindergartener asks for bell peppers and carrots and hummus and talks excitedly about how they are going to do her body good and then quietly walks away from them. I am wondering if I can somehow make a soup from all the shit on the counter. I understand that anything made from the assembled ingredients will just be a watery vegetable graveyard, which makes me almost as good a cook as Lindsay Bluth:

I get a text clarifying that no other adult is going to be home on this evening, and text back that the kids have had salad for dinner, followed by a row of emojis that have no meaning but that I hope might sort of neutralize the salad lie. I actively encourage the children to go watch tv so I can order pizza. I can’t find my wallet, realize my wallet is in the car the other adult has at the moment.

Okay, so what do I do, if I am an outlier? Turn to the blender? Taking a cue from my horrible online search, I make the kids smoothies involving tofu, spinach, chia seeds, yogurt, the rest of the strawberries, and an entire huge bag of frozen blueberries, which disguise every other color/taste and almost overcomes the chia seed texture. I force myself to drink the equivalent of half a brick of tofu and a blueberry bush and am left with enough chia seeds wedged deep in my cheek pockets to look like Marlon Brando at the end of his life. If I could attach a crank mechanism to my jowls and spit the seeds out fast enough, I could sandblast the paint off your house. I do a lot of math on the back of a CVS receipt to try to figure out if the children are having any of their dietary needs met. The results are inconclusive. The kids, possibly contaminated by my nervous tension or just exhausted from being malnourished, ask to go to bed. Together, we read a book called Y is for Yum Yum Yum, and I sing them a little song about how yum yum yum rhymes with Mom, depending on how you pronounce “Mom” and they should always associate the two even if there is no evidence-based reason to do so. And then I worry that I am loosening the tie between the word “yum” and the meaning of “yum” too much and I creep back into their rooms and sing very softly about how I make gross food and it’s okay to fail at some things as long as you don’t totally give up and take supplements and then I promise that someone else will make pancakes for breakfast.


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