To cook or not to cook


Last December, I purchased a KitchenAid mixer (aka, the Holy Grail of small kitchen appliances). What started off as simply a great Marden’s bargain turned into a strong feminist stance for all single womankind.

At 31 years old and unwed, I was not going to wait until I had an engagement ring on my finger and a thoughtfully curated Bed Bath & Beyond wedding registry to lock down one of these candy-colored implements of home cooking.

Owning it now makes me feel like an adult. It’s something I wouldn’t have wanted or even thought about 10 years ago. But 31-year-old Katie wants to be someone who can make fruit-filled cookies from scratch and, maybe one day, use it to make home- made pasta (attachment not included) so I can recreate some “Under the Tuscan Sun” montages in my apartment.

Though I have a stronger desire to cook, I’m still a bit of a slacker when it comes to my skills, practice and execution. Sure, I can feed myself, but I don’t have a stable of dishes ready to come out and wow an audience.

Is it because I live in Portland and would rather go out and experience the top-notch culinary delights this city offers (with new restaurants opening every month)? Or do I simply not have the need for skills in this department? I don’t have a family that depends on me to feed them, so I only have to worry about filling my own piehole. I also have a tiny kitchen and blame its lack of counter space for killing my desire to cook. That wee little kitchen makes it virtually impossible to do much more than pour a bowl of cereal. (What’s the phrase about the poor craftsman who blames his tools?)

Being “a good cook” is also not a quality that defines me as a woman, the way it defined so many women of previous generations. Cooking will not be the difference between getting a husband or not, so where’s the urgency?

On the other side, how am I not inspired by these culinary-obsessed times? The TV is flush with cooking shows (and entire networks that focus on this one topic). There’s the rise and glory of the celebrity chef, endless YouTube tutorials and millions of cookbooks that break down your favorite cuisine in step-by-step directions, written in whatever format you find most pleasing (humorous, rap lyrics, based on your favorite TV show). I almost feel like I could cook anything.

But still I don’t.

When I was growing up, both of my parents worked. But somehow, they always had a meal on the table and the family ate together. We ate a lot of potatoes because that’s what my dad grew up eating. And after years of practice, he mastered the perfect mashed potato. Though never overly complicated, the food I ate growing up was hearty, filling and tasty. I often wonder how they did it, because it seems darn near impossible for me to get myself to the table for a decent meal.

My dad, Brad Bell, and I prepare to carve a pumpkin in our family kitchen. I was all smiles until I realized that the pumpkin didn’t have pumpkin pie filling inside.
My dad, Brad Bell, and I prepare to carve a pumpkin in our family kitchen. I was all smiles until I realized that the pumpkin didn’t have pumpkin pie filling inside.

My mom’s father was a passionate home cook who was a ship’s captain nine months of the year. When he returned from sea, dinner was served promptly at 6 p.m. on good china with candlelight and Mantovani playing.

But my brother and I had our share of treats and junk food, too. I inherited my mother’s (and her mother’s) sweet tooth, and my brother and I ate our weight in Kraft Mac and Cheese. (I think we turned out OK. In fact, I swear I get my work ethic and drive from all the yellow dye No. 5 I’ve consumed.)

So yes, I want to be a better cook, but I’m not rushing that goal. Instead, it’ll be a slow-burn ambition that might take years and decades to be achieved. After all, that KitchenAid has only been out of the box once since I bought it.

Katie Bell is a Portland-based freelance writer who has contributed to publications throughout Maine, New England and London.

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