"Hey, come here a second," my mum said as she replaced the book in my hands with a wooden spoon covered in what I prayed was red sauce. Together, we walked into the kitchen and hovered over the skillet like we were peering into a crystal ball. Looking into my future, I saw me eating a lot of take away.
"Now see — first you brown your ground round," she said, soldiering on despite me rolling my eyes so hard I could nearly see brain. "Look. You're not looking. You're going to give your whole family food poisoning if you don't pay attention. You want sick kids? You want to clean vomit out of someone's hair at 2 a.m.?"
I was 10.
My mum spent the better part of my adolescence convinced that I was going to grow up foraging for scraps out of trash cans and then have children only to watch them slowly starve to death. That was, if I could even find a man who wanted to marry someone who didn't cook. Small towns, you know.
When it came time for uni tours, it wasn't, "How much does it cost?" or, "What programs are accredited?" but, "What is the maximum number of daily meals your cafeteria is legally allowed to provide to students?" When I finally shoved off, the only thing I knew, or rather cared, how to make was a cheese roll-up — a piece of sliced cheese microwaved in a tortilla shell. In uni I pretty much lived off those, and food court food.
For me, cooking is just short of torture. I hate it, and the feeble attempts I've made have ended poorly. Not only that, but I believe it's a matter of logistics. Spending a considerable amount of time sweating and slaving over something that can be purchased by simply walking to the back of the grocery store and plucking a rotisserie chicken out from under the heat lamp doesn't make sense. I mean . . . sure. With enough time, preparation, and peer pressure I could probably muster up a decent seven-layer burrito. But why would I when I can drive the length of a football field and buy one for $2, without even having to leave the comfort of my vehicle?
"Your oven is super . . . clean," I remember my realtor commenting as he did his walk through when I sold my condo and moved in with my husband. I realised then that I was 30 years old and had used my oven once — ONCE — to make frozen pies one night when I offered to cook him dinner when we were first dating. I didn't want him to think I was a big weirdo who hated to cook. However, I think the fact that I served frozen pies and nothing else tipped him off.
My aversion to cooking was never really an issue until we had kids. Sure, for the first year or so it was fine. Boobies, bottles, and jars of baby food are right up my alley. I tried to stretch this out as long as possible, but most teachers give the thumbs down to strained peas in a lunchbox.
Since eating out with kids costs a small fortune, they've had to adapt to my culinary handicap. "What's for dinner tonight?" they'll ask. "Imitation crab meat, cherry tomatoes, and as many almonds as you can handle!" I reply with a thumbs up and a smile.
I will say this — at our house, we eat super clean.
Trying to explain all of this to my friends who love to cook is like telling them you don't like the way their nose goes with the rest of their face. They take it so personally and can't imagine that anyone doesn't love spending the afternoon whipping up a creative masterpiece out of chicken thighs.
"But cooking is so relaxing," they reason. "Pour yourself a glass of wine, turn on some music, and make your family some damn chicken tetrazzini! It's fun!"
I like wine. I like music. Why can't we just leave it at that and open a nice can of tuna?
Over the years I've tried several times to force it — convince myself it WAS fun. This is evidenced by my sad little Pinterest recipe board and my husband coming home, opening the windows, and asking, "What's that smell?" Turning 40 last year, I sat down and made a list of priorities in my life. One of my bullet points was to do more things I like to do, and leave behind what I don't. Cooking fell on the latter list. It's just part of who I am. My friends know they're getting PB&J finger sandwiches when I show up to their parties.
"The ones from the bakery by your house. The STORE-BOUGHT ones, right?" she'll ask cautiously. "Is there any other kind?" I reply. And before you worry about my kids growing up to continue my legacy of serving their families chicken nuggets and olives for dinner, don't. Let's just say my mum finally got the eager proteges she's been praying for, times three.
Hannah Mayer is a nationally award-winning blogger, humour columnist and exponentially blessed wife and mother of three. She would trade everything for twelve uninterrupted hours in a room with Jon Hamm and two Ambien. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter or at her blog, sKIDmarks.