Recipe for competence
Stuffed squash and
Sausage stew and
Spiced muffins and
Sweet potato popovers and
Creamy corn chowder and
Risotto from scratch and
Stock from scraps
because I am able
and they are there
Chop, stir, spoon, cook,
dash of this because it smells right,
measure of that to rise it well
Each meal might last as long as leftovers, built into the menu
a frozen portion put up for who knows when
(more likely gone tonight)
this is how
I’ve been cooking more, lately. We’re back to weekly meal plans (and their requisite weekly shopping trips), a chore that creates more work, yet (done well) makes our lives easier. There is mindfulness to be found in the movement of food from pot to plate, to be sure, but sometimes it’s more a struggle to eke out the time, trade off the babe, fend off the child (or, harder, invite him in to help). Yet when it is done: I have done it. We, more likely, but for all the effort is communal, my pride is personal. I was taught some skills in each discrete kitchen task, but never shown, in instruction or by model, the how of putting it all together in putting a meal on the table. This is learned. This is mine.
There are so few areas of my life I feel unreservedly, realistically competent. Not confident — a wager on oneself, a boast of one’s abilities — but competent: to know a job has been done well, and I have done it, not by fluke or luck or Herculean effort, but by showing up and simply doing. A repeatable act.
I have skills as a parent. Contrary to the trolls taken to haunting my comment box, I am not a bad parent. I have skills, and creativity, and a vast, emphatic love for my children. I have a metaphorical toolbox full of skills and tricks and guiding ideas — but its latch sticks. Its hinge is squeaky sometimes, and I’m not sure there’s enough oil in the world to make it open smoothly when I most need it. I do not feel competent as a parent, not past infancy. I cannot stir lovingly and spice well and bake children with brilliantly balanced flavors, nor whip up a smooth and full and just-right-sweet relationship with them. I know how to hold and I know how to hold firm, and I even have an idea of when each is needed, but the synthesis (the putting into practice when three burners are full and the oven needs emptying), the ownership and overarching knowledge of this parenting gig, is lacking. My snuggle soufflés, like my similes, fall flat.
But in the kitchen: this I can do. There’s no cookbook I follow (though I always have Joy at hand, a metaphor too obvious to pursue), no single philosophy beyond “food as much like food as seems appropriate” (because sometimes there’s only time for canned beans, or a craving only boxed mac’n'cheese will fill). I use what I have, clean out the fridge when things get funky, mix beloved dishes with new recipes with spontaneous inspirations, and feed us, and feed us, and feed us — knowing none of it will last, knowing failures and fiascoes are blessedly fleeting, knowing with each meal I am building something worthy, knowing tomorrow’s drivethru cannot uneat today’s homemade fare.
This is competence, and I did not know its lack until I first tasted its elixir. I find myself craving more.