Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook: One Girl’s Struggle With Culinary Basics

One of my favourite things about Christmas is the food – the turkey and the trimmings, the cupboard’s worth of condiments and even the Brussel sprouts that get their token annual outing. It’s the unnecessary yet deemed essential excess of food that I love so much about a festive roast. So, will I be preparing this year’s family feast? Oh, god no! If I was in charge, the poultry would either still have a pulse or be as cremated as Mog the Cat’s efforts in the Sainsbury’s adverts. Because of this, I can guarantee that I’ll be bought at least one ultimate beginner’s cookbook but as I pile up the books of basics, I’m worried my well-meaning Mum may be wasting her time. One day I hope to return the favour of many marvellous meals (and not just Christmas ones) cooked for me but looking back at my culinary fails, I don’t think any amount of help guides are going to see me rustling up a roast this Christmas…

I like to think I’ll give most things a go but cooking is the one thing, alongside sport, that I really struggle to get interested in. Perhaps because, just like sport, it’s one of the things that I’m just absolutely awful at. At school, I was one of the annoying “top of the class” sorts so when I wasn’t very good at a practical task, I would rather not do it at all. This attitude wasn’t helped by the fact I remained “top of the class” in Food Technology despite not being able to turn the oven on. I would always do my homework, remember my ingredients and tie my hair up without asking and because of that infuriating teacher’s pet persona, my grades somehow never reflected the fact I couldn’t even chop vegetables. If I got the same marks on paper, why bother with the actual task? It’s only now that I realise a picture of food groups is not going to feed the family (no matter how well coloured in!) that I start to regret hiding in the classroom.

“Ooh, you’ve got clean hands and I don’t want to dirty the oven handle, would you be a lamb (no pun intended) and put my stuff in the oven at the same time as yours?” and “Could you just check that I put the cooker on please? I’ve just started washing up and don’t want to have to dry my hands before I’m done” were two of my favourite excuses for not bothering to fathom the temperature gauge. Thinking about it now, it would have been easier to just say “Mate, don’t suppose you know how to turn this thing on do ya?” but that would have been far too logical.

So have I learnt from my past and given cooking a chance? Absolutely not, although deep down I know I should. A few years ago, my friends decided to host their own version of Come Dine With Me. The idea was that we each hosted a dinner party and, yes, filmed the results. When it came to my turn though, the project came to an abrupt end. I convinced myself that it was because the Pritt Stick costume I wore at the last event couldn’t be topped, and that our fun had peaked too soon but really it was because I was too incompetent to come up with a menu. And maybe my friends didn’t bother nagging me because they would happily sacrifice socialising to avoid salmonella.

Part of me is very embarrassed to admit how bad I am, but I also feel comfort in being so bad that nobody ever expects me to be any good. Once people have witnessed me struggling to butter a piece of bread, they know I’m not going to be whisking up something I saw on Masterchef or The Great Bake Off (as much as I love watching those shows…). However, when I do cook anything – even instant noodles – I do have a bad habit of thinking I’m suddenly a culinary genius. The only thing I can cook from scratch is a tomato sauce and you’ll know this because I’ll manage to say “Oh, have you tried bay leaf in your Bolognese?” at least 10 times during any conversation about cooking. I then also try and persuade people that mashed potato sandwiches are the future so I quickly wipe out any credibility previously earned…

Although I like joking about how hopeless I am, I’m starting to realise that I’ve got to a point where my inability to boil an egg is no longer cute and ditzy but actually rather inconvenient. So this year, if I am bought a cookbook, I promise to ask how to turn the oven on before I discard it out of embarrassment.

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