Does anyone remember that BBC daytime TV show in the 1990s called “Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook” with the ever-irrepressable Ainsley Harriott? He used to get one person who can’t cook in one corner and another who won’t cook in another corner, and teach them step by step how to make something in front of a live audience. I grew up with this show so it’s a bit of a blast from the past to have found an episode on YouTube:
(there is another part also available to watch linked through that episode if you’re really keen!)
Sometimes the reason why the Won’t Cook chef didn’t cook was because he/she couldn’t cook, which meant that occasionally it was actually a show of “Can’t Cook, Really Can’t Cook”.
Sometimes the Can’t Cook chefs were a bit like Bender from Futurama – desperately want to cook and enjoy it, but end up doing something a bit odd. We all know someone who’s done something a bit odd – like put hamburgers in the toaster to cook them, or decided that they couldn’t be bothered to chop up the onions and tried to blitz them instead in a smoothie machine…
(Clearly the first person didn’t have the right kind of toaster, like this hot dog toaster: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfgU2ctQhDc)
But I’ve been there. Most of us have at some point. You just don’t want to cook. It’s too much effort, or you’ve just had enough of the day and it’s the last thing on your mind.
But sometimes, a couple of people have told me that there are other reasons too why they don’t want to cook, and it seems to boil down to these reasons:
1 – you’re too tired: yup, I’ve had this too.
2 – you’re overwhelmed with decisions or choice – maybe you have several cookbooks on your shelves and they all look tasty, but since each book has its own version of chicken casserole that you could make, you don’t know which one is best to go with. Maybe you watched “Come Dine With Me” or “Masterchef” and they did this great version of the humble apple pie, but you didn’t like one of the ingredients they used to make their versions, and you didn’t know if, by leaving it out, it would ruin the pie.
3 – you’re unsure of your skills: maybe you had a few disasters, or someone critisized your skills, or you’re scared of getting it wrong. For example, I’m half-Japanese, and theoretically I should be able to make good Japanese food. The funny thing is though that when I do make Japanese food, my Japanese friends all say, “Oh man, this tastes *sooooo* European!” I’m not entirely sure what I do wrong, except maybe try to make Japanese food in a more laissez–faire Italian style…which doesn’t really work, since Japanese cooking is stricter than French cooking in so many ways. Oops.
But it does make me think twice before trying to make Japanese food, because I worry that it’s not going to taste as good as if I made something more European.
4 – you don’t enjoy cooking – it’s a waste of time, you could be doing something better, like spending time with your partner/family/kids/friends, or going out to the cinema or bowling, or just plonking yourself on the sofa with a bottle of pino grigio, a litre of Ben and Jerries, and re-runs of House.
5 – maybe a combination of the above.
It’s ok. Really. I think it happens a lot more often than we’d like to think about.
Not to worry though. Here are a few things that might help:
1 – bring in the ready meals or take-out for the night. That’s what they’re there for – they’re a convenient stop-gap to get through and keep you and your family going. The next time you get a chance to make a dinner, make it extra-large if you can and bag up and freeze them for another day
2 – memorize a few simple and fast recipes that you can create even if you’re zombified so that you have something you can always fall back on, and make sure to keep some staple ingredients in the cupboard and fridge/freezer – things like bags of pasta and rice, frozen vegetables, bacon, eggs, milk, sugar, plain flour and some of your favourite sauces and herbs.
3 – do whatever you have to do to keep going. If that means living off take-out for a few days until you can get everything in order, do it. Life is busy enough these days without putting yourself under any extra pressure, and sometimes you only have the strength to pull the duvet over your head. It happens, don’t worry – just get through it.
Then, when you have some time to yourself and you’re in the mood for it – get in the kitchen, put on some music or the radio and cook your favourite food. Make more than what you need and freeze the leftovers for another day when you need it.
If you really wanted to make something special that doesn’t require much effort, Italian food is easy to make, as is Germanic and Austrian food, except maybe the cakes – Austrian cakes were often influenced by the French style and therefore require French precision and (delightful) frivolities. French, Indonesian and Japanese food are devilish because they tend to require precision in every aspect to make it really well.
But above all, whatever you decide to make, as long as you’re happy with it, that’s all that really matters.