Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Cooking Intimidation

Husband is a perfectly competent, and occasionally excellent, cook. He makes the world's best egg and cheese sandwiches. He has the gift of getting inspired by a recipe while browsing a cookbook, especially if it's got good food porn photos of each dish. And yet, he doesn't cook very often. It's ok, because I love to cook and he steps up when I need him or really want him to cook. When we talk about it, he says that he's intimidated by my cooking skills and doesn't think he can measure up. It makes me a little sad, because he really does cook well, and would improve if he cooked more often and expanded his repertoire.

At least he's not alone. Today's NYTimes has a story about this phenomenon. The article actually covers it from both perspectives: the foodie couple in a group who feel that they must keep up the high standards they have set for themselves and the other folks in the group who feel pressure to live up to the high benchmarks, too.

I really love to cook for people. Almost no matter how many or few people, what kinds of foods they like -- I just like to cook for old friends and new acquaintances. Here in Isolationville, I don't have a lot of chances to do that, but I have friends actually coming all the way here to visit in July, and I've already started thinking about the menu. She is always so good about trying new recipes when I stay with them, so I'm feeling like I need to have put some thought into it and I really want to do one sort of fancy meal. How exactly I'm going to get the ingredients, I'm not sure, but the salmon will be running then, so at least I have a high-class base for the meal!

In general, though, I have tended to do more meals for large groups rather than fancier stuff for just a few couples. Some of my favorites are theme meals. I've done soup parties with great success. Usually, I make three soups (one vegetarian, one vegan, and one fishy, usually) and make bread to go with. When people ask if they can bring something, I ask them to bring a nice wedge of cheese, which rounds out the meal. I've also done mix and match pasta parties: two shapes of pasta plus a cheese-stuffed pasta with two or three different sauces and often roasted veggies or other add-ins. One of my favorite dinners to do that way is a grilled pizza party. Individual-sized crusts can be par-grilled before guests arrive, and then everyone tops their own and puts it back on the grill for five minutes to finish it off. Very fun and popular.

The joy of this style of dinner party is that even if people rave about the soups, the fact that it's a serve-yourself-from-the-pot meal keeps reciprocal expectations pretty low. And, quite frankly, it doesn't allow me to get competitive with myself either. Because I probably would, otherwise. Each time a particular group was over, I would feel like they expected me to outdo the last meal. I'm not really interested in getting into that kind of cycle.

Someday, though, I would like to have the required elements (like a big table and plenty of chairs, maybe even matching ones!) to have larger sit-down meals. I once had access to a borrowed apartment for events like that and I had so much fun with the meal planning. The Times article profiled a couple who spend whole days shopping and planning for each dinner they give. That's my idea of a day spent well. In cities where it's possible to visit cheese shops and specialty shops for fresh pasta and farmers' markets for local produce and bakeries for the bread and...

Now I'm just torturing myself because even if I were to fly to The City, I wouldn't find most of those things.

Someday. Sigh.

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