As part of growing up dysfunctionally, I never learned how to cook. This is tragic because I was “reared” by two excellent Southern cooks, my grandmother and my aunt. I have sensory kitchen flashbacks of food and cooking moments that leave me physically and emotionally hungry. Despite finding recipes that might recreate lost knowledge, my skill level keeps me from making any effort – at least right now. I can’t make decent dough. Yet.

I’m learning to cook. I’m slowly collecting internet recipes, exploring, experimenting. It’s quite fun. I’m not a foodie. I don’t want to be a foodie. The most “foodie” thing I’ve done was roast and peel poblano peppers for charro bean soup, which is about a 1 on a 1 to 10 foodie scale.

Chinese dumpling
My first (pitiful) Chinese dumpling

Tomorrow I am going to a friend’s house for a pot luck. My friend is Chinese and all her guests will be Chinese and all the food will be Chinese. Now, back in January, I went to a Chinese New Year celebration with my friend where we spent the day making dumplings. Apparently this is a Chinese tradition.

During the day we talked about the importance of cooking, culture, and family rituals and traditions. One of the things my friend observed was that in China people just cook. They don’t use measuring spoons or special equipment. They just know how much to use and they put things together. In the US, we go to great expense over accoutrements and kitchen equipment, we use recipes with specific amounts and instructions. We tend to be mechanistic or scientific about it rather than “natural” (her word choice) or intuitive.

Upon reflection, my southern Grandmother didn’t measure often. She just knew intuitively or experientially how to “eyeball” it. The “modern” cook in my friend’s observations is probably a product of a couple of things. First, hyper-capitalism has invented every sort of niche cooking tool imaginable, manufactured a need for it, and populated a market of buyers.

Second, the shift of mothers from the kitchen into the workforce and the invention of TV dinners and microwaves created a generation or two of people deskilled in the kitchen who then seek out instruction via books, classes, TV shows, or the internet.

I’m surprised at how many people I know didn’t learn to cook at a mother or grandmother’s elbow. Youtube is an amazingly effective substitute for elbow-learning. Also, less family drama!

Tomorrow I will be bringing my first Ambrosia Salad to my friend’s pot luck. Very Southern – friendly, sweet, charming, and a little nutty.



  1. Hey, do you remember a very long time ago, a town hall at NCA, and the topic was postmodernism? The one thing I remember from that debate: the guy talking about postmodernism-as-hogwash who used the example of baking bread. In order to bake bread, he explained, you need the water at the exact right temperature for the yeast to flourish. And somehow that certainty, that rationalized approach to baking bread, refuted postmodernism. But of course people all over the world baked bread and managed fermentation before they could even see yeast. And yes, cooking has been rationalized and commodified in so many ways.

    I have lots more thoughts about Youtube, deskilling, gender. But alas (or lucky for you) I need to run to a meeting.

    1. Author

      Cris, your meeting should be over. What are your thoughts!?!

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