What do you do when the kindest person turns out to be the worst cook? Though I believe that anyone can make good food, I also understand that there are some people who are really lousy in the kitchen. I’m sure there are a myriad of reasons, from not knowing what to do, to disinterest, and including the humbling notion that what I think is lousy, you may think is quite tasty. There are however some general, universal standards about what at its most basic is good vs. bad.
I have made no secret of the fact that I don’t care for most fast food, and though I don’t really like it, I can understand why someone might. We all have different tolerances for degrees of spiciness, and the fact that something is too bland or spicy though a preference isn’t enough for me to say something is bad. So what do I mean when I say someone is a bad cook?
When I was twelve or thirteen my mom got ill and was hospitalized. At the time my parents seemed to feel it best that no one tell us (my siblings and me) what was wrong. (A pattern they were to repeat numerous times over many years.) My father was with my mom most of the time, and we were left in the care of our Aunt Eileen (who was not actually our aunt). She stayed with us, kept us entertained, and got us off to school etc. I have no recollection of how long my mother was in the hospital though it seemed like weeks, and when she came home she was clearly not her former robust self for what seemed like months.
During this time many friends of the family brought food for us. This was the 1970’s so we got casseroles and such. We had all kinds of things that weren’t what we were used to eating. Some of it was pretty good, and some more odd than bad. Mrs. Ross, one of the sweetest people you’d ever meet, but an unbelievably bad cook brought us food often. This woman was so kind and generous, and it felt like we got more food from her than from anyone else. And though her food was barely edible, it was in its own way a source of comfort.
When Mrs. Ross would show up with food, we were guaranteed a lousy meal filled with laughter. We would speculate just how it was possible to get eggplant this greasy; it was literally dripping with oil (and I do mean literally). If we tried, could we replicate this roast turkey breast? Did she use any herbs or spices? The food was a bizarre combination of bad tasting and flavorless. How did she and her husband manage to eat food like this? We loved Mrs. Ross, and in retrospect it seems unkind, but we also loved laughing about just how awful the food she brought was.
Having a parent get sick, especially when you don’t really know what’s going on can create tremendous anxiety. You’re not sure what to say, or how to act, or just how worried to be, though if there was nothing to worry about someone would have told us that right? Worry had a different effect on each of us, and I don’t recall us talking about what was happening; it was just too scary. All those dishes and casseroles made life easier—no one needed to shop for or prepare dinner. Casseroles are the epitome of comfort food, and in some ways they did function as such. They also highlighted what we were all painfully aware of—things were not normal. Something was very wrong.
My mom did recover, and eventually life mostly went back to normal. We all gradually relaxed, and resumed our routines. We got through that scary time with the help of Eileen, each other, and all those casseroles, the good, the bad, and the really bad. Mrs. Ross may have the honor of being the worst cook I’ve ever known, but she showed up with food for us many times over the years, and for that gift of kindness I am very thankful.