Author Elena Stowell

Author Elena Stowell


The scene: I’m trying to branch out and meet new people so I tag along with a friend to a luncheon of her friends.

“OMG!” “Did you see ‘Elevating Pork Tenderloin with Tangy Goat Cheese Dressing’ on the Food Network last night?”

“Oh yeah, I loved how they added the cheese with scallions and parsley. I never would have thought of that.”

“I know, right? I have always done it the other way.”

“What about you? How do you prepare goat cheese dressing?” An elbow to the ribs from my friend breaks my reverie of anonymity.

“Ummm,” I sputter. “I don’t cook.”

I don’t know if I preferred the women who cast their eyes away as if embarrassed for me, or the ones whose pupils dilated to the size of donut-holes. “No. It’s not that I can’t. I mean, I can follow a recipe, but I don’t, like, enjoy it or anything.” (Pretty sure I heard gasps and at least one Hail Mary here.) “Besides my husband cooks. He can actually go through the frig and freezer and create a meal. I need several days of pre-planning and anti-anxiety medication.”

Can you say “buzz kill”? Throats were cleared, manicured fingernails examined and the conversation turned to Back-to-School savings at Target. “Jeez,” I think. “Isn’t anyone watching World Cup?”

Just because I don’t engage in the act of cooking doesn’t mean I’m not devoted to the whole concept of food. Food can conjure vivid memories, stir myriad emotions, bring people together, and be the joy or bane of existence. Take, for example, family recipes. How can you not embrace the idea of making Great Gramma’s strawberry-rhubarb pie using the secret ingredient that won it the county fair blue ribbon for “Best Crust”? Sounds lovely, but makes one pause if they were raised in a B & B kitchen; all things Broiled or Boiled. The occasional pie was scant and from the freezer section.

There were family recipes we weren’t allowed to make. Stew and polenta were never on our table. Supposedly my father was made to eat so much stew and polenta growing up that, “Thou shalt not ever make, attempt to make, or purchase stew or polenta,” was part of my parents’ wedding vows or pre-nuptial agreement, or something like that. On my mom’s side there is a family recipe for Great-Great-Grand-so-and-so’s Irish Bread brought all the way from the old country. I received a copy when I got married. I believe it’s the only 3×5 card in the little recipe box it came in. This recipe came with too many rules. You can only make it on St. Patrick’s Day. You have to use currents, not raisins, and they have to be soaked ahead of time and maybe be imported. You have to use a certain kind of flour and cover it with a special 100% cotton dish cloth after it bakes or it will harden too fast, and I’m pretty sure you had to recite paragraphs from Angela’s Ashes in Gaelic and maybe have it blessed by the Pope. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

Now if we played Truth or Dare and someone called “Truth” on me, (Daring me to cook off-the-cuff would be an injustice and gastrointestinal safety hazard to the other players) and I had to truthfully provide a family recipe I knew, I could do it. I can make Tuna Gludge.

Boil up a bag of egg noodles, strain them; add to the same pot 1 can of tuna, 1 can of cream of mushroom soup, and 1 previously boiled bag of frozen peas and carrots. Stir until it’s all warm and gracefully spoon glops of it onto each plate.

What if I add tangy goat cheese dressing…? Food Network here I come.