Dependence, Learned and Unlearned
Or: How the f*** will I eat with Hank on the road?
There are jokes Hank and I crack about each other, and yes, to each other’s faces:
Hank is an entropy accelerator, brutally hard on everything he owns, from blue jeans to expensive appliances. Yes, I have found kitchen utensils half buried in the dirt in the garden. Really. Some day I’ll find the three spoons currently missing from the kitchen drawer...
I am an OCD Dutch Virgo who would never dream of letting efficiency get in the way of perfection. And no, I do not have an OCD diagnosis, but I definitely have the tendencies: I am overly fond of pretty numbers, and flatware lined up perfectly in the drawer brings me peace. Especially when there’s eight of everything. Ahem.
Then there is a joke about me that has evolved.
When Hank and I met, we were not the people you see today, and not just because we were 21 years younger. We were both political reporters. We both loved cooking. We both gardened.
As Hank began writing more and more about food, he began using the kitchen more and more. There was less room, and less need, for me to cook, so I found another role: food photographer.
My habit of regular cooking withered, and I became a stranger in my own kitchen, uncertain where things were kept, or what the mystery powders in unmarked containers were. (To be fair, sometimes Hank didn’t know either, and we had one spectacularly interesting meal after Hank used what he thought was cornstarch only to discover it was powdered sugar - wasn’t bad, actually.)
When Hank launched his first book tour in 2011, I found myself needing to cook again for large stretches of time, and I was shocked at how hard it was to muster the will to do so, simply because it seemed so foreign. Everything is difficult and awkward when you do it the first time, and apparently also when you do it for the first time in ages.
Hank referred to this as my “learned dependence.” It was true, and it was the subject of a lot of good-natured laughter, something I wrote about here.
Anytime Hank traveled, I would spend a week eating scraps until the scraps were all gone. Some meals were just several spoonsful of peanut butter. And then there was my standby: supermarket rotisserie chicken.
Chicken is the one domestic meat I absolutely love, and probably the only farm animal I would consider raising for food. But probably not, because I prefer animals raising themselves over needing me to protect them from harm and tend to them multiple times daily.
And what’s better than not having to raise the chicken? Not having to cook it, either! Thus rotisserie chicken.
There would always come a point, though, when I thought, “Hey, I think I’m ready to really cook something!” But that was always about the time Hank would come home, so it just didn’t happen.
Well, now Hank is off on a really long road trip, and the time has come to get cookin’.
I have approached this with some trepidation, because the last time I cooked regularly, my diet was very different: all domestic meat, and mostly low-fat food - both habits I’m happy to have shaken. Whatever kitchen muscle memory I might have, it was from a different culinary world. This might be like learning to walk all over again.
Or … not.
About the time Hank’s leftovers in the fridge ran out last month, I went on a couple pheasant hunts at the Hastings Island Hunting Preserve, and came home with six birds.
This is key because when I cook something for the first time, once is not enough - I have to do it multiple times to work out the kinks before moving on. First time, follow the recipe precisely as I can. After that, tweak anything that didn’t go right until I get it where I want it.
Of course, what to make with the birds was not going to be an issue. Sure, my arsenal of old low-fat recipes for domestic meat is largely useless. But, you know, I have this whole website full of wild game recipes and five wild game cookbooks at my disposal.
The results so far? No matter how simple the recipe, I blow up the kitchen the first time because I’ve forgotten how to organize my prep. But that quickly improves, and by God, the place is spotless before I go to bed … #NotAnEntropyAccelerator
But, in the language of public relations, mistakes have been made.
I made a big batch of carnitas with my pheasant legs and wings, and it turns out when I doubled the ingredients, I really shouldn’t have doubled the brown sugar. Nor should I have made a double batch using ALL my legs and wings on the first try - something I thought as I was loading the pot - because now I had way too much absurdly sweet carnitas. But that’s OK, I'm heading back to Hastings tomorrow.
I felt the need to re-season my old cast iron Dutch oven after making carnitas, and apparently didn’t clean it well enough first, so it now has a shiny, hard brown-sugar glaze around the edges. Oops.
One day when I was making piccata for like the third time (I love me some lemony-salty food), I grabbed a jar of green peppercorns instead of capers. I do not recommend this.
But, really, the foundation I built during my cooking years - 1997-2009 - hasn’t withered all that much. The joy of turning individual ingredients into something better by combining them with the right mix of time, technique and equipment burns as brightly as it ever has, maybe even more. The satisfaction of tweaking the process until I get it right where I want it is just as deep.
And there is something new. Dependence - in my case, the expectation that a plate of food would magically appear in front of me when I’m hungry - was never something I was proud of.
But it turns out it was not an addiction that would be painful to shake. It actually feels good.
I got this.
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I smiled so throughout this post. This is so my wife and I. We had always shared the kitchen duties over the years. Then, about 10 years ago, as I was easing into a consulting job, I began expanding my cooking chops into wild game dishes, mainly because I ran into some guy named Shaw online.
Now, I probably do 95% of the cooking in our house in, what has become, my kitchen. Even when I traveled for work or now, for outdoor excursions, I leave several meals prepped for her in the fridge. I’ll return days later, only to find everything still remaining right where I had left them on the fridge shelves. I’m not sure what she eats when I’m gone; probably popcorn and boxed cereal but, somehow, she survives just fine. Adapt and adjust, I suppose.
Of course, when I walk back into the house after a trip, I’ll hear,”So, what are you making for dinner tonight?” 🤨
Ok first I had to look up the meaning of entropy accelerator. But my orderly mind led me to first look up entropy. I had a reasonable idea of the meaning of accelerator. There were 3 meanings of “entropy”, the first and the last were simply babble and I’m quite certain do not apply to Hank. Ah, but the second meaning, well let’s just say I resemble that remark. You guys keep keeping on. You’re much appreciated.