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I Refuse to Become a Good Cook For My Kids

Photograph by Twenty20

Despite playing house in my childhood and hoping in vain for an Easy-Bake Oven, when I moved into my first apartment as a young adult, the most innovative thing I did in my kitchen was use my oven as a filing cabinet. Cooking, you can say, has never really been my thing.

My first attempts in the kitchen occurred late in my twenties, when dinner parties became the rage in my circle of friends. I enjoyed them—the banter, the conversation, the intensity of friendly debate—and actually hosted a few, which meant my spending an entire day panicking and holding my sister, who actually can cook, my speed-dial hostage.

The result was always bad food, but my dinner parties were generally regarded as successes because I'd ply my guests with so many cocktails.

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When I started dating my now husband, who loves to eat, he tried to introduce cooking as an activity we could do together. "Why don't you come over," he'd say through the phone. "We'll practice cracking eggs."

For my birthday one year, he enrolled me in a cooking course called "Cooking Explained." Some friends felt I should take offense, but actually I looked forward to learning the insider secrets of the generally competent food preparer, such as how to gracefully flip an omelet or boost a salad's sex appeal with pine nuts.

The start of the first lesson, we were shown how to mince garlic without a press and chop onions without crying, which struck me as superfluous but good to know. Then the discussion turned to types of potatoes (there are types of potatoes?) and specifically whether Starchy Russets are better than Katahdins for mashing.

Yesterday evening, as her dad left for the airport, she said what we were all thinking, 'But who will make dinner?'

I'd expected to be standing at my own small station, following explicit instructions for how to serve pasta that wasn't stuck together like a wax brain. Instead, we were broken into groups, each assigned a part of a four-course menu.

The room erupted with whisking, chopping and hurried cries for broth bones. I understood: the others didn't need cooking explained to them. They were already more than cooks; they were chemists, alchemists even.

My assigned partner asked whether I'd noticed that onions caramelized in a Dutch oven sometimes had a sulfuric taste. "No," I answered, honestly, before inventing an emergency and excusing myself to a nearby café for a glass of wine.

My mother—and sister for that matter—can cook. My mother was a very picky eater, often unwilling to taste her own creations, but except for one memorable night when we were given ham sandwiches for dinner (the horror!) we nearly always had a home-cooked dinner.

I have accepted, with relief, that I will never be a particularly good cook.

Now that I have three kids, I feel very fortunate to have a husband who not only does all the shopping, but all the cooking that follows. It's in part due to his work as a logistics expert (like most things around my house, shopping is down to a science—we run out of everything about an hour before he returns from the shops each Saturday morning).

When my husband travels, though, everything changes. Even my 4-year-old has expressed concern. Yesterday evening, as her dad left for the airport, she said what we were all thinking, "But who will make dinner?"

While they have never starved, they have witnessed me struggle with homemade pizza dough, casseroles nobody cares for and even baking, from scratch. It never ends well: dinner is late, the kitchen is a mess, I am a bigger mess inside and out and nobody is happy.

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Dutch eating habits—we live in the Netherlands—make it pretty easy to be someone like me. There is typically only one warm meal a day—dinner—and, according to Ellen de Bruin, author of "Dutch Women Don't Get Depressed," making that hot meal with the help of a box or packet is perfectly acceptable—even wise, when it comes to recognizing mothers are busy and not perfect and do not need to risk burnout by trying to prove otherwise.

So I've hung it up.

I am no chef. But I can prepare food in a pinch—I can steam fish, grill a chicken breast. I can make pasta sauce, I can prepare soup. But I have accepted, with relief, that I will never be a particularly good cook. And when my husband goes away, I will take the opportunity to teach my children new skills, like making their own ham sandwiches or ordering pizza online.

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