When I first started out as an adult, I was the cook. I experimented. I made funky 1950's casseroles with asparagus and eggs and cheese. Laugh if you will, but those Mad Men casseroles were pretty darn good. Of course, these recipes existed in a world before the concept of Weight Watchers happened. Eat enough of those mid-century dishes and you'll find yourself in an embarrassing jean rivet popping situation.
All that to say, briefly, I cooked. I might not have been great at it, but I enjoyed it. I had a little kitchen at the back of a cottage with mushroom wallpaper and heavy oak cabinets. The window overlooked a car dealership, which was originally a church, which was a hop skip and jump from the university I worked for. It was a crazy mish-mash little house and I burned candles in it, cleaned it, and watched the seasons change outside that window. I baked cookies (albeit usually a disaster). I made cakes and was usually content to bake some chicken and make a salad. But I was preparing food, and I found joy in it.
And then, things changed. It was easier to smile and laugh and shrug and say, "Yep, I'm not much of a cook."
It was another one of the many masks I allowed myself to smother under.
All these years later, I find myself starting over. I find myself walking up and down the aisle at the grocery story. Giddy. Ecstatic.
"Oooh! Look at those heirloom tomatoes. They're purple with green stripes!"
"Oooh! Tarragon! I love that stuff. Next year I'll grow it on my patio."
"Oooh! I'll make meatloaf tonight, and maybe I'll use a little rosemary."
I'll be the first to say I'm a simple cook. I don't do fancy. I do healthy, comforting, and at the end of a long work day with a grumpy toddler in tow, easy. I like soup in the winter, and fresh salads in the summer. I want to learn to bake my own bread. When I'm alone at night I cut up cheese and grab some olives from the fridge, pour myself a glass of wine and call it a day. Even something as simple as that, as cutting up food and pouring wine and sitting alone on the living room floor, it's healing.
These days I put Jane in front of a coloring book, play music and work in my tiny little kitchen. Gone are the days of new beginnings and mushroom wallpaper, but I'm happy. I have cabinets full of things I can use. I have a fridge full of food that I bought, that I cooked, that I know about. It's so very simple. And so very basic. And so many people probably won't understand... but I've come back to life in my kitchen. The clank of the pots, the smell of fresh herbs, the chop chop chop on the cutting board. It helps me remember the girl in her mushroom kitchen, all 115 pounds of her, badly high lighted hair, and a blissed out heart full of hope for her future.
I lost her for a very long time. But she's coming back, little by little, with the help of basil, and fried chicken, and salads, and yes, even badly baked cookies.