I didn't grow up in a kitchen. I'm not even completely sure I grew up in a house with a kitchen. I remember microwaving frozen dinners, pouring bowls of Cap'n Crunch, and eating in many, many restaurants. I have friends who have mothers who had specialties, like, say, fruit pies. My mom's specialty was Froot by the Foot. As a child, I found Soup Starter intriguing. I asked my mother to buy it, envisioning the delicious soup it would help her create. She said making soup was too difficult, nearly impossible, but she was happy to empty cans of Campbells into my bowls. And I was happy to eat them.
In middle school, there was Home Ec. A charming class, a paean to a bygone era, a hangover from the decades when the wood shop down the hall was still a shop and not a makeshift auditorium. There were projects that involved turning on the stove, chopping things. I remember little of the actual techniques, but the chef salad and the little jars of jelly we somehow effected in forty-five minutes were really quite tasty. We also had sewing projects in those years. A friend and I decided to farm our work out. For about fifty bucks we were able to have our little pillows sewn by a real seamstress. I turned mine in completed, as proud of it as if I'd done it myself. Ben decided to rip out a few stitches of his puffy green smiling worm before the due date for (what he imagined to be) teenage authenticity. Similarly, when it came to our actual culinary assignments, we bribed, cheated, evaded, eluded, and did whatever we did to avoid having to roll up our sleeves. Did the roles defer to the girls? Did Ms. Harris step in and have to reroute derailed toasted cheese sandwiches? I have no recollection. My most vivid class memories are of tuning the teacher's radio and finding The Escape Club singing "Wild West," and finding the line about living in the eighties, headed for the nineties very, well, apt.
I graduated middle school, and then high school, and then college, and then graduate school, barely able to prepare more for myself than a ham sandwich with swiss cheese and miracle whip on wheat bread. I made Hollandaise sauce and poached salmon a few times in that first grad school apartment of mine. I destroyed a nonstick pan trying to sear ahi tuna. Eventually I abandoned the elaborate experiments and moved back to Chicago. There I poured bowls of cereal, ordered pizzas and pan-Asian food, and ate in restaurants, restaurants, restaurants. I had friends that could cook things and sometimes I'd have dinner at their apartments. They'd often send me home with leftovers. My Wrigleyville apartment had no sink disposal, and it was just as well. I didn't need to use my sink to do very much when most of my food showed up in plastic containers, often with their own disposable (sorry, environment) plastic cutlery.
This was my life with food.