Bett-Kinyatti: Why I gave up on ever whipping up a great meal for the family
What you need to know:
- Mothering took up so much of my time, energy and self that I had little left to devote to the kitchen.
- So while I got a five-star rating in motherhood and being a wife (ahem), I scrapped a one-star in the kitchen.
After 37 years and more hits than misses, two distinct careers, more sisters, brothers and parents than I was born with, less friends than I have ever had before, one husband and our two kids, one book and numerous stories, a growing diversity of hobbies in this bustling urbanity, I can now confess: I am a terrible cook.
Terrible, terrible, terrible.
It’s not that I don’t know how to cook. It’s that when I cook, it comes out so terribly that people I am cooking for can’t eat it. It doesn’t matter how famished they were or how long they waited between catching the drifting aromas from the kitchen and actually seeing the food on the table: that teaser will not be enough to force them to suffer through my terrible cooking.
I can assure you that it has not always been like this. I could cook, I really could. It was never an exotic cuisine or an elaborate feast, but it was palatable. You could clear your plate then gush: ‘That was some well-done steak, Bett!’
Now, in 2022, my own family will not spare my feelings. Njeeh, one-year-old son, recently spat out some broccoli stew I had cooked for him. He scurried off in his diapered bottom, wailing, he wanted nothing to do with that awful lunch.
I once made pancakes for breakfast and Muna, six, after the first bite, twisted her face as though she had been electrocuted, ‘I don’t like it very much.’ And GB, my own husband, the person who once experienced my cooking in its heyday, usually suggests we order in when I offer to go in the kitchen.
My ability to cook a decent wholesome meal has been declining over the years. I can tell you exactly when it started to go downhill: when I was carrying Muna and we had our first live-in house help in October of 2015. It was after she had lived with us for about three days that I told GB, ‘We have been starving in our filthy house.’
I don’t mean to be hyperbolic but that woman elevated our urban existence. Suddenly, the previous banalities of eating and cleaning and being at home took on an alternate dimension of their own. She brought us comfort and contentment. It was when she left for her two-week break that December, leaving me with a new-born baby and a husband, starving yet again in our filthy home, which the penny dropped: I could not live without help. Ever. No one in that house could.
Mothering took up so much of my time, energy and self that I had little left to devote to the kitchen, let alone to GB. Also there were duties I could not delegate to the help. Say, I could ask her to wash and sterilise the baby’s feeding bottles but I could not ask her to express breast milk for me.
So while I got a five-star rating in motherhood and being a wife (ahem), I scrapped a one-star in the kitchen. I know, it doesn’t take a genius to follow a recipe from the first step to the last, to measure and pour in the ingredients as you’ve been instructed. But there is an element of art to this craft of cooking. Finesse to the formula. Thought to technique.
I am utterly and ridiculously blind to it all. Thus my terrible cooking. Thus my little family’s colossal scorn. Thus the need to always have a help – or someone else – in our home, cooking our meals.
The bar has been set with every new help. The first live-in help was a fantastic cook. The second was just as fantastic. This third one is not just fantastic, she is also the standard against which we now measure home cooking.
She has turned my kids into foodies, GB into our resident tastemaker. They may as well start a food blog together, all of them. (Eye roll) Why don’t they also get a magazine column reviewing food in this town, eh? Tsk.
I am a terrible cook but I am excellent at other things in the kitchen, too. Besides, not everyone can be at the fireside stewing the broth in the pot. I will write menus and determine portions against the guests’ numbers, guests I am excellent at hosting.
I will go to the market and buy everything you need for cooking. I will dutifully slice and dice the ingredients while you do the actual cooking. I know you’re thinking, ‘There is still time to turn this around, Bett, c’mon – you can be the cook you want to be.’ I don’t actually, I no longer care for it.
What I can be is the smart girl who hires a personal chef to come into her home every weekend and whips up a feast so unforgettable, that no one will ever have to know the truth: that I am a terrible cook who embitters the broth with her ineptitude.
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