Anyone who knows me knows I am no cook. It’s not that I can’t cook–I can, and fairly well if I focus enough. It’s just that I’d rather do anything–including dishes–than cook. Oh sure, back in the day I cooked for the family (“Who wants breakfast for dinner?”), and once a year I hosted a holiday party for 50-70 people and cooked a veritable buffet feast that prompted many to say, “You must love to cook. This dinner is incredible!” Mr. RG and I always laughed at that comment, since he ultimately became the family chef, mostly out of self-preservation.
Then there is the Celiac Disorder issue, which makes cooking even more of a bore. Dining out is less of a bore, but far more risky and too expensive. Just when I think I know all I need to know to safely eat out, I find out that even fresh veggie sushi–without the soy sauce or any sauce, for that matter–makes my stomach ache and my chest and stomach break out in hives. Thank you, distilled vinegar. I might as well have eaten a donut.
After one particularly bad gluten attack from a mystery source, I noticed one of my hives didn’t go away. As days turned into weeks, this hive grew bigger and became a tad uncomfortable. Nice. When it got to the point that I stopped wearing any of my T-shirts except those with high enough neck lines that covered up the damn thing, I called one of the local dermatologists and begged for an appointment before work.
“We need to biopsy this,” said the doc.
“But it’s just an infected hive or something, right?” I asked for the second time.
“No, I don’t think it is. It’s not a melanoma, but I suspect it’s a skin cancer,” he said.
Sure enough, he was right, and I was wrong.
A week later I was back in his office, again feeling the sting of the numbing agent before he took the nasty thing off and singed the spot to kill it for good. As he scraped away (“It’s deeper than it first appeared.”), I re-lived the halcyon days of my thirteenth summer, when iodine-laced baby oil and album covers covered in foil were the norm for any of us girls trying to tan our skin darker than our friends’. This was followed by use of a Ban de Soleil product described as “orange gelee,” the smell of which immediately conjured up spending summers at the beach with those same friends as all of us tried in vain to keep the sand out of the greasy stuff.
The next morning, a little tender from the procedure, I was grateful to have at least the day off before I had to work a night shift. As I made coffee, I developed an incredible urge for fruit-filled muffins, which was immediately followed by a lesser urge for oatmeal-raison cookies.
I pulled out every bag of gluten-free baking products I had stashed in the kitchen, tossing out the ones that were out of date as I tried to piece together muffin and cookie recipes from the remaining product labels. I gave up, wandered to the living room and perused the long-ignored collection of cookbooks I had finally unpacked after several years and placed on the bottom of a bookshelf. I opted for Betty Crocker, substituted flour for flour, and cooked up a batch of mediocre raspberry-blackberry muffins. By then, the allure of adapting an oatmeal-raison cookie recipe–and actually trusting the gluten-free oats I had bought months ago to be gluten-free–had dissipated.
As I returned Betty to her dusty place on the bookshelf, I knocked over a small notebook-style collection of recipes I didn’t remember. Had I bought it at a yard sale? As it turned out, I had re-discovered my great grandmother’s dessert cookbook–a sparse collection of hand-written recipes categorized by those from whom she’d copied them–Mrs. McNeil, Mrs. Williams, and now and then a first name such as Marion. They were simply a collection of ingredients and minimal instruction about how to mix them. Not one included an oven temperature.
I spent an hour reading through each recipe, wishing I had looked here first and tried making a batch of Beulah’s carrot pudding or adapting ingredients for Mrs. Chapman’s Whipped Cream Cake.
It’s a cinch those ladies made a point to stay out of the sun in order to keep their skin fashionably pale and pretty and smooth, even as they aged. They cooked and swapped recipes, wore white gloves to luncheons and always kept a hat on outside. My great grandmother was a beauty right up until she died at age 82.
She would be 122 if she were alive today. She would scold me for my lack of desire to cook and my sun-kissed skin. Then she would bake me a batch of Mrs. Franklin’s spiced cookies and tell me to work less, cook more, and not worry about a skin cancer that is the easiest type to treat. Aging, she would tell me, is inevitable as much as it is fraught with the inevitable.
Be grateful. Be thankful. Take a baking day, now and then.