For a good part of my life, I’ve been what you might call an “armchair cook” – and in fact, there’s nothing wrong with that; I still love getting lost in the pages of a cookbook or watching chefs battle it out on television. However, a few years ago I started yearning to actually create some of the dishes that I’d been observing from the sidelines.
As a teacher, I know that you learn by “doing” – so, in the winter of 2013 I made the move off the “couch” and into the kitchen.
I’d been collecting cookbooks for years and had amassed a pretty large collection (enough to require moving one car out of the garage and into the driveway – priorities!), but I still found myself at the bookstore looking for just the right cookbook to begin with.
It was the title that drew me to that first selection – echoing my interest in, but lack of comfort, when it came to the kitchen. Thumbing through it, I knew it was the right one to kick off my cooking journey, and I spent the month of January immersed in it – building skills, building confidence, and ultimately building a love of cooking.
This week I look forward to revisiting that foundational cookbook – The Can’t Cook Book by Jessica Seinfeld.
Oh, Yes You Can!
Oddly enough, when I first bought this cookbook, I didn’t notice its clever cover design. In the far corner there’s a small circle that reads, “Oh, Yes You Can!” and the “Can’t” in the title is actually colored in a way to emphasize the word “Can.”
Throughout that first month of intensive cooking, I slowly built up my culinary skills – “simple” activities such as zesting a lemon, chopping a shallot, toasting nuts, cutting and dicing an avocado – were carefully demonstrated, and I saw my confidence grow.
I also found myself developing a sense of taste. At first glance this cookbook might appear to be primarily for novice cooks, but dive in and you discover that the recipes are absolutely delicious and packed with flavor! At the end of the month, I had an impressive list of recipes under my belt, and even though I was ready to try another cookbook, I knew that I would continue to return to The Can’t Cook Book.
During that first month of “real” cooking, I also realized that it was about more than just the skills and techniques I was learning. It was about engaging with life, using all my senses, and being present in the moment.
When I think back to that time, it’s lemons that immediately come to mind.
It was preparing roasted asparagus – watching the brilliant yellow zest scatter over the vegetables, using my hands to mix in the olive oil and lemon, and feeling connected to the food I was making. It was grilling chicken breasts– the scents of fresh thyme and lemon filling my kitchen. It was eating lemon ricotta pancakes on a cold winter day – tasting the bright notes of the lemon that elevated the pancake to an entirely new level.
The beauty, the scent, the flavor – of a simple lemon – introduced me to the power of a single ingredient and to how food, in its purest form, can transform a dish.
I especially love Jessica’s words in the introduction to this cookbook: “Being an adult beginner at anything is unnerving. No one likes to leave his comfort zone. Cooking as a beginner can make you feel very inept, uncomfortable, and even scared. But not for long my friends. You’re already showing some potential. Of course, in any new experience, there are setbacks. The fun thing about cooking is that sometimes those setbacks can lead to unintended but surprisingly good results.”
I like coming back to that – remembering what it’s like to be a beginner, appreciating every bit of growth, and recognizing mistakes as opportunities to grow. It’s helpful to look back and to know that each small step forward does make a difference. I’ve come a long way in the kitchen over the last three years, but I also still have a long way to go – and that is exciting!
I look forward to revisiting The Can’t Cook Book this week – and remembering that whether it’s in the kitchen, or in any other new endeavor, actually…yes I CAN.
Thank you, Jessica Seinfeld!