Oliver: It’s never too late to pick up some culinary skills

Joan Oliver
Joan Oliver

A refrigerator magnet tells the story:
“ ‘Cook’ is a four-letter word.”

The magnet has been with me since a trip I took to Houston in June 1990 just after graduating from Northwestern. Granted, it has faded over the years, but the sentiment has not.

A cook I probably never will be. Then again, for many, many years I didn’t have to be.

My dear, sweet husband, bless his heart, likes to cook. He even did a stint as a short-order cook at a restaurant back in the day, long before he met me.

Since he was amenable to cooking for Team Oliver, I was not about to stand in his way.

That’s not to say that I don’t have any skills. My mother made sure that I had a few of the basics down. Boiling water, making grilled cheese sandwiches, heating up a frozen pizza and the like are crucial survival skills. Being able to follow a recipe, for instance, comes in handy.

However, my mother was cooking for a family of four with a very discerning Italian head of the household – my father. She wasn’t about to let me test-drive my cooking skills on Dad.

Mom’s penchant for cooking big, meat-based dinners on Sunday with the idea of making different meals out of the leftovers seems to be a skill I should have picked up, but alas, I did not.

I guess I didn’t see how that would translate to my future life.

What I lack in culinary skills I certainly make up for in appreciation. I do like to eat. Tony and I used to go out to dinner a lot, so I developed a sense of what I like. And I’ve been known to watch more than my fair share of cooking shows, from competitions to how-tos. Not that any of that means I can recreate anything fabulous.

However, I’ve recently been thrown into the cooking deep end. My dear Tony, with his early onset Alzheimer’s disease, is not feeling very confident in the kitchen anymore. That’s actually fine with me, since that’s one fewer thing I have to worry about.

Except that someone has to make dinner every night, and that someone suddenly is me.

One might assume that I’d just make the same things Tony used to make, since I was helping him more and more as he became more and more tentative.

The only problem is that he is more patient than I am in the kitchen and far more willing to make things that require effort and time.

Here we have the crux of my issues with cooking: I absolutely hate the idea of spending hours on something that I will consume in less than 15 minutes. I am, ahem, kind of lazy that way. Add in all the health drama of the last year that has left me in a state of perpetual near-exhaustion, and perhaps it’s understandable that I just don’t feel like imitating Julia Child.

So I’ve had to figure out how to make a few things that are healthy yet quick. Delicious yet easy enough for a middle-aged rookie to accomplish. And if it makes enough that we can get another meal out of it, all the better.

I just managed to make a simple curry that turned out to be pretty tasty. And I attempted and succeeded at a simple butter sauce to put over some butternut squash ravioli.

I guess that means there’s hope for me yet.

Just don’t expect a roast turkey with all the fixings. I’m definitely not there yet.

• Joan Oliver is a former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

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