The Pressure Cooker

Lee Ann SunnyBy Lee Ann “Sunny” Brown

Photo by Billy Brown

Out of all the things in the kitchen that are scary and unnerving to be around, there is one above all else that is the most unsettling: the pressure cooker, which during most of the year, is me.

I am just going to admit it right here and right now: I don’t like to cook. Whew! I finally said it out loud. And I’m going to say it again: I. Don’t. Like. To. Cook. The truth will set you free!

Well, that’s not entirely true. I don’t like to cook under pressure: the pressure of deciding what to cook, who likes what and who doesn’t, everything being ready right at six o’clock, or everything having to be ready at the same time. It’s just relentless every. Single. Day. And night. Sometimes I don’t want to eat. But you have to force yourself when you have a family that thinks dinner is a mandatory meal. And then there’s all that list making and grocery shopping. It’s enough to bring me to my boiling point.

Being a Southern woman, the pressure to cook for people is enormous. It’s marketed as a way to show people how much you care about them. So for years, I pretended I liked to cook. I bought all the popular cookbooks, including signed copies of Frank Stitt’s and Chris Hastings’s cookbooks, and I was able to keep up with the conversation about the best recipes in the new ones from the Junior League. I subscribed to Southern Living and clipped and saved the recipes and put them into a file for some future use. I adore aprons, and have a small wardrobe of them, and I am always shopping for all the cute accessories for cooking (in fact, I’m particularly in need of a chef.) I listened and smiled and nodded when friends were discussing their favorite recipes (it was then that I found out you were judged by the size of your muffins.) I finally realized that every woman was supposed to have a couple of signature dishes–her “go to” recipes that everyone loved. Then the pressure was really on, lest it be found out that I was pretending and just dressing up. I didn’t want to be “outed,” so whenever I loved a particular dish a friend made, I would get the recipe from her. The only problem was that they always brought their best dishes themselves. I just don’t understand what’s wrong with bringing a tray of chicken fingers.

Really, all of this used to bother me. I felt inadequate as a grown woman, as a Southern woman, as a mom, as a person, really. All of society tells me that I should love to cook. How did I miss this gene, Mom? Oh, yeah, you don’t like to cook either. And then it dawned on me recently, as I was heading into the kitchen to bake an apple spice cake, that this is not entirely true. I actually like to cook from Oct. 1–Dec. 24. And then I’m done for the rest of the year.

Maybe it’s something about the lower temps that brings out the woman in me, because it’s only in the fall and through the holidays that I turn into The Happy Homemaker. I love making pots of soup and stews and the smell of dinner simmering in the crockpot. The rest of the year I couldn’t tell you where the kitchen is. It’s crazy. I mean, I love it! Whatever it is that inspires it, as soon as I get a whiff of my first pumpkin spice latte, I turn into someone my family, and I, don’t even recognize. I put on my prettiest apron, disappear in a cloud of flour, and embark on a passionate three-month affair with the Pillsbury Doughboy.

It all begins because of apples; they’re my downfall. In the fall, I must bake every single recipe I have ever saved with apples in it: crumbles, applesauce, cakes. Then I move on to pumpkins: pies, soup, bread, butter. Then pear tarts, pecan pies, and muffins, finally culminating in the chocolate baking frenzy that is Christmas. But the minute Christmas Day brunch is over, I never want to do it again. In fact, I can barely make it through the entirety of Christmas Day. All I want is my regular life back of my favorite restaurants and take-out food. If there is a need for me to bring you food, it’s lucky for us both if it falls between October and December.

And so now Thanksgiving is approaching, the most pressing time of year of all as it is completely focused on the food. I am so grateful that it falls during the time of year of my cooking/baking frenzy. Also I am particularly thankful that it relies on the exact same tried-and-true family recipes year after year. This is not the time to experiment with any new ones to try and impress everybody, so that pressure is off, thank goodness.

The thing is, when I want to cook, I am actually pretty good at it. I mean, it’s not that hard. All of the directions are written down for you. But there must be another way to show you that I care besides having a homemade signature dish to take to you. Because, I do care—I care when you’re not feeling well or you lost your pet or a beloved family member or your youth. Doesn’t my sad emoticon convey that? Maybe the new “dislike” button on Facebook will convince you. I do care. I just don’t cook. It’s too much pressure.

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