Vivian’s cooking? Take your life in your hands


The pandemic has changed our lives in so many ways, calling on us to revise our daily schedules and to rethink how activities can best be accomplished even as we are attempting to cope with the emotion toll.

I despise cooking, always have. My mother was a wonderful cook, learned from the home economics teachers at Benham High School and certainly not from her mother. My sons said from time to time that my mother’s mother, my grandmother, lived on cokes, toast and tea.

My role as a child was to stay out of the kitchen, to play (My mother’s father thought play was sinful and that “ Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop”), so any secrets of cooking my mother knew were never passed down to me.

I’ve had many culinary disasters: frying the skirt on liver, serving golden-fried chicken that was bloody and steak that could have been used to resole shoes, making a pecan pie that my father -in-law remarked, “If I could just get this crust cut,” pretending to know how to cook pinto beans and serving my guest beans from cans, saying that my college students had picked the greens I served when they were from cans, and so forth.

All I really know how to cook is fudge, something my grandmother taught me one summer. Knowing how to make fudge has served me well through the years, and only yesterday a long-time friend who is in a deep malaise because of the ravages of the pandemic asked me to make peanut butter fudge for her. Not bragging, I also know how to make milk chocolate or rich dark chocolate fudge with a rich array of walnuts, coconut bonbons, and buckeyes.

I hate the mess that cooking makes. I hate not having the necessary ingredients. I hate relying on frozen meats or vegetables. I hate the failures I create with cooking. Additionally, the vocabulary associated with cooking is a mystery to me, a mystery I have no interest in solving. A friend once said, “Vivian can’t cook anything that requires more than three ingredients.”

She’s right, and she knows my sons took cooking classes at Harlan High School so that they could cook for themselves. My son Quentin even told me once that he had learned from his teacher that muffins should not have tunnels. My response was, “The tunnels are for the butter and jam to run through.”

In the town in which my husband and I now live, pre-COVID we were frequent visitors to three sit-down restaurants. Additionally, I felt I should get frequent flyer miles at several of the drive-throughs (I noticed they are awarding points now to encourage brand loyalty).

With COVID I was forced to cook. I do now several times a week, but I always tell my husband, “You don’t have to eat it if you don’t want to.”

I now order groceries to be delivered to the house, and I have what most people would call basic staples in my kitchen: salt, pepper, all-spice, flour, baking powder, sugar, and cooking oil.

Back to the three-ingredient comment from my wise friend Jennifer. I am proud to say that I now can cook the following using only three ingredients: meat loaf, stuffed peppers, chicken, spaghetti, pork chops, chili, goulash, chicken and dumplings (And I make the dumplings), salmon cakes. The staples don’t count as I keep the ingredient list at three or fewer and attempt to minimize the number of cooking utensils. From time to time, I research a recipe on the internet and eliminate items so that I stick to three. I recently researched the web when one of the profs at the college offered me paw-paws.

Know that when my sons come to visit, they call ahead to ask what dishes they should bring. They know not to take a chance on my cooking as it’s still sketchy.

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