Here's How I
Life Recipe for True, Long-Lasting Love
WriterAdvice.com Flash Memoir Contest, 2017
Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary
"At first glance, you might be tempted to think Here’s How
I Don’t Cook is a book of recipes, some that no gourmet
cook worth their natural sea salt would want to try. It is,
but it is more.
are accompanied by stories of events (or vice versa) that
kept a foodie from cooking. Some are stories of one woman’s
rebellion against what she considered the repression of
women, some about her own submission to the requirements of
dealing with a family illness, and some about how her
unusual family background sculpted a modern woman against
all odds. Slowly it evolves into a story about loyalty,
love, and what marriage really means." ~ Terrie Wolf, agent
[After rereading] once again
I've decided Here's How I
Don't Cook is my favorite
memoir. I know the impact is
certain. I have this notion that
the same people who shop Crate &
Barrel, World Market, and Home
Store might get a kick out of
your down home recipes. You
connect with simplicity in a way
Martha Stewart never dared!
Somewhere, about the time I
realized I've read this
manuscript probably 10
times, I was filled with that
same sense of awe again, like
when I eat kiwi fruit. I know
what I'm in for, but there's
this underlying sweetness that
knocks me off my feet." ~
Agent, AKA Literary Management,
How It All Started
A few years ago on
one of the rare occasions my coping mechanisms weren’t
working well, I was forcing myself to feel grateful that I
could get away for a few hours to be on campus doing one of
the things I love to do. Teach. It was an all day seminar
and I hadn’t been away from the house in months because of
my husband’s illness. It was a beautiful fall day. I invited
anyone in my class who was interested to join me at LuValle
Commons for lunch in the sunshine. In the sculpture garden,
the sycamores were dropping a few leaves bigger than my
husband’s outstretched hand. The liquid ambers were
beginning to change to rust or gold depending on individual
whim (those two trees are about the only trees in Southern
California that lose their leaves or change color). I could
smell the hamburgers grilling. The sun was warm. Several
students joined me. Life was good.
One of my students
mentioned that they had writers block. I suggested taking a
few days off from novel writing to write in their journal
instead. Then I heard myself expounding on how inspirational
journaling is and how healing. It occurred to me I hadn’t
been following my own advice.
As I drove home, I
stopped at an In ‘n Out Burger on Sunset and began writing
on one of their napkins. That
journal-entry-on-a-paper-napkin ended up becoming Here’s
How I Don’t Cook, certainly a departure from anything I
have written before. And, in some ways, a departure from
most anything I am aware of in the literary world, not in
its parts, but in the way the parts are combined. The only
term than I can think of that fits it is “post modernism,”
that ungainly moniker for cross genres. It feels way too
literary, not nearly funny or human enough.
scribblings were a bit of rant on how trapped I felt, how I
just wanted out, all as I was paradoxically reveling in the
creamy sweetness of a Neapolitan shake available only for
those In ‘n Outers who know enough to ask for it. By the
time I had written enough to make a book (though that
certainly didn’t enter my mind at first), what I was seeing
in it was a love story.
Here’s How I Don’t Cook is a book of recipes, some
that no gourmet cook worth their natural sea salt would want
to try. They are accompanied by stories of events that kept
a foodie like me from cooking. Some are stories of my
rebellion against what I considered the repression of women,
some about my submission to the requirements of dealing with
a family illness, and some about how my unusual family
background sculpted a modern woman against all odds. Slowly
(and with the humor I tend to use to stay sane!), it evolves
into a story about loyalty, love, and what marriage really
So, here is the
When a writer returns to her
journal after a long spell of isolation caring for a husband
suffering from clinical depression and related illnesses,
she begins to understand her love-hate relationship with
food, how her culture and dysfunctional family shaped her,
and that she doesn’t want to chuck it all—including her
Life is like your tile counter top, slick,
pristine, and Cloroxed on the surface. It's the stuff that's
collected in the grout that tells on you, the gunk you pry
up with the tip of a steak knife or shoo from the cracks
with an old toothbrush that counts. It isn't organized and
it isn't neat. It may smell all sanitized from the bleach
but if you look closely, there are the remnants, the way you
work them and they work you. It’s the fun part of cleaning a
Of course you always try not to breathe while
you're cleaning. That chlorine couldn't be good for your
lungs, might even stunt the brain. So you hold your breath,
dig and polish, rush for the door to take a deep breath of
fresh air and repeat. The process, you think, is effective
but something sticks and you realize that you like to clean
a lot more than you ever realized and that the reasons why
you hate to cook may save your sanity if you can only put
them together, and not in the proper order. So, may I
present here is how I don't like to cook.
What Lance shops for rots.
My cooking urges—few—are discouraged by pantry and cooler
elves and the leftovers from Lance's shopping sprees at
Whole Foods. Horizon natural milk wets its pants on the
middle shelf leaving residue that peels from acrylic like
sunburned skin. Unidentified veggies leave something in the
crisper akin to the cracked platelets of mudflats.
Mudflats are my cue. The fridge needs cleaning. That's when I
make soup. Everything has begun to look like crêpe paper.
Carrots slightly limp from the top shelf instead of the
crisper, celery that's grown new, pale green sprouts in a
dark corner. There are crinkles around the potato’s eyes,
too. That's from one shelf only. Cumin and red pepper spice
up the mix in the pot so no one will notice that nothing is
Of course, the whole refrigerator may need wiping down with
baking soda or something stronger but one shelf at a time is
all I can stand to do.
Or maybe my family does notice that the soup isn't fresh. My
soup is sometimes served with left-over popcorn from the
movies. They're like fluffy croutons, my attempt at
creativity. But after the first meal of soup, the rest of it
begins to evaporate in the refrigerator. What's the word
that gourmet cooks use? Reduce. Yes, soup reduced to dry
cakes in the bottom of the pan. There must be some reason
the leftovers don't get warmed up. . . .
Lance doesn't shop the way I would so, I tell him, I don't
know what do to with the food he buys. A very convenient
excuse it is. I know it. He knows it. He nods. But then,
after he has put his supplements in front of mine and
stuffed the new plastic bags full of snow peas into the
crisper on top of the two that haven't been eaten (obviously
so the ones he bought earlier will mean I have to clean the
Fridge), he ambles by my office door. I'm polishing a
precious iambic and he says, You gonna make a salad?
When he puts the groceries away he throws away the plastic
bags we need to pick up dog poop, so when we get low on
bags, sometimes I do the shopping. It's better than picking
up old turds with a paper towel. Once I've shopped, I have
excuse for not cooking, so I may do just that. Well, not
cook. I may make a salad.
My daughter Erika, says, Mom makes very good salads. It's the
best she can do to conjure up a compliment.
Actually, I don't make a salad. I rotate and toss. I let three
big salad bowls take turns. Two in the dishwasher, one being
used. I rotate the blueberries that Lance buys too many of
the same way, try to use them before they've grown beards,
wonder if they last too long it's because they've been
Lance's nutritionist says we're supposed to rotate his foods
so I can't feed him blueberries two days in a row. Because
I'm thrifty, there are days when I'm grateful for
irradiation, others when I think I may be poisoning myself
and this man I've been married to for forty-eight years. I
think it's forty eight. Let's see. 1957, or was it 1958 to .
. . . And, oh, I try to use all the spinach before the small
leaves collapse—slimy—onto the larger ones.
Lance has hung computer-generated lists on our cupboard doors.
They tell us what he can eat and what he can't. It's amazing
how I have them memorized considering I never cook. The
foods with red bar graphs next to them are no-nos. Yellow
are the acceptable, the green ones are a go—just not too
often or they'll come out red on the next test.
I usually do these salads for lunch, my cooking prowess then
exhausted for the day.
Let's go to a movie, I say.
Then it becomes a tossup between eating and out and eating
popcorn. The Laemmle in Pasadena has a senior special on
Wednesdays. $4 for a ticket. A Diet Coke and popcorn was
$3.75 last week. This week it costs $4. I saw a movie here
years ago, set in the South of France. With beautiful Johnny
Depp and a candy shop full of people who liked the sweet
smell of Bergamot-tinged chocolate—black, if possible—the
looks of hand-dipped swirls. Wondering if they liked to cook
or if they'd been deprived of good food when they were
young. Thinking of Lance when he was young, tall, thin,
Lance lost so much weight he's about the same size as he was
then and that worries me. It's not natural for women or men
to carry the same weight they did when they were twenty.
Erika, the fashionable one in the family, tells me the
experts say you should let the hips round a bit so the
cheeks—the ones on our faces, not our butts—don't sink and
shrivel from diminishing collagen and no body fat. I don't
think I am in any danger of hollow cheeks. In either place.
That our daughter is now 40 is disconcerting enough for me
without hearing her worry about aging.
I read that each of us wastes 130 pounds of food a year.
That's like throwing my whole body away, give or take a few
pounds. I can't help wonder how they measured what I put
down my Dispose-All.
After the movie, Lance says, We'll need to eat fast. My
hypoglycemia is kicking in.
He has stashed precooked artichokes, quinoa and barley in the
fridge. They're some of the foods marked green on that chart
We pass McCormick and Schmick on Holly Street. Before Lance
got sick we learned about their lobster Mondays. He thought
he'd like to try that. Lobster isn't graded green on that
chart. It's a bright red entry. I look the other away. His
profile in November's early dusk, sharp and strong. You
wouldn't know he's sick to look at him.
Do you have the pork chops thawed, I ask.
I think about the days when, if I'd offer to cook, he'd say,
How about El Charro. It wasn't a question. He knew the
answer. But it wasn't always so. I used to surprise him. It
is perhaps our second date. I am trailing after him–all of
my eighteen-year-old self–up the stairs of the Tribune where
we worked. He needs to check on the night ads before we go
to a movie.
What's your favorite album, he asks.
I can only think of Ferde Grofé and the single "I'm My Own
Grandpa" from my childhood. Dad plays the piano. Our family
doesn't spend much money on albums and I none at all. I
think fast. A friend has just introduced me to some Hawaiian
sounds. I have never heard anything like them before.
Martin Denny, I say.
For a while, I thought I'd never live that down. Now he never
mentions it. On maybe our fourth date, he asks me what my
favorite drink is. What could I say, Milk? I had been to a
fraternity party. They served a pinkish drink that didn't
burn going down.
Sloe Gin, I say.
Hey, I was raised in Utah. Drinking isn't a big pastime there.
I think sloe is slow and means it won't make
you drunk very fast, especially since it tastes more like
punch. Lance at least knows it has a reputation of speak
easies and hard kick.
One of these days, I'll insist on cooking. That will
surprise him. Actually, I guess what I'd really like is a
little attention. Just about any little bit apart from a
session in the bedroom would do.
A Favorite Recipe
Here's How I Don't Cook
Some of the recipes in Here’s How I Don’t Cook
recall cookbooks that are uniquely regional. Scattered
recipes come from my father’s family. His was a polygamist
heritage and those down-to-earth recipes are—actually—quite
good. One is the tear-producing mustard pickles made with
pickling onions. Another is Mormon Funeral Potatoes. These
are incidental and quite different from the usual “New
England” or “Southern Fare” that is usually dished up in
cookbooks. Utah is, I fear, rarely thought of as a place
that fosters distinct cuisine or gourmet cooking.
Entertaining, yes, but food for the Julia Child crowd? Not a
chance! But Funeral Potatoes are my favorite because
they are part of my DNA, just as my love of genealogy is
part of what informs my writing:
I admit I have never made these potatoes. But I've eaten a
lot of them. In Utah tales are told of people who trail
after hearses to join families they never met at funeral
get-togethers for people they never knew in order to get a
serving of funeral potatoes. The recipes vary slightly. I
copied this one and simplified it thinking I might someday
make them. That was probably somewhere around 1970.
6 cups diced potatoes
1 can (10 ¾ oz.) condensed
Campbell's cream of chicken soup (I'd use cream of mushroom
or cream of celery now that I am a vegetarian.)
1/2 of the soup can full
1 cup sour cream
1 cup extra sharp Kraft
cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 cup grated onion
(optional). I know I would only chop it fine. None of that
grating of onions for me—if I did it all.
salt and pepper to taste
3 Tbsp butter, melted
3/4 cup corn flake crumbs
Cook fresh potatoes (some of us might cheat with thawed
frozen potatoes). Slice into a 9x13 Pyrex
cake/casserole-type pan. Combine soup, milk, sour cream,
cheese, and onion and salt and pepper to taste. For more
moisture, add more milk. Mix well. Spread sauce over
Combine melted butter with corn flake crumbs. Sprinkle over
casserole. Bake uncovered at 350 F for 30-45 minutes or
until hot and bubbly.
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Flash Memoir Contest Entry
|A 750 word entry was excerpted from one
of the chapters in Here's How I Don't Cook. It was
named finalist in B. Lynn Goodwin's Flash Memoir Contest,
2017. Here is her critique--a benefit
offered all entrants.
you for submitting “Some Women Don’t Know How to Cook”
to Writer Advice’s Flash Memoir Contest. What strikes me
first is that this is an entertaining look into both
cooking and family dynamics. It is well-paced and
inter-generational. I especially liked "And those egg
yolk eyeballs!” and I loved
the grandkids one-word reactions.
laughed out loud at “...a tad on the taciturn side. A
word spoken is a word wasted and all that.” I knew the
author (or was it the narrator) was veering off the
subject again, but it fit the tone of the piece and
helped us see who she was. At first I was concerned that
the deviations might make the author a bit more flaky
than trustworthy, but self-deprecating humor can work,
and she also has a wise side. She knows people. You (the
author) cover a lot in 740 words and you make a strong
case for eating out.
There’s a subtle irony in the last paragraph. The
narrator is serving the dinner, yet she is also subject
to ridicule because she shops at Baskin-Robbins. A
lesser person might say, these kids don’t know how good
they have it. This is good work, and I hope the memoir
it’s from does well.
The contest has just ended, and we’re still reading, so
keep working on your other projects.
Finally, may I ask how you heard about the contest? I
don’t know if you are on our mailing list or you heard
about it some other way.
Thanks and keep writing and sharing your work,
And here is the entry taken
from one of the chapters of
Here's How I Don't Cook:
Some Women Don’t Know How to Cook
Lance does his best to be supportive of my cooking.
Or my not-cooking. I had told mother
probably for years and year and years (It’s really not
nagging—more like stating the facts!) that Lance prefers
to eat out. I didn’t mention why he might prefer that.
Best not to go there with my mother. Still, whenever she
came to visit, I’d get the kvetching about how eating
out is expensive. And unhealthy. And how feminine women
cook. And then the reminders would start. How I’d raised
my kids on visits to Der Wienerschnitzel. Actually, we
didn’t eat at those places that often. But when she was
in town, the hot dog and hamburger spots were convenient
stops on the way to and from The Getty, Malibu, and
other assorted places we took her. Truly. But that’s not
The story is that none of my protests were
taken seriously. Nor did her understanding of the
situation change. From her point of view, I need to
COOK, in capital letters. Or maybe needed is the
word that should go in caps.
Then, during one of her
more mild harangues—and quite late in the game,
unfortunately—Lance says, “Actually, Bird (her name,
truly! Short for Roberta), I prefer eating out.”
You do? An
incredulous look on her face. The eyes open wide.
Delicate little hands flutter. Mother always thought men
were all-wise. I don’t know where she got it. Seems an
anomaly in the universe—a woman who thinks all men are
Yes, he says.
Lance is mmmm
. . . a tad on the taciturn side. A word spoken is a
word wasted and all that. Which is why it may have taken
him so long to utter that one short, magic affirmation.
doesn’t mention my cooking for the entire visit. In
fact, I hear less of it from that moment on. Or at least
I imagine I did. Maybe it was that Lance’s support made
me less likely to take Mother’s criticism seriously.
In spite of
Lance’s preference for eating out, in a pinch he would
eat what I made when no one else would. An example: I
was inspired to make good, healthy ice cream and by a
sudden yearning for the good old days when I turned
forty. Ice cream makers were old fashioned even when I
was a child, you know, back in the days when people knew
how a typewriter worked and recognized (to some degree)
ice skates that clamped onto whatever shoes you happened
to be wearing and those shoes wouldn’t be Nikes. In
those days, ice cream makers were wooden buckets with
cranks. We used dry ice and salt to churn up the cream
from Grandma's cow, and sometimes, I suspected, her
goat. Far better use of animals than eating Lambsie.
But that’s another story about how I became a
Anyway, I got an ice
cream maker for my own birthday. This one was a 1970s
model when they designed things ugly—Styrofoam with
plastic trim the shade of aqua used in Fiesta pottery. I
found a recipe that called for real cream and a dozen
eggs. Hang the cholesterol. We didn't hear much about
cholesterol until later.
The recipe said to beat the eggs. Separate
them first, in fact. That was a lot of work for a
noncook, and besides, those paddles going round and
round powered by electricity rather than cousin
power—would surely mix the eggs without my going to the
trouble of separating and beating.
The kids wouldn't eat it.
Too creamy. And those egg yolk eyeballs! All dozen of
the eggs called for in the recipe—specifically the
yolks—froze to a pale yellow color, inspiration for the
demons’ eyes that appeared in the next three decades’
worth of scary movies.
Ewwwww. Trenton says.
Yukkkk, Erika says.
Oh, they won’t hurt anything, I say. Eat
around them. The creamy part is good.
There is a repeat of the ewwww and yukky
Lance digs in. Mmmmmm, he says. Verrry
He didn’t convince the kids with the same
ease he had convinced Mom that he preferred to eat out
rather than eat anything I cooked. Our kids weren’t
raised in the “Father Knows Best” decade.
These days when I serve Baskin Robbins
Jamoca almond fudge at holidays, I prepare for the
inevitable retelling of the story. Unfortunately,
birthday cake seems to require a la mode. Even the
grandchildren know of my folly. So I buck up and listen
to it. Silly old grandma. She doesn’t know how to cook.
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