But in this case, “plain” doesn’t have anything to do with the appearance of either the cook or the food, but simply means this person is a practical, everyday cook. Not the one who makes exotic sauces or elaborate dishes or elegant pastries. The one who does the breakfast eggs, lunchtime soups, and dinner roasts and vegetables, capably and reliably, day after day after day.
That’s the kind of cook I am. Though, to be honest, “adequate plain cook” would be closer to the truth. I can—and have, for years—consistently put nutritious, edible, and occasionally even delicious family meals on the table. But just because I know how to have everything ready to eat at the same time doesn’t mean I love to cook. My goal is to keep the cooking part simple so I can more quickly get to the part I do love—the eating.
And if you happen to be a mealtime guest at my house, please don’t irritate me with pre-dining rituals like taking pictures of the table or indulging in loooooong prayers thanking God—who was conspicuously absent from the kitchen when it was time to stir the gravy, thank you very much—for this food we are about to eat. Which, meanwhile, is getting cold.
Not surprisingly, I don’t watch cooking shows. Occasionally, though, when I’m driving and I can’t be bothered to search for anything more exciting, I do catch part of a cooking show on NPR. One day, a woman called in with a problem about cinnamon rolls. This caught my attention, since I do love to eat cinnamon rolls and even enjoy making them.
She had an old family recipe, one her children loved, which included putting butter and brown sugar on the bottom of the baking pan to create a caramel base. The last time she had baked these rolls, the caramel didn’t come out right. She and the show’s hosts discussed the esoterica of textures and expiration dates and different brands, eventually concluding the problem must have been the brown sugar.
But I was left baffled because neither the caller nor the hosts seemed to notice a detail that seemed to me to be the real problem. The caller had never made these family-favorite caramel rolls again ever since that one batch didn’t come out perfectly. Some ten years earlier.
Really? No cinnamon rolls at all are preferable to not-quite-perfect cinnamon rolls? Just possibly, over that decade of deprivation, her family might have disagreed.
Adequate plain cooks might not put a lot of “perfect” dishes on the table. But they do understand that, most of the time, the eating is more important than the cooking. Especially when sugar and cinnamon are involved. A less-than-perfect homemade cinnamon roll in the hand is far better than a perfect cinnamon roll in the recipe box.