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Have I created a monster (by cooking so well)?

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My name is Scargod. I am a reformed perfectionist. I cook at home. I have (Walter Middy-like), aspirations of being a great chef...

My SO, her children and our friends like my cooking. OK, that's too self-effacing; they generally love my cooking. She brags when she says, "that was restaurant grade!"
Yet, there are times when I feel unappreciated. There are times when I don't hit the mark, because I was experimenting, didn't have everything I needed, or perhaps I was tired. Yadda-yadda.
"Honey, I don't feel like it tonight, I've got a headache!" Yet, I am expected to perform.

We have differences... She likes fish far less than me. She might sprout feathers any minute from the chicken she eats (mostly in Italian food). She generally likes the resurrection of leftovers as a new dish less than me. Southern cooking are less interesting to her, as well as fried foods and game. This limits my ability to please her (as well as me), and stay out of a rut.
Perhaps what I am saying is, my SO knows I can cook. She is picky, yet usually is quiet and picks at her food if she doesn't like it. I can tell..... Vegetable melanges like ratatouille or stews don't suit her too much. Thus leftovers are harder to deal with. She likes soups and sandwiches, but not so much with soups if she knows it's recycled.
She likes simpler foods and mono-vegetable dishes. I did onions, potatoes, caraway seeds, bacon and savoy cabbage (from the garden), and she did not want it a second time. On the other hand she frequently likes potatoes. She loves my sandwiches with chicken and the kitchen sink!

This may be a whiney rant, but what am I to do? How do I please her on a regular basis, and keep up my level of cooking, when she doesn't appreciate my creativity, diversity and adventurous repitoire?
It's hard to keep up the level of cooking when I don't feel appreciated. If I don't keep up the level then I'm below normal and she notices that, too. Usually she doesn't complain, critique my cooking or tell me what she wants. She wants me to make the decisions and not make her head spin with choices!
We eat out only about one dinner a week. On the other hand, she has lunch out about twice a week. I cook 10-12 meals a week for us.
Heloise, What can I do to feel better about my cooking and please both of us?

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  1. You deserve better.

    You're good enough, you're smart enough, and darn it people like you...to quote Stuart Smalley. You food sounds terrific! Can't please everyone, and some people make living out of being hard to please.

    1. Forget Heloise. This post sounds like it needs a Carolyn Hax analysis!

      1. Have more dinner parties.
        Stop deriving your self esteem from the reactions of others.
        Talk to her, not us. It seems like she does enjoy your cooking. Make sure that's true.
        Calculate your stats, ala baseball, and try to improve them.

        1. Ever heard of the Cookbook of the Month on a site called Chowhound?
          I advise you to join in the cook along and change out the rut you seem to be in.
          That will be - Oh forget it. It's free. Advise, that is.

          13 Replies
          1. re: Gio

            No I haven't! Never heard about it... don't see it anywhere... (?)
            If this works out I'll have to compensate you with a drink if I'm in the area. I may be passing by one day on my/our way to Passadumkeg's place.

            1. re: Scargod

              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/559083

              on the home cooking boards

              1. re: Firegoat

                And here's a link to the September one, which I think all participants have really enjoyed - we've eaten pretty much only Vietnamese food at home all month:

                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/553813

                1. re: Firegoat

                  Well, there you go! You know how I hate abbreviations... I did not know that COTM was it. I guess it always is stickied?

                  1. re: Scargod

                    Yes, the thread for the current month, which has all of the 'reporting back thread' links in it, is always stickied for that month. Then, a second one is stickied - we go through a 'suggestions' thread early in the month, then a 'voting' thread, and then the 'announcement' thread.

                    Here the link to a post with all the months we've done - September is the two year anniversary.

                2. re: Scargod

                  I hope you will join us this month when we will be cooking from 3 of Mario Batali's books and/or his on-line recipes.

                  Here's a link to the past COTM (Cookbook of the Month) listing so you can see what you've missed:
                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5558...

                  And, here's a link to a Batali thread with comments:
                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/559083

                  1. re: Gio

                    Gio - thanks for doing that - I thought I'd put a link in my post, but edited it repeatedly and I guess it didn't 'stick'!

                    1. re: MMRuth

                      You're welcome, MM. I edit interminably so I can certainly empathize.

                    2. re: Gio

                      MMRuth and Gio: Thanks, very much!
                      On first inspection I was thinking of "Being John Malkovich" or turning over a rock and finding a whole sub-culture that I never knew existed! I had no idea this was going on at Chow.
                      What another great way for me to be distracted and use up my time!

                      1. re: Scargod

                        One thing I would note - there have been months where I've loved the book and could have cooked from it all month, where my husband has tired of the food, and so I've stopped, even though I didn't want to (Dunlop - Chinese). Other months - Well's Vegetable Harvest, and the Greek month, we both tired of the food quite quickly. My husband (almost) literally put his foot down on the former, as a result of a brocolli puree. That said, I got two great recipes out of that book that I make pretty regularly, so it was worth it.

                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/4371...

                        1. re: Scargod

                          <"What another great way for me to be distracted and use up my time!">
                          It's good CHow, for heaven sakes. It's almost better than ... sliced bread.

                          1. re: Gio

                            Indeed - it's much more productive than many other things I do on this site!

                            1. re: MMRuth

                              No doubt-for me, too. I was thinking that when I started considering it and saying what I did. I may have to stop with the other BS.
                              BTW, I bought Batalia's Molto Italiano. I've cooked quite a bit of Italian. It's right up there with Thai, Mexican and "Southern". I was just shopping for a good, second Thai cookbook, but couldn't decide.

                  2. Grab the vacuum and say "Darlin' ,you've done all the hard Hooverin' whilst I've done all the easy cookin' here for five years, I apologize, and we'll switch it around for the next five." Use you best Fut Wurth accent, and she will beg for more of the same...;) Trust me just this once.

                    1. Two adults in the house? I don't understand why there aren't two cooks when one of them is a fussy eater! Show her where the kitchen is!

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Caroline1

                        Veggo knows me a little. We fight about Mexican food... :) Caroline1, since you are in Plano and a relic (like us), I have always enjoyed reading your posts.

                        SO and I are semi-retired. She can cook and does so if I am ill, working on a critical project or too tired (like from yard work); this is rare. I cook circles around her. She does simpler meals well and I've been told that she once baked bread pretty well.
                        I am the "woman" of the house.... and the man. I do all house upkeep. Hell, I put in a new boiler and water filtration system last fall. I'm installing a new WI-FI router today. In fairness, we have a housekeeper once a week, so I don't use the vacuum much. Mostly the shop-vac in my woodshop. I used to have a male helper once a week but he stopped showing up two weeks ago.
                        SO brings home the bacon and I help facilitate her doing that in numerous ways. Being the house frau is just one. I used to have a good-sized small business back in Daahl-us but that was almost eight years ago. I don't miss it now. I have enough to keep me busy!
                        I think the idea of doing more dinner parties is a good suggestion. I do about six or eight a year, if you include larger parties. Problem is, almost no one reciprocates. My male friend (a Texan), who used to come over and cook with me, finished his degree and moved away :( I lost a tennis partner, too. Double loss.
                        SO really doesn't like competing... I mean working.... with me on meals. If we have a big party she may help and occasionally prepare a dish or two. I move too fast, I'm bossy and she feels she's intruding on my space, so it seldom works out that we cooperate. The way I wave a knife around, gesturing, freaks her out. She keeps asking where stuff is. When I was in BC for two weeks she cleaned out and re-arranged the fridge and really screwed me up!
                        Mostly, this is whining in good fun. I have a bird nest on the ground. If I get a few good suggestions about how I can find a more satisfying compromise, then fine.

                        1. re: Scargod

                          This sounds like someone who needs a good dose of chicken fried rabbit :D

                          1. re: Scargod

                            If she has a sense of humor, may I suggest one of those inflatable dolls with a remote controlled tape hidden in it's head that says, "Oh my god! This is sooOOOOooOOOoOoooOOOoo delicious! Thank you, thank you, thank you!" Then on nights when she's rather cool about your culinary efforts, I'd just push the praise button and enjoy it! '-)

                            On the other hand, if she doesn't have a sense of humor, you're on your own!

                            I was really lucky. My first husband enjoyed every single bite I ever prepared. Including some stuff I wouldn't have a second bite of. My second husband was like that for the two years we lived together, but as soon as the "I do's" were done, so was his enthusiasm for food. Hey, 50% ain't so bad!

                            The obvious answer is to only cook on the nights she really enjoys it. The problem is how to figure that one out. Know anyone who reads chicken innards? '-)

                            1. re: Scargod

                              Dinner parties...I stopped doing official dinner parties often and started having evenings like "game night", (I also joined a book club), or something less food focused so that people that aren't good cooks feel ok about hosting. As good cooks, I think we all forget how intimidating that can be for the would be host. I definitely get props for all my fabulous snacks when it's at my house, but I find folks more inclined to reciprocate.

                              1. re: emmaroseeats

                                Very good point. I am always happy to accept hospitality in whatever form the host feels most comfortable with...but you are correct in that many people don't feel comfortable about their cooking skills.

                          2. In my house the person who cooks decides what the weekly menu is(perhaps listening to some input, and requests). At my house, until someone else steps up and starts cooking they will eat what I prepare.

                            I do enjoy cooking for others, I cook to enjoy myself, so positive feedback, or pats on the back are not necessary for me to feel good about my cooking.

                            The days I feel burned out on cooking, are the nigths we order in a pizza, or go out to eat.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: swsidejim

                              I don't ask very often what SO wants before I go to the store and when I do It is usually "get some fruit for my cereal... I always get a chicken!
                              I lived for quite a while with a woman who said that people could eat what she cooked or lump it. She was adamant about not fixing special things for picky eaters. That's pretty much my philosophy, with exceptions for vegetarians and SO. That could be (or has been (?)), a thread of its own!

                              1. re: Scargod

                                I have always beleived picky eaters will fall in line if what is put on the table is the only option. Thankfully I dont cook for any vegetarians, so I do not have to alter menus for their tastes(that would be a struggle for me).

                                1. re: swsidejim

                                  I recently had a small birthday dinner for my daughter, who has a few Indian friends with various food restrictions. One will not eat animals (never beef!) or even eggs on Tuesdays so I had to have it on Wednesday. I made a fresh pasta (I made the pasta!) ricotta (no meat!) lasagna, meatballs in sauce on the side. One of my friends said she isn't eating cheese because of asthma so I had to boil up a pot of penne just for her and then she saw the lasagna and ate that, too. I took leftovers to a Muslim friend so that's why no sausage in the lasagna. My head swims trying to keep track of it all; anyway, it was a great dinner. Great salad and I made red velvet cupcakes and coconut cupcakes (recipe from Tastespotting included coconut milk in batter).

                                  1. re: walker

                                    I tip my White Sox hat to you, it sounds like you pulled it off pretty well. I dont know if I would have the patience.

                            2. Awesome post! I'm a good cook so it's always up to me. When I get burned out by too much home cooking I wish I could just clone myself. What I really want I guess is for me to cook at home for me! Maybe a mini-me? I feel sometimes like I've pained myself into a corner, that my skill and passion are sometimes a flaw because it's always my turn. Once when I was living with someone who really appreciated my cooking I went on a diet and we fought a lot more. He didn't even want to make his own sandwich for his bagged lunch for work. I calmly explained that it was too tempting to pop a slice of swiss cheese in my mouth and could he please just make his own sandwich til I got off the diet? He flipped out and threatened to leave me. We had a four hour fight with tears and much drama and he told me that he felt unloved because I wasn't taking care of him. So it's not even just excellent cooks who get backed into a corner with no respite. Later I realized that his mom showed her love by cooking for him so not cooking meant I didn't love him in his view. Have you asked her about her favorite foods from childhood? Or other family members who were around when she was little? A lot of couples get into trouble when they retire or semi-retire. I personally think the key is to get her more involved in the decision making. That way she has more invested in the meals. The biggest perfectionist I ever met refused to make any decisions. That way she could never make a wrong decision. Not saying your SO other is that way but I have little patience with those who are passive, yet critical of those who are active. I blame television for this. Hope some of this helps and please get back to us on how things are going.

                              1. Hi Scargod,

                                I think I understand how you feel. I'm the primary cook in my house, although my SO can cook, although not as well as I can (his genius is leftovers and toasted sandwiches, which is useful!). I cook because I love it, I like to choose what I eat and I work from home (he has a long commute). And while he will eat anything, I have over our seven years together finetuned his palate so that he can critique food as well as I can. A mixed blessing and a curse! Because he will never refuse to eat anything, but like you, I can read his moods and I know when he's just not enjoying something.

                                One part of me says 'toughen up! If he's not complaining, why should you go looking for criticism?' but the other part of me which knows I cook for him as an expression of my love is always disappointed when he doesn't enjoy my food, to the point that it lessens my enjoyment of the food, too.

                                Time has taught me we have different tastes, and that's both normal and ok. I love subtle flavours, one-vegetable dishes like your wife enjoys, whereas he reserves his highest praise for strong, spicy, saucy, rich food. So even if I cook an amazing cream of carrot and almond soup - from the get-go, he's just not going to wax lyrical about it, even if it would do Chez Panisse proud. So I try to alternate between foods we both will like, and the occasional meal where it's food he will eat, but I know it's more about my taste than his - and I'm honest with both of us about that. He's entitled to his tastes, and I'm entitled to cook to my tastes, too.

                                When I get all experimental, I've learned to limit it to one dish or course (the soup, or a side dish) so if it's a flop or he's just not keen, the whole meal won't feel like a failure.

                                Also, I have instituted one meal a week which he has to cook. He gets to pick whatever he likes, and I will eat it. I think it makes him more aware of how much effort goes into cooking a delicious, healthful meal every night, so the love is acknowledged even if the dish in question isn't to his taste. It also helps him become a better cook, and allows me to reverse roles and learn what it's like to eat stuff I don't like that much, and be gracious about it.

                                And when I'm craving the rare foods he won't touch (asparagus, anyone?) I invite over a couple friends, make enough variety that he doesn't have to eat it, and enjoy the appreciation of the other diners.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: Gooseberry

                                  "Also, I have instituted one meal a week which he has to cook. He gets to pick whatever he likes, and I will eat it. "

                                  My husband is a 'by the seat of his pants' cook, and, only after a number of years of nudging (loving nudging) will he produce a meal that is more that one dish - say, a salad with a roast chicken. That said, I have learned to stay out of the kitchen, both literally and figuratively, while he is cooking. No 'helpful' suggestions from the sidelines. Most of the time it turns out well, and these days we even get some vegetables as well.

                                  1. re: MMRuth

                                    I do most of the cooking in my house. Tonight SO made dinner and I stayed in the living room the whole time, but he kept popping in to ask me questions! I nearly went bonkers. Where does the basil grow? Do we have a ripe lemon? Should I peel the shrimp? It ended up tasting great, but I read maybe two pages of my book while he "took care of everything." I think your idea of staying out of the kitchen is a good one, but it didn't work for me.

                                    1. re: Glencora

                                      My problem is the opposite - keeping my mouth shut while he's cooking!

                                  2. re: Gooseberry

                                    Very nice comment and some good ideas I'll consider.

                                    I have brought her along to the point where she is more vocal and critical of my cooking. Partly this has occurred because of my enjoyment of critiquing restaurant meals (for CH). She is more interested and mindful of the food and wine than she used to be and helpful in assessing the pros and cons of a meal. Thus the bar has gone up, all 'round. She used to not know the difference in a Zin and a Merlot and now she is requesting specific wines and clearly verbalizing the wine's qualities! We did have a loose agreement that she would cook once a week but that was when I was working more (you know, work that brings in money or fame).
                                    I think I will pay more attention to what she likes. I know pot roast on Sunday was a family tradition, and she's big on ritual and tradition.
                                    Partly, please realize that I previously had a nine year relationship with a much older woman who wanted a second childhood. We went around Europe and we both cooked and we cooked together and we were quite adventurous.
                                    SO does like asparagus and I planted a huge bed of it for her! This is pic of about two-thirds of the vegetable-rose garden. Asparagus bed is just out of view.

                                     
                                    1. re: Scargod

                                      It's useful to know their favourites. when I know he's had a tough day, there's something very heart-warming when he arrives home and his whole face lights up because it's spaghetti and meatballs for dinner! And it's also prompted him to return the favour, within his cooking ability. So when he cooks, Valentine's romantic dinner is usually my favourite mac 'n cheese, my Tough Day meal is tomato pasta bake, and if I look sad, a suggested outing across town for pork dumplings cheers me up just as much as if he had and could make them himself.

                                      We like making our own traditions too, especially routine traditions. Monday is date night - aka quick-dinner-and-a-movie night - for us, and Friday nights are usually soup, cheese and bread by candlelight.

                                      I think planting your SO an asparagus bed is very romantic, Scargod. And phallic!
                                      We'r renting at the moment, so an asparagus bed is out of the question, but one day I'd like to plant one.

                                      Interestingly, I discovered my SO isn't so keen on sugarsnap peas -only after I planted two whole pots of them. Although I didn't remain disappointed for long, since I've been eating them all myself, straight off the plant! Gardener's privilege.

                                      Thanks for the photo.

                                  3. Another one for the choir! I love to cook; it's my creativity, my visible love for myself and others, my meditation. But I don't love to HAVE to cook, and I'm feeling like that's where I am right now. I have a full time job and am going to school so I don't have as much time in the evenings or on weekends to myself as I used to. I love big project cooking. And there are days I just don't want to cook. Not because I don't love cooking but I think because I don't want another thing on my plate and there is definitely the expectation that I cook. Maybe there's a piece of that in your feeling too? I think there are times that if it wasn't expected from me I'd be more at peace with eating cheese and bread on those nights I just don't have the capacity... Appreciation really makes cooking more fun.

                                    I am lucky in that my sweetie likes food, appreciates most of it (no spicy), and the experience of eating out.

                                    I like Gooseberry's idea of having one day a week that is his responsibility, but there is only so much pizza, burgers & philly cheese steaks a girl can eat!

                                    7 Replies
                                    1. re: emmaroseeats

                                      That's how it is with me too. Feeling like you have no choice can take the wind out of your sails. One lady I knew was content with toast and a glass of soda for dinner and seemed puzzled as to why I would go to so much effort. One of these days I tell myself. But not today he he.

                                      1. re: emmaroseeats

                                        Very insightful posts; particularly about not wanting another thing on my plate and willing to eating cheese and bread. Particularly, when I feel SO is not stressed at all...

                                        I usually don't think about some folks feeling inferior or intimidated. I don't think I've ever said no to an invite and I've been served some awfully simple leftovers from good-hearted people.

                                        1. re: emmaroseeats

                                          I know, emmarose eats - man-cooked foods seem to involve a whole lot more frying, mayo and cheese! But I figure, it's one night a week, it builds his confidence, and I get to pick the other six nights' meals (and can compensate for a really big fry up accordingly, with lighter foods). Or if it's something really heavy, I tell him there's got to be vegetables or salad on the side - any veg or salad, his choice, but something so I will not get the meat sweats for the rest of the evening!

                                          His standbys: spaghetti carbonara, tomato pasta bake, grilled cheese or chicken salad sandwiches, breakfast for supper, burgers, steak and mashed potatoes, risotto.

                                          1. re: Gooseberry

                                            Y'all so sexist; generalizing and talking about phallic edibles! My, my.

                                            FYI, I grill or roast chicken, I don't fry it. I hardly ever eat pizza or burgers. Yesterday I did killer chicken sandwiches from my last grilled chicken which was covered in fresh rosemary and Italian seasonings. It had watercress, vidalia onion, avocado, basil and gruyere cheese.
                                            SO loves "beens and greens", an Italian soup, tortilla soup and soup-soup. That and salads often get grated parmigiano-reggiano on it but I rarely melt on or combine cheeses in my dishes! I guess roll-ups or burritos are an exception.
                                            I can't wait to get involved in the COTM and rub up against some of you women in the kitchen. Batali's Molto Italiano should arrive any day..

                                            1. re: Scargod

                                              ew.... I was gonna play in COTM this month.... no rubbing!

                                              1. re: Scargod

                                                you're right, it's a total generalisation. However, it's true of most of the men in my life. Very few watch their weight, and all love meat. Which means a caloric free-for-all in the kitchen!

                                                That's not to say I don't join them from time to time....

                                            2. re: emmaroseeats

                                              I love to cook. I like trying new tastes, and having a bunch of small, precise tasks (peel garlic, chop onions, rinse rice) helps focus my attention. DBF seems to really appreciate a quiet home cooked meal whatever is served, especially when he's stressed from work which lately is all the time.

                                              Example: I'm cleaning out the pantry so last night was waffles. No complaints, and the plates were empty pretty quick.

                                              He claims to be able to cook, but I'm too much a flaming control freak to let anyone into my kitchen. Also embarrassed, it's a bit of a mess.