Besides not being raised in a family of hunters, my experience in the kitchen growing up was limited to listening to my grandparents argue about how much salt to put in the soup. My grandmother liked a lot of salt, and my grandfather loved to complain. Back then, I enjoyed their banter so much that I hardly noticed the cooking.
At the dinner table, I was one of those children who didn’t like her food to touch, and the food separator plate wasn’t good enough. I was not fond of any food that migrated across the plate on its own or had ingredients concealed in a thick sauce.
Perhaps like many children, I got away with eating what I wanted and fed the rest to the family dog or hid it in napkins, pockets, or upholstery. I liked fish sticks and dreaded salmon patties. Pizza was a rare favorite, and meatloaf felt like a form of punishment.
Later in life, as a single young adult, my eating habits continued a mindless pattern of least resistance. Few of my food choices required cutlery, and most of my diet was mass-produced, ready-made food high in salt.
In the same way a beginner might look at handloading firearm cartridges as a complex process with lots of specialized supplies and equipment, I looked at the prospect of cooking and its associated kitchen tools and gadgets as daunting. The Hornady 10th Edition Handbook of Cartridge Reloading is easier for me to understand than the 15th Edition of the Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book.
When I have attempted to cook, things often go wrong. One Thanksgiving, I mistakenly used a meat tenderizer hammer instead of a potato masher when making mashed potatoes. And, worse, on another occasion, I was — thankfully — stopped just short of using a rectal thermometer instead of a meat thermometer.
I have excused my lack of cooking skills for most of my life by saying that my taste in food is rather poor, and my natural gifts in the kitchen have proved limited.
“Tell them how you make a grill cheese sandwich,” Steve will say.
Many years ago, I offered to make him a grilled cheese sandwich, and he watched me prepare one for each of us without saying a word. I soon learned that putting two pieces of bread in the toaster and then microwaving them with a cheese slice in the middle is not how to make a grilled cheese.
Experiences such as these seem to suggest it is not likely that I will become a great cook.
And yet, despite not having a sophisticated food palate and being squeamish about foods like hummus, kimchi, and natto, my attraction to hunting as an adult came from an interest in learning more about procuring wild game for the table.
Looking back, it seems like my lifelong denial of being a gourmet or a cook may be one of those unsolicited denials that reveals a true interest. Much like Shakespeare’s line “the lady doth protest too much” describes how overblown protestations reveal their opposite.
Closer to the truth is that I have enjoyed time in the kitchen watching others cook. I remember watching a friend “whip up a meal” one night. I was told not to help, possibly for the reasons mentioned above. But, I was allowed to sit on a stool and watch, and it was quite the show.
We talked as she assembled pots and pans, cutting boards and bowls, knives and spatulas. There was a rhythm to her movement as she chopped, tossed, and stirred. All of her work in the kitchen was from muscle memory, and I marveled as she broke down meat and vegetables, pulled spices from the shelves, mixed and poured.
After an hour, it looked like a brown bear had wrecked the kitchen before weasels worked it over. Everything I had put in its place was out on the counter and in play. My friend had never stopped to put anything away. Even when we took a break for everything to cook, it seemed that some magic had occurred and was not yet over.
Another friend once told me that her enjoyment of hunting had as much to do with cooking as it did with her love of the outdoors. Her hunt began and ended in the kitchen, where she prepared meals for camp, put away game meat, and always created something more than food.
For her, hunting was part of the joy of cooking in its purest sense — actively perceiving and participating in where her food came from and expanding those moments in the kitchen to include all of the greatness of nature.
When I sat down to write a column, I thought about New Year’s resolutions for hunters. I haven’t spent a lot of time on resolutions myself, but like many people, I think about what practical improvements I can make to say, be healthier, more organized.
As a hunter, I might resolve to get in better shape, practice shooting more, perhaps invite a new hunter along, or go hunt wild turkey.
But, this New Year, I find myself pretty pummeled by the old year, and I don’t want to beat myself up with a list of what I need to do better or more. That form of self-aggression doesn’t motivate me when it comes down to deciding in the moment.
Instead of thinking about what is wrong with me that I need to change or task myself with, I thought of what inspires me.
If I look at the moments between the significant events in my life or when I am already happy and fulfilled, I think of day-to-day living and hunting with a family of bird dogs and Steve. We’ve celebrated these moments together in photos and words for years.
Since we have time during Steve’s recovery from open-heart surgery and everything in the kitchen weighs less than ten pounds, I figure it’s a great opportunity for me to pull out the wild game cookbooks and begin to nurture my meager abilities.
Rigby agrees that it’s better to celebrate than resolve, especially when it comes to food.