Why would a blogger who spends most of her time encouraging people to get in the kitchen and cook, tell her readers to do the exact opposite? Stay out of the kitchen does not exactly sound like it should be my mantra – and it isn’t. However, there are times when you should not cook.
This weekend I read a blogpost by a marvelous cook who made Thanksgiving food for her family while she was ill. I was horrified. Sure the cake she posted on her site was gorgeous. And yes, I felt sorry for her when she said that she was so sick that she didn’t even get to the table to enjoy her own creations. But her meal was not a gift to her family, no matter how good it tasted.
Despite the power our home-cooked food has to improve our lives and spread joy, there are times when we should (paraphrasing the cop show cliché) “step away from the stove.”
You may find the items on this list obvious, but so are the 10 Commandments. It’s not about whether you can guess the 5 (or recite the 10), but whether you follow them.
The 5 Times When You Should Never Cook
- You are sick or think you may be getting sick. Each year 48 million Americans (1 in 6 people) become sick from foodborne illnesses. If you are sick and you prepare food, you increase the likelihood of becomes part of that statistic. It’s not rocket science – it’s just common sense. This “never” applies to cooking for others; obviously if you are sick and need to cook for yourself, that has to happen and you won’t do anyone else harm by heating up soup or making an egg. But don’t be a martyr and cook for others or be generous and offer to share your chicken soup.
- You are distracted.Cooking is the leading cause of home fires and injuries. Leaving food unattended on the stove or in the microwave or oven causes over 1/3 of all cooking fires. Another 10% by leaving something flammable to close to a source of heat/fire. I’ve already confessed to my own kitchen fire caused by momentary inattention; learn from my mistake. If you are distracted, no matter what the cause of the distraction, the wise course is to delay cooking (even if it means eating cereal instead of a cooked meal) or if you are mid-course when the distraction arises, shut down any potential fire risks. It’s better to eat re-heated food than to have to call 911.
- When you have any question about the safety of the food. When in doubt, throw it out. I’m not talking about discarding an entire potato if it has one green spot; you can cut that off. But if you left a hard-cooked egg on the counter overnight, throw it out. Better safe than sorry.
- You may not have enough time to finish what you start. This isn’t as much of a biggie, in the sense that all you will lose is the food, as numbers 1-3 above. If you find that you’ve got to leave before it’s done, you can often refrigerate the half-done meal to finish it off later. (The 10 Commandments are not equally as severe in terms of their repercussions; why should this list be any different?)
- You have something more important to do. If you get a phone call that you’ve just gotten your dream job and it starts tomorrow, I expect that you’ll put down the wooden spoon or spatula and grab a glass of the bubbly, hopefully after you turned off the light under whatever you were cooking.