Questioning the leaves, fruits, bark, roots, and birds’ eggs to see if they were nutrition or poison must have taken eons of taste-testing, prospering or dying at each nibble. Everything out there in the wilderness had to intrigue our cave women forebearers looking for edibles to keep the family alive. The guys may have been out stabbing mastodons with their wooden spears, but the women were investigating greens, fruits, and veggies.

I admire their tenacity and their necessity for forcing experiments, of course, but they never gave up. Because of them, all parts of the globe get to eat cooked eggs from all kinds of birds and turtles and whatever; some found artichokes in their ecosystem; some figured out cactus; and leaves like cilantro; hard barked edibles like pomegranates; and how not to get poisoned by acorns.

In second grade, Miss Erickson read us a book about the discovery of popcorn. It was delightful to eight-year-olds—the corn kernels falling in the fire and popping out white and crunchy for the kids to scramble for. Tasty delight.

That introduction to the serendipitous discoveries of what was edible on this earth led me to wonder about all the things that couldn’t have been accidents but had to be the first pure science: testing. What to try and what to ignore. They had to corral fire before they could begin to think about cooking; they even ate their wooly mammoths raw. How to cook, or even whether to cook, must have taken a few thousand years. All the way to French cuisine, in western minds, the be-all and end-all of fine dining.

All of this interest of mine in how our long-ago ancestors survived and all the failures that caused death before successes never led me to be a foodie or want to cook, bake, or feed other people. I liked to eat, or course, but that was it; I never thought about it much. I never died for something I thought of—chocolate, Thanksgiving turkey, an ice cream cone—like people do. If I got it, fine; occasionally, if I saw the advertising or the sign for one of these things, I wanted it. But usually, I was dreaming of a novel in my head. Thinking about made-up things often leaves appetites in the dust.

Now that I’m an elder with blank hours in my day, I’ve looked into cooking. My mother, my grandmothers, my sisters, and many friends spent time thinking about food, trying something different, fixing it, and serving it. Even my daughter, because of my lackadaisical attitude toward the dinners of her childhood, comes home from work and cooks to relax. I find this an oxymoron.

Food conversations are not topics I indulge in often. I’ve enjoyed reading cookbooks now and then, the kind that include little stories about the cook and the dish—it’s not merely ingredients and what I’m to do to them but the cook’s relationship with food and all this entails that makes a cookbook worth looking at. Goddess in the Kitchen by Margie Lapania is a good example.

Looking through my kitchen cupboards, I realize I’m unequipped in most ways culinary—utensils, pans, ingredients—and still . ., do I really want the cook attitude popping up here and there? . . Is there the will to actually plan, buy, and cook?

I am decided when I realize I have a cookbook. No problem: I have a cookbook.

I received it from my mom at my wedding shower in 1964. It was the latest version of Better Homes and Garden New Cookbook, and it has a chapter for each food group I might have to tackle in some way. It has served me well when I’ve had to come up with an hors oeuvre that was more than cheese and crackers; a casserole, so I could enjoy the pre-dinner drinks with my guests; a cake that did not direct me to a last-minute extravaganza. And it has weights and measurements as well as a column on “How Much and How Many,” such as 20 salted crackers ground up to one cup of crumbs. It lists all the weights and measurements, the correct oven temperatures for all meats, substitutes for items one doesn’t have in the cupboard (I cup of sour milk can be made with I TBS lemon juice or vinegar added to 1 cup of sweet milk), and what food can size means—size 8 equals 1 cup. (At least it used to; I’m unsure now; there is obfuscation going on; a little cheating of measurements displayed on our processed foods; and even our bags of unadulterated foods—Columbian coffee and dry pinto beans—what used to be a pound bag is now maybe 14 ounces, or 12. Be watchful. Not that it does you any good. The price is the same as if it were a full pound.

So, I have succumbed, discovered satisfying hours preparing meals just for myself—sautéing, stewing, combining – all the things one can do to make a scrumptious meal. I particularly like greens wilted on top of slowly sauteed chicken, beef, or quick-fried fish. The greens become soft, and they absorb the juices from the meat—truly good-tasting eats without a terrible amount of wear and tear on the pseudo-cook col.

I like certain layered dishes (no longer called casseroles) of potatoes and jicama and Greek cheese, and a veggie—purslane—that I’d never heard of as a veggie; if anything, I‘d thought it was a weed. It was difficult to find in my neck of the woods—not a food desert, exactly, but a truncated food availability because I live where all old people from the north come to retire and eat meat and potatoes, so there’s not a lot of purslane-type oddities on our grocery shelves.

I have loved kohlrabi ever since I saw it at Pike’s Market in Seattle. It looks like Sputnik, the first human-made satellite to orbit the earth, and it was Russian. I bought one at Pike’s, took it home to my hosts, set it on top of a vase, and we simply admired it as we passed by—art, man. It does taste like a parsnip or a rutabaga or turnip we discovered as we finally peeled it and ate it with salt.

Being “into” cooking, as I am, I have gone beyond the mild wonder of cave people figuring out what to ingest to the more modern eras—the first fancy cooks and how they thought to stuff a grape leaf, for example. Ingenious.

The artichoke must surely be a late-on-the-scene edible. It’s prickly. It’s just leaves, no fruit under that exterior layer of leaves; just more leaves, only half of them edible. And don’t you have to have olive oil or mayonnaise to enjoy it?

Which brings up condiments—what century did they begin appearing? Was it France after the Enlightenment? No, no. All my history reading recalls no mention of cuisine other than an occasional roasted pig or cow, sausage, and boiled potatoes throughout the several centuries of warring to bring that area now called Europe into an uncertain peace, even today. India from the get-go (they do have the spiciest as well as the widest variety). China and Japan have to be right up there; Thailand with its peppers and garlic. Spanish salsa and green jalapeno dip. With my lazy taste buds, condiments have become a salvation; my late-life cooking spree is perfect timing; Thai food is spicy with condiments and easy to fix; it beats driving 25 miles to the nearest Pad Thai.

Food is life. Food is sustenance. Food is love. Live, love, and eat. First, we eat, then we do everything else. Eat your greens, write poetry, and have a cookie.