Finding the Joy - Anywhere but in the Kitchen

April 28 2009

I confess I’ve never loved to cook.  This fault may very well be genetic, since the kitchen muse never kissed my mom or her mom either, but they did it anyway, of course.  We all have done it anyway, day in, day out.  Otherwise our families would starve.

Since I’ve never been shy about my lack of enthusiasm for thinking up, shopping for or actually preparing meals, my pals assume (rightly) that I’m not interested in cooking classes.  I should pay to spend six hours straight, on my feet, barricaded in a kitchen with nothing to do but mix, simmer, boil, reduce, blend, freeze, melt or whip fluids and solids?  (Did I forget sautee?)   

When these pals get to chatting about fish coddling, lamb braising, chicken stock storage and (my favorite) the correct hammer for flattening filets, I try to pay attention for a little while, nodding as if that new tomato knife were the most stimulating thing I’ve thought about since I saw the movie trailer for Australia.

 I finally figured out how to end the discussion:  I say two words.

“Tuna Casserole.”  Then I add, “Don’t you just love that timeless favorite?”  I beam at them.  “A dietary delight.  Cuisine that enhances your palate.”   Tolerant smiles quiver on my friends’ lips.  “Where would I be without cream of mushroom soup?” I offer, confidently closing out the food topic.

It turns out that if you don’t learn to cook at your mother’s knee, you miss a lot.  For example, the first time I tried to bake cookies from scratch, I was a newly-wed, my husband was out of town and it was late in the evening--well past the hour when you can call a trusty friend and ask a stupid question, like, “What does ‘cream the butter’ mean?”  Cream as a verb, wasn’t listed in my dictionary, and Google didn’t exist back in those deep dark ages.

So I melted it and mixed it with the other ingredients.  If I’d known what cookie dough was supposed to look like, I might have halted my project right then.

The result?  Anorexic amoebas that tasted like singed toast.

It turns out there are a few other things you don’t understand if you haven’t learned to cook at your mother’s knee, like when to throw things out.

One summer afternoon, I was making my kids some sandwiches (PB and J, of course) and pulled out a stack of bread.  “Hey, kids,” I announced as I gazed at the bread, “Is this St. Patrick’s Day?”  All three of them looked at me as if I was crazy.  “No!”

“Then why,” I asked with a giggle, “Is this bread green?”

(My kids are really good at yelling “EEEEUUU!” after I hold up a shimmering green slice of bread.)

Ever notice how you can’t scrutinize canned parmesan cheese until you shake it out?  The St. Patrick’s Day comment works well in that situation too.  “Hey, guys,” I say as I point at my pasta, “Look at these lovely bits of Ireland!”

These experiences help explain why my husband has assumed the role of “the-use-before- date inspector.”   

His primary targets are eggs, frozen foods and even beer left after a party (long after a party).  

We have this regular exchange:

He: Are these eggs still good?

Me: Sure.

He: But it says December 10, and this is January 15.”

Me, shifting into defensive mode: That’s not even a month past.  Eggs last six weeks, at least.

He: It’s a ‘use by’ deadline.

Me: It’s a ‘recommended’ date.

He, searching for further evidence of my cavalier attitude (which is to say “neglect”):  How long have we had this sour cream?

Me:  Are you planning to have sour cream right now?

He shakes head.

Me, in retaliation mode:  Your jar of salsa’s been on the bottom shelf since Labor Day weekend.

He who loves his tacos:  Salsa keeps.

He returns to the kitchen table and his newspaper.

Of course my husband is correct, as I eventually learned from Peg Bracken (R.I.P.), the very funny lady who wrote my all-time favorite, I Hate to Cook Book.  “When in doubt, throw it out.”  

If you happen to think of it.