Sunday, February 9, 2014

If God Meant Woman to Cook

She wouldn’t have Invented Restaurants

            I have very few talents, and cooking definitely isn’t among them. Growing up, I learned to open a can, dump the contents into a pan, set the pan on the stove, and then turn on the eye. I learned to salt meat (heavily), coat it with flour, heat up the lard in the frying pan, and fry the meat. I didn’t know there was any other way to cook meat. Chicken, steaks, fish, pork chops all got the same treatment. Salt, coat, and fry. Better known as SCF cooking. It’s also known as Southern cooking.

 The only exception to the SCF method in the house where I grew up was turkey. My mother excused me from the preparation of the Thanksgiving meal (Company was coming so it needed to be edible!) hence its preparation remained something of a mystery. I knew it involved basting (I had no idea what that was), and brining (no idea about that either). When I married, I decided that if I’d learned to read (and I had), and if I’d learned what measuring spoons were (I’d learned that, too.), then I could cook a Thanksgiving turkey. I opened my Good Housekeeping Cook Book (a wedding present), turned to the turkey pages, and went from there. The turkey turned out fine, but I think its fineness had to do with my mother-in-law standing over me, explaining every step in the cookbook. Subsequent efforts in the kitchen weren't so successful.

            During my first year as a housewife, I decided it was my duty to prepare meals using something other than the SCF and open a can method. After studying the recipes in The Good Housekeeping Cook Book, I dog-eared the ones I thought I could handle, made grocery lists, and gave it the old college try. There were problems. The first arose when I didn’t know the difference between Worcestershire and Tabasco (How was I to know? They’re both the same color!). This made my first attempt at spaghetti . . . . well, interesting. The recipe called for Worcestershire. I liked to add a little extra of whatever I was using for good measure, just to make sure the taste got through. So I dumped goodly amounts of Tabasco into the spaghetti sauce. After that fiasco, I used the open a can approach for spaghetti sauce, or rather the open a jar approach. Even with my Good Housekeeping Cookbook, my successes in the kitchen were so few and far between, that I can’t actually remember any.

            Predictably, after marriage came children. Two of them. If the goodness of a mother is measured by the cookies she bakes for her children, then I was a bad mother. Except for a few occasions when I bought those rolls of pre-prepared cookie dough that you slice and pop into the oven, I didn’t do cookies. Not even Christmas cookies. Why bake cookies when everyone gives you little tins filled with their sparkly, iced, and spiced opuses shaped like trees, stars, and angels?  Besides, I hated the idea of scrubbing flour off the kitchen counter after baking. Not to mention the flour that coated the floor. And my hair. And the children’s hair.

The cookbook got lost in the shuffle of diapers, music lessons, soccer practice, chauffeuring, nagging about homework, laundry, et cetera. I got over feeling guilty about using the open a can and SCF technique. I believe I actually did my daughter-in-law a favor by being a bad cook. She will never have to hear my son say: “If you could only cook like my mother.”  Just in case she might actually threaten to cook like his mother, he learned to cook himself. Quite well, I have to say. As did my daughter. Being a terrible cook does have its advantages. When I visit them I sit with my gin-and-tonic while they cook delicious meals for me.

            Eventually, I wound up in the place most women do: widowed with married children thoughtless enough to go off and do their own thing. They say make lemonade when life gives you lemons. I have no idea how to make lemonade other than it involves a lot of lemon squeezing and sugar, but I decided my lemonade would be never cooking again. Isn’t that what restaurants are for? I reasoned that had God meant me to cook she would have given me a talent for cooking, but instead she invented restaurants. Behold the goodness of creation!

And so I’ve devoted the past few years to having someone else do the cooking.  Sometimes, though, it doesn’t quite work out the way you intended. Adventures happen, mishaps occur, the unexpected pops up, and sometimes everything that can possibly go wrong, goes wrong. Especially when you’re eating in a far corner of the world. I have scribbled down a few of these adventures and, over the next few weeks, will share.  


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