When I was growing up, the few things I did with my mother and grandmother, was cook. I could spend special time with each of them and also learn something. Besides, I liked to eat. I was also told that this would be a very important skill when I grew up and got married. What assumptions.
I cooked in my twenties, especially when I had boyfriends and we had parties or people over. You know how social you are in your youth. Most people thought I was a pretty good cook then too.
Then came the 90’s when I married a man who was an incredible cook. I thought to myself, who was I to deny him such pleasure, so I left the kitchen and never went back, until recently.
We got divorced about 10 years ago and being in the profession I was in, in addition to being single, I became queen of take-out. Other times, I met friends for dinner. I could handle breakfast and lunch. I mean, how talented do you have to be to pour cold cereal or hot 5 minute oatmeal in a bowl with fruit and milk ? Or make a salad for that matter. Not very.
Until the last few months, I never gave cooking much thought. My neighbors invited me frequently for dinner, even last minute sometimes. Karen can put together a meal quickly, efficiently, using all fresh vegetables and ingredients, and it’s a home run every time.
I invited them over last week. I figured I’d keep it simple and grill and we could sit outside, devouring the last few weeks of official summer. I had fresh corn, made skewers of tomatoes, onions and peppers and cut the carrots long and fat. I got some Bluefish just pulled from the boat that morning and a small piece of swordfish, which I rarely ate, but thought would be a treat. I made a salad of fresh greens.
I usually wrapped corn in foil after buttering it, but this time, I soaked the husks in water, as I heard that it was effective. We sat outside with our drinks and wine. And here’s the verdict.
Grilled a certain way, the corn carmelizes, but this time, I wasn’t paying enough attention and it burnt. I told them not to worry, I’d eat the one most burnt. The carrots should have been pre-cooked, because they were still a bit crunchy. The onions weren’t totally cooked through on the skewers, but the tomatoes were. The fish was still a little soft for my tastes. Thank God I had black raspberry yogurt for dessert to redeem myself. Somewhat.
A friend invited me for the Jewish New Year. I told her I would make a kugel. As I was shopping, I downloaded a recipe. Pretty rich I thought. The night before I was going, I started the kugel. I called my friend who made lots of them. “Are the noodles supposed to be wet ?” I asked her husband, who made himself the go between. ” She said no.” So I figured the maven of kugels knew and I added more noodles to the mixture and put it in the oven. I put a smaller one in next to it with some of the leftover mixture.
Everyone at dinner commented on how good it was. I thought it could have been more moist, but I was happy that everyone seemed to enjoy it. I was given a portion of it back, along with the baking dish it was served in, after each person had taken some for themself. My friend who hosted the evening, admitted she wasn’t much of a cook and most of the food had been ordered at Whole Foods. That’s okay, You still had to put it together, we all said. It was good but I was really there for the company.
Every time a new dish was served, her husband said, “Who made this ?” After the 4th or 5th time she told him to shut up. “It’s not funny anymore.” He knew where it all came from. The same place.
After dinner he opened the back door to the deck. “Where are you going?” I asked. “I’m changing the light bulb, or as my wife says, I’m going to fix the light.” I started to laugh. I think I say that too. Is that an ethnic thing because our parents never knew how to fix anything ? So, she doesn’t cook. She still manages to have people for dinner. Her husband doesn’t seem to care, humors her and they love each other. What’s the big deal ?
I stayed at the kugel maven’s house that night. The next morning I tasted hers and she tasted mine. “Yours is delicious, much creamier and moister than mine,” I said. “No flavor to yours,” she said back to me. “Yes, there is, but it’s not moist enough,” I responded. ” You said it shouldn’t be wet and it isn’t.” And her reply was, “I said wet, not liquid.” I told her that’s what happens when a middle man is used for communication. “That’s not what your husband conveyed to me.” I even cut up a fresh pineapple to add to it. I’ll know for next time if there ever is one.
My dear neighbors invited me for dinner again the other night. We laughed about my bbq. Bob said, “What’s going to happen if you meet a man who can’t cook?” I thought, this is almost 2013. Why is it always on the woman? “I’m going to have you and Karen over for a few more dinners to practice.” He laughed and said, “I don’t have that much life insurance.” We both doubled over. Well, I can’t be good at everything.
So what the hell happened in a few decades ? I thought it would be like riding a bicycle. Something you don’t forget. Does it really matter in the long run ? That’s not what defines us. Compared to some people, I’m a gourmet.
About 25 years ago, a friend of mine thought of becoming a single parent. She lived in a one bedroom condo. “Well, you’re going to have to move,” I said. “Where in the hell would you put the kid ?”
In all the years I’ve known her, even up to now, she’s made me one meal. Crab stuffed in shells. They were actually good, what I can remember of them. That was about 30 years ago. She looked at me. “In the nursery. I’ll put the baby in the nursery. I’m going to convert my kitchen into a bedroom.” I rest my case.