Tuesday, April 18, 2006

I Like Cooking - Someone Else's



Register columnist

I thought the items on the bride's registry were a little weird. A garlic peeler? Pasta rakes? Lisa must not have thought this through. I mean, when would she ever use a springform pan?

"Who uses kitchen scales?" I asked myself, as I shrank from the cookware to buy her bath towels. "Who needs two sizes of pie pans? Who even bakes pies?"

Apparently everyone. As Lisa opened her presents at her bridal shower recently, I looked for a kindred spirit with whom I could share my most sophomoric feelings about melon ballers. Instead I got a schooling in just how far I have not come, baby. That, and some recipes.

When Lisa opened a gift containing, among other things, a pastry brush, I leaned over all conspiratorial-like and whispered to the woman next to me, "What's a pastry brush?"

I had hoped this would be an invitation to a neat little volley of banter. Instead, she answered, "It's what you use to brush eggs onto the dough when you bake. Like when you're working with phyllo dough."

"This one is silicone so it won't shed bristles," another woman chimed in. "You know how pastry brushes sometimes shed."

The first woman nodded sagely, as if to say, "Yes, yes of course."

Shedding pastry brushes. Who hasn't contended with her fair share of those?"

At some point when I wasn't looking, the women of my generation learned to cook. They learned how to iron and they learned what rosewater is used for. They know the difference between coarse graters and ribbon graters, and they own both.

They all grew into these domestic goddesses, while I gained no useful life skills whatsoever. I feel like I did when I was 5 and my 7-year-old neighbor tricked me into thinking I was playing hide and seek with him and his friends. I hid, all right. For hours. The rest of the kids, meanwhile, were inside watching TV, eating snacks and having a grand ol' laugh.

Did all my girlfriends go out on one big shopping trip together to buy vegetable mandolines? And, if so, why did they leave me outside, counting to 10?

Leslie and Brill assured me there was no conspiracy. Both have moms who cook really, really well - but wouldn't let them near their kitchens growing up. Cooking is a way to emulate the mothers they so admire.

"My mother is quite an inspiration," Leslie said. "Growing up, she insisted on all of us sitting down every night for dinner. And she took pride in making us real dinner every time - main dish, vegetables, starch. This, I think, made a deep impression on my mind. Dinner is special, therefore food is special. By cooking myself, I can re-create that specialness myself, in my own home."

I guess I could say not cookingis my way of emulating Mom. Precious little was special about food in my household - in fact, after my dad died, the oven was used solely as a place to store flats of Costco muffins.

If I was ever going to learn how to use a zester, Mom wasn't going to be the one to teach me. Dad cooked, but not well. I mean, hethought he cooked well. And since Mom didn't want to cook and I managed to not starve to death as a child, who was going to tell him otherwise?

I thought it was enough to have surpassed my parents' culinary skills.

Sure, Hubby does most of the cooking, and when I do cook, it's usually to make us feel full, as opposed to feel good. But it's mostly organic and it's usually edible.

I had figured that was the cup by which all my friends measured their culinary aptitude: "Is it edible?" So finding out that they're making reduction sauces and swapping paté recipes had me feeling completely diminished as a woman.

It didn't help that Leslie hypothesized that my not cooking freed me up to learn how to do something else. "Back in the day, women were expected to know how to cook because they couldn't work outside the house, and what else were they going to do?" she said. "Now, cooking is like any other useful skill: fixing cars, hanging wallpaper - as long as one of you knows how to do it, you're better off."

Great. Not only can I not cook, I also have no idea how to hang wallpaper, fix a car or even operate the 50,000 remote controls required to turn on my television. I feel muchbetter now, thanks.

I'd been feeling so impotent that I took it upon myself to cook our entire Passover Seder last week. Chicken, charoset, potato kugel, matzo balls - all from scratch, schmaltz and everything.

All week, Hubby would ask, "Are you sure you don't want me to make something? Like the chicken? I could make the chicken."

No. I need to do this. I need to know that I can do this.

After a bumpy start (Oh! I forgot to buy the onions. Wait! I was supposed to peel the apples before chopping them), I got dinner going.

The results weren't bad, and it felt great to cook an entire holiday meal myself.

Still, I don't see myself rolling around naked in Willams-Sonoma catalogs any time soon. Cooking is rewarding. It's necessary. But it's just not in my DNA.

Besides, now that I know I can cook, my not cooking has become a choice, not a failing. So I don't begrudge the women of my generation their pasta rakes and pastry brushes, even if I don't quite get why they need them. And when a bride-to-be unwraps a horizontal peeler or stainless steel cream whipper, I'll just have to keep my dirty jokes to myself.

After all, if my girlfriends want to be gourmet chef/domestic goddesses, I want to make sure I'm invited over for dinner.


  1. You're always invited to dine at our house, Ms. Saar, where Barak is the domestic goddess. Neither of us knows how to hang wallpaper or tune-up our cars, if that makes you feel any better.

  2. Mayrav,
    First, I have to tell you about my father's cousin. He had been living with a women for 10 years or so before they decided to get married. On the gift registry, and I wish I was making this up, post-it notes, charcoal, shampoo. They gave a freakin' shopping list. I thought "What a bunch of hillbillies?" Ahhh...family.
    On the subject of culinary arts. I cannot cook. I attempt, but am no Julia Child. My parents watch The Food Network, like others watch sitcoms. Every Saturday night they cook each other a fabulous meal they learned to make off of tv. I am lucky if I can make Ramen ok.
    What is worse, my boyfriend is the pickiest eater on the planet. No pickles, onions, berries of any sort, tomato sauce. We went to my parents house for dinner and he picked apart my mothers beautiful lasagna. I guess in a way it might not be too bad. I will only make easy things like pop-tarts and microwave rice.