For years I have watched my mother cook big portions of Midwestern meals with annoyance. She is not one of those women who enjoys time spent in the kitchen or who delights in feeding the masses. I’m fairly certain when she thinks about the Adam and Eve story it is not just the pain of childbirth that Eve is cursed with for canoodling with that serpent, but also the agony of the kitchen.
Mom is a good cook but she would rather be reading. I don’t blame her. At a wedding shower several years ago, the guests were given an index card and were instructed to write down their favorite recipe to give to the bride. Mine was for the World’s Best Cheeseburger. 1. Get in car. 2. Drive to McDonald’s. 3. Order Cheeseburger. 4. Pay 5. Serve in wrapper. Seriously, why slave away in a kitchen for hours when there are fine dining establishments and a grocer’s freezer full of delectable meals?
And so it happens that I am 41 and I do not know how to cook. Even macaroni is problematic. The water shows no sign of boiling, so I start reading my book, and the next thing I know the water has boiled over or if I remembered to pour the macaroni in, it has burned to the bottom of the pan. I scramble eggs at the highest possible temperature because I see no reason not to treat the stove like the microwave. It could be because I’m absent-minded, but I prefer to think of it as my own silent, feminist protest. For awhile I really wanted that T-shirt with the 1950s woman on it that said, Don’t assume I cook.
So, I have mixed emotions about the fact that I cooked my first ever pot roast for Z this week. While he was at work I marched myself down to the market with my Baggu bags like a real, environmentally conscience gourmet, and I bought a hunk of meat that was too big for two people, some carrots, some potatoes, some Lipton soup, some Kerry Gold butter (because potatoes without Irish butter are a sin), and a bottle of red “Mad Housewife” wine. I came back to the flat where I discovered that roast comes from an actual, bloody, dead animal, which was a shock to my system. Also, I discovered that Z did not have a lovely Faberware roast pan like Moms, but instead a 2 quart Pyrex baking dish meant for cheesecakes and casseroles instead of roasting. I could not find his paring knife (end table with last night’s peach), so had to peel the potatoes and carrots with a giant blade meant for chopping vegetables Benny Hana style. I imagined Z coming home at 6:00 only to find me in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor because I’d sliced open my carotid artery. (I brought the portable phone into the kitchen just in case I needed to call 911 with the stub of what might be left of my dialing finger.) I arranged the potatoes artfully and popped the thing in the oven, praying for the best, expecting the worst.
My sense of accomplishment for what my mother assures me “is not rocket science” caused me some stress. I felt good about being a ‘real’ woman, about surprising Z with an actual (hopefully edible) meal when he came in from his hard day at work. I took a shower while the pot roasted and had phrases from 1950s marriage manuals for women going through my head about always making sure when your husband arrives home that you are “fresh” and have brushed your hair and have wiped the children’s faces and instructed them to play quietly while Daddy unwinds and while you, the good housewife, listen and do not bother him with your petty frustrations of the day out of respect for the hard day he has had, working to provide for you and the children. And then I felt really annoyed with myself for falling into the cooking trap that I have so carefully avoided for over four decades. Even more annoyed that it had pleased me more than a little to have finally done something like a “normal” woman for once in my life.
But then the pot roast started smelling good and Z was coming home soon and I forgot about my feminist ideals. Despite cooking an hour longer than it needed to while Z distracted me upon his arrival, the roast came out tender and juicy and just the right amount of doneness.
It’s a slippery slope now. If he starts expecting big meals awaiting him when he comes home from work, I’ll have no one but myself to blame.