It was just moments after I had incinerated my last croissant. By the time Chuck strolled through the door, much of the smoke had dispersed, and I, relying on my usual unfounded optimism, thought that perhaps the bluish layer clinging to the kitchen ceiling wouldn’t alarm his chronically overwrought olfactory senses. “You’ve been cooking again!” he crowed delightedly. “And were you reading a book or playing the piano?” This never would have happened, I grumbled to myself, had I been out on the driveway scraping up bird droppings.
Cooking is not all it is cracked up to be. I know that because I have cooked many times. In fact, for a long time, it was part of my job description, and I took it most seriously, devising weekly menus and elaborate shopping lists and assembling a dog-eared recipe file. I even made homemade bread; I remember distinctly the day that I realized that I could also buy bread, already sliced even, when pressed for time. That was a Revelation.
Another revelation came when I discovered boxes. You can cook things that come in a box. I mean stuff like Hamburger Helper. If you keep your eyes closed and add enough pepper, Tabasco sauce, raisins, whatever, it’s even good; I am certain that is why God gave us lemon pepper. I know for a fact that I am not the only who uses boxes, either. I once polled the good ladies at church to see how many of them cooked things out of boxes. My research was admittedly informal, but these god-fearing women acknowledged publicly and without shame that they used convenience foods. My own mother-in-law, a woman renowned for being able to create fine dining out of an empty kitchen and two onions, cheerfully sanctioned food from a box. Furthermore, Gabe was the cook’s helper when he was on staff at Boy Scout camp, and when he came home, he informed me that all foods, including pancakes, come in boxes. If the Boy Scouts can do it, I say, so can I.
The boys confided in me once that they don’t mind when I cook things out of a box, and they think if Dad doesn’t like it, then he should do the cooking. As much as I enjoyed the self-righteous surge of vindication I felt when I heard this, I’m convinced they ought to rethink it. After all, they don’t like beans and brown rice all that much. No matter how enthusiastically Dad endorses them, eating the same thing every night is an annoyance. They also confided that they really don’t prefer oatmeal, which fact I had already assumed. Of course, maybe I need to work on my presentation. I suppose it doesn’t help when I blop a bowl of it in front of them and say, “Here’s a lump of cold, gluey oatmeal for you.” Perhaps a sprig of parsley would help or a dollop of sour cream. Recipes are always calling for sprigs of parsley or dollops of sour cream. Unfortunately for the rest of us, Chuck once became enamored with oatmeal when he heard it touted as a preferred food for body builders, and when he is on a food crusade, it is a moral imperative for the rest of us to enthusiastically eat what he eats. I am not lying about the beans and brown rice.
In self-defense, I have begun the arduous task of Teaching the Boys to Cook. This is part of the more long-range Ensuring That My Future Daughters-in-Law Love Me objective. Gabe, more mechanically than domestically inclined, has set fire to the stove only once, and though I would never have thought to add cooking oil to frying bacon, still his culinary efforts have their charm. Never mind that this charm is solely that someone else cooked it; I am a good sport when it serves my purpose.
Carson is another matter; I’ve got a long way to go teaching him to cook. When he agreed to barbeque hamburgers rather than repeat the ham-and-cheese tacos episode, I started the cooking lesson by telling him that he could make his hamburgers out of the enormous lump of yesterday’s grind hibernating greasily on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. “Is it already browned?” he asked. I was not sure what to do with his mysterious question, because, after all, I was certain that we meant to be discussing making hamburgers. I stared in silence. “You mean you make hamburgers from raw meat? Really?” My stunned silence intensified. “Du-u-u-de!” he chortled in happy epiphany.
Chuck thinks I am attempting to weasel out of something by teaching the boys to cook, shirk my duties and all that. I think he should reconsider. In fact, it might serve him well to gracefully relinquish his stranglehold on my apron strings as I become less and less inclined to cater to his culinary whims. The truth is that his joie de vivre vaporizes when it comes to his food. For instance, once he pestered me to fix him something to eat—just as I was trying to leave for my evening constitutional, I might add—but refused to give me a straight answer about what he wanted. If I am going to do him a favor, I don’t want to have to coax him—beg him, in fact—to tell me what favor to do. So I had to wing it, and I gave it an honest effort. First I browned a little bit of the hamburger I had sitting out, sautéed half a banana with it and seasoned it tenderly with lemon pepper. Then I placed it lovingly in a hoagie roll, added a touch of gourmet mustard and crowned it with a fresh leaf of lettuce, congratulating myself for not using the ubiquitous and nutrition-empty iceberg variety. I haven’t spent years in the kitchen for nothing. Chuck needs to appreciate this sad fact.
Or learn to cook.