Thursday, August 11, 2005

Aspiring Domestic Goddess, Aisle Four

I am no domestic goddess. In fact, a few weeks ago when I informed the girl I babysit that I was going home to cook dinner for myself, she replied with an astounded, "Amy, you don't know how to cook. When did you learn?"
I can cook. I don't whip up souflees or quiches with ease, but I can figure out what spices are good on which foods (without reading the label on the spices, thank you) and I can follow a recipe. And I do enjoy cooking. I like going to the grocery store with a solid idea of what I need instead of bouncing around the aisles like a pinball and picking up packaged food. I like slicing the foods, adding things together, smelling the spices when I add them to the pan. The heat of the stove is comforting, even when it's hot outside. I enjoy cooking for others.
I've been giving food a lot of thought lately. When I was in New York with Kristen, we stopped at the Strand and bought eight metric tons each of books. Kristen got some sports books, and I stocked up on weird nonfiction books. One of which was Something from the Oven which I've been reading on and off for the past couple of weeks. It's an interesting history of packaged foods in America, and the way that women viewed cooking after World War II. The food industry, who'd developed technology to package foods in a non-perishable way to ship supplies to soldiers, tried to keep the technology working by convincing women they didn't have time to cook from scratch, so frozen foods were the way to go. After about a decade of bombarding women with the message, they started to believe it.
The author presents research that showed that women in the '50s viewed cooking as the chore that they least minded doing. There's the romantic view of food-- providing for a family, showing love by a loaf of bread or a plate of warm cookies. There's something intimate about cooking for someone that can't be replicated by ordering them a pizza. Sure, there's the nutritional benefits of cooking at home-- less sodium, you control what goes in it, less fat, less preservatives-- but putting effort into something you give to someone else has its own psychological rewards.
I've also been watching the Food Network again. You know about my love of Paula Deen's egg-butter-cream heavy creations, but my heart couldn't stand the strain of the fat coagulating in my veins like chicken fat on the top of a soup if I ate that too often. My love for Rachel Ray has waned lately, but I have discovered Alton Brown and Good Eats. Good Eats is interesting because Alton Brown explains the science behind certain cooking methods-- why potatoes get sticky, how poaching works, what age kids can handle basic cooking techniques-- with humor and while demonstrating a recipe. I cooked his poached fish a couple weeks ago for Kristen and I and it was delicious.
The Whatever and I are broke right now-- he because he's bought an entire bedroom set, me because I can't say no to concerts, dinners/drinks out and weekend trips-- so we've been cooking at home. When he helped me install my air conditioner, I cooked him steak and onions sauteed in bourbon and pasta with onions and feta cheese. I feared it would come out terrible, but it was really good. The onions were soft, the steak was not chewy, and the bourbon made everything taste better too. Last week we had tacos because chicken was too expensive, and Tuesday we made poached chicken (it was on sale) in a dijon sauce with roasted squash and rice pilaf.
As the Whatever and I gathered our ingredients on Tuesday, we talked about cooking.
"I think women should know how to cook. I want the woman I marry to be able to cook."
"So you wouldn't marry a woman who can't cook?"
"Well," he said as we pushed the cart around Shaws, "somebody has to do it. I'm not a great cook, so she'd have to be able to do that. I mean, if I were completely unable to help with this, you wouldn't be impressed with me, either."
I got indignant and women's-lib on him, but I could see his point. I don't want to be like the girl I babysit envisions me (and how she sees her mother) as a "microwave cook." I don't want to be chained to the kitchen, but I want to feel confident that I'd be able to provide for someone, be it a Whatever or a kid or my Mom after surgery. The Whatever and I got to the refrigerated dough section and he looked at the biscuits.
"I know how to make fried apple pies out of that flaky layer dough," I mentioned casually to him.
He smiled, and leaned down to whisper in my ear. "When you say things like that, it turns me on in the freezer section."
Perhaps I should take a cooking class and walk around with an apron over my work attire. More than half a century after women entered the workforce en masse, we're still trying to balance the idea of work for pay with work around the house. There is some way to balance eating nothing but Curbside Pickup from Applebee's every night and cooking a four-course meal for two daily, and I am going to find it. The line for proposals forms to the right, gentlemen.

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