Who’s Cooking Tonight?

My husband (Barry) cooks dinner most of the time now. When someone asks about my cooking, he always tells them that I have cooking burnout. He explains that I provided dinner for most of the years our children were growing up when he was working very long hours and now it’s his turn. Barry also adds that he likes to eat and cooking allows him to make the dishes he loves.

He’s absolutely right there! If I were providing dinners, I would most likely make the same old dishes that I have been making for years. I wouldn’t be cutting recipes out of the newspaper and magazines like he does; my dinners would follow the same pattern – easy, quick and put together with a minimum of mess.

Out of necessity, I began cooking when I was around twelve. Both parents worked at the family grocery store and sometimes my mother would be late coming home. She usually had dinner planned and something in the refrigerator ready to go on the stove or in the oven so she would call me and give me step-by-step instructions on what to do next. When we moved above the store, it was easier for her to run up the stairs and get dinner ready but she still left some of the preparation for me.

Still, I had a lot to learn. One year, on my mother’s birthday, I decided to make her cake myself. I started very early, while my parents were still sleeping and soon ran into trouble. I had all the ingredients in the mixing bowl but I couldn’t figure out how to put the beaters into the mixer. I know, I know. This should have been easy to figure out but it was the first time I had used the machine. So I woke my mother with the hopes that she could give me a simple answer and go back to sleep. Of course, she got up and went in the kitchen, audibly gasping when she saw the mess I had made.

Years later, when I was in my late teens, my parents went on a trip and left me in charge of providing dinners for Sukie, the general manager and butcher who was caring for the store in their absence. I really wanted to impress Sukie who was in his mid-twenties and very good looking, so I decided to roast a chicken. I worked hard on that meal and when he came up the stairs for dinner, I proudly placed the whole chicken on a plate in front of him. He picked up the fork and knife and had just managed to cut the chicken in half when he started to laugh. When I came over to see what was so funny, he reached into the chicken and pulled out the bag of giblets. I had no idea they were in there. In fact, at that time I had no idea what they were.

Actually, I’m a pretty good cook (or at least I’ve been told). My specialties tend to be the holiday dishes; potato and noodle kugel, chicken soup, brisket, honey cake, sweet potatoes with melted marshmallows on top, stuffing, carrot tsimmes. I love to make one-dish meals that are all put in the same pot and have a minimum of clean-up (soups, stews, roasts). I’ve perfected the “really easy” meal; broiled meat, microwave vegetable, baked potatoes. I do love to eat and do appreciate really good food but after years of providing my family with food, I have no problem throwing in the towel – literally!

Barry has been interested in cooking for many years. His medical school roommate was from Texas and he taught Barry how to make the Mexican dishes. His roommate also taught Barry how to make Margaritas and sometimes the two friends never made it to the main dish. Barry made enchiladas for me on one of our early dates and, in retrospect, I believe I must have recognized the future possibilities even then.

When he was still in private practice, I primed him for the future by giving him a gift of cooking lessons which he loved. A few years later, we traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico so he could attend a class on Southwestern cooking. When we arrived, we were told there were only three people in the class so I could also attend at a reduced rate. I politely declined and spent most of each day visiting tourist sites, always being careful to arrive back at the cooking class in time to eat the students’ meals.

In the years since he retired, Barry has branched out in his cooking adventures. He has amassed quite a large collection of cook books which he reads for fun. He specializes in ethnic and international foods such as Indian curries, Thai spice, Spanish dishes such as Paella, and, of course, Mexican food. He loves hot and spicy dishes and sometimes the heat is too much for me. And occasionally, the newest dish does not quite make the taste test. But most of the time, our dinners rival the food put on the table at the best restaurants. In fact, his dinners have made it harder to find good restaurants when we eat out.

The biggest problem with Barry’s cooking is that he always enjoys trying something new. This means that the stir fried eggplant in garlic sauce that we had last night and that I loved down to the last piece of eggplant will not make another appearance for years. The good news is that I get to taste something different almost every night.

So, every so often, when he needs a well-deserved night off, I take my turn in the kitchen and produce the usual from my cooking repertoire: meat loaf, spaghetti, pot roast or broiled chicken. We enjoy them because it’s been a long time since we’ve had them for dinner. And that’s exactly the way I intend to keep it!

PS: Thank you, Barry, for all the marvelous meals.

jean@steigers.us

Throughout my life, writing has been my friend, my confessor, my professional lifeline and the skill that has most colored my interests and hobbies. My professional background is in communcations/public relations. I've worked primarily at nonprofits (two community colleges) and as the Regional Parent Advocate for the New York State Office of Mental Health. I've been married to the same man for 53 years and have three wonderful children and one granddaughter who I adore. I'm retired (except for writing) and enjoying life and special interest in Florida.

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