Saturday, August 22, 2009

From the wife of the chef.....

You know, the one who won’t cook what he wants so he is driven, by desperation and hunger, to venture into a grocery store and then into a kitchen, risking cut flesh (his) and ptomaine. I plead, “Not Guilty.” There’s another side, as is usually the case.

The chef was raised and fed from the hands of a gourmet cook. I mean it. In her heyday, when the house was full of hungry mouths, my mother-in-law was CEO of her household and her kitchen was only one of her mastered domains.

As mentioned in an earlier entry, she was and is amazing when it comes to ironing. She brags that she spends “7 minutes a shirt.” And it shows. Early in her marriage, I believe she ironed everything from sheets to undies. With all that practice, no wonder her work is on a level not to be reached by mere mortal women.

Her linen closets…as a guest, I was directed to open and search…have the neat appearance of magazine photos. Everything folded uniformly, sorted by color and use. Even the fitted sheets have been returned to their packaged shape. Um. My awe may betray some of my own lackings. I mean, if I never let anyone else open my closets, then they really only need to close, yes?

And then there is her culinary art. Oh my.

If you were to join her for lunch, you would find some sort of hot entrée, sauced with amazing skill, and presented on a plate that complimented the food. You would find tableware that matched (even the spoons) and a cloth napkin.

If you have tried to cook, you would appreciate the sauce, especially.

If you were a guest, the tableware would be silver, the napkins linen, and mostly likely you would dine sitting on high backed chairs in the high-ceiling dining room.

Breakfasts and suppers were equally grand. And did her family appreciate it? I don’t know but I know that they liked to joke about how they did NOT like it, certainly in the presence of future wife and daughter-in-law. The stories were often repeated with embellishment that grew with the retelling.

The favorite story was titled “Pepper Steak.” Apparently, the chef had prepared pepper steak and had peppered it with a heavy hand. One diner (do I believe this?) tossed his steak across the room and complained that it had been a perfectly good steak and why couldn’t they just eat plain food?

I thought pepper steak involved green peppers. Oh well.

At any rate, early in my wife training I was instructed by my skinny husband that he would not eat fancy food. He would remain underweight and it would be my fault, of course. He wanted PLAIN FOOD. Then I would listen to the pepper steak tale again as way of illustration of how this arm of the family handles displeasure at the dining table.

I was raised on pretty plain cooking myself, as that is what my dad liked. I know how to fix a great roast beef dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy and corn and salad and rolls, and I can get it on the table with everything hot except the greens. It was our family Sunday dinner and I learned this from my mom.

Personally, I think a great piece of meat, cooked correctly, needs only a little salt to bring out the best. But I ventured timidly into some fancy, usually with the pepper steak story in my mind. He could add what pepper he needed.

As our kids got to the sports/activity stage, I devolved into entrees that could be kept warm in the oven, waiting for the diner’s return. One such dish is my son-in-law’s favorite. Chicken and rice. Right, Jerms?

As for grocery shopping, that was my regular chore and it was a joyful time for me. I never took my kids along so for an undisturbed hour, I could cruise the aisles and spend money without a lot of guilt. My list was basic and it rarely varied.

Grocery shopping for our family changed abruptly one day when my husband went with me. He had not been inside a grocery store for a long time and I couldn’t help but notice that his face lit up like he was a child looking at a Christmas Tree.

To wit:
“How many kinds of apples are there? What are those green ones?”

“Chocolate milk? They sell CHOCOLATE MILK? How come you never buy chocolate milk?”

“Here. Get some good ice cream.”

And my personal favorite

I’m not complaining. It did help me see the mundane through new eyes. And is it hard to get him to run that errand? Uh, no. In fact, at the lake where the first chore used to be ‘check to boat,’ it is now ‘go to the grocery store.’

And yes, he has become a Food Network groupie and we DID travel to NYC to dine at Tony Bourdain’s restaurants. Tony was not in, alas.

And it is true, as I brag to everybody, that at the lake, Mike does all the cooking. From his signature breakfasts (Salsa Eggs with extras) to steaks and cobbed corn, the fare is good AND it is prepared by someone other than me. The chef usually handles clean up as well.

But, really, if the hub asked me to make that onion/tomato/mushroom thing, I would do it. However, without his touch in the fixing, it would lack something in the taste.

So, cook on, my dear. It is yet another of your talents.


  1. Ah, yes.... the OTHER side of the story!

  2. Wonderful, descriptive and superb, Lynne!

  3. Mentally watching Mike experience a 2009 grocery store was priceless. And if I didn't know both of you I'd swear you were taking artistic license.