Chow Down

Caveman Cook

 

          The division of cooking chores in our household was clearly defined the day I flung a cast iron skillet out the kitchen window. This was no impetuous decision on my part since the window had to be opened first. That took time. Defenestrating any sort of cookware could, I suppose, go bad in a hurry but this was a well-thought-out plan. Here’s what happened:

          I was making scrambled eggs for breakfast, and as carefully as I thought I had prepared the pan, the eggs annealed the surface of the cast iron into some new and exotic element, one that was really starting to irritate me since all I wanted was breakfast, not a lesson in alchemy. So out the window it went, bouncing down the driveway much like a flat stone across a pond, and that’s the last time we had a cast iron skillet in the house. This doesn’t compare to the time the toaster oven caught on fire and my wife calmly put on a pair of flowered oven mitts and walked it out to the backyard. We never saw that again either but its disposal was handled with much less theatricality.

          Given that she was already a much better cook than I, and was able to dispose of a troublesome appliance with a measured reserve I couldn’t muster with the skillet, Mrs. G. won the cooking competition, and it’s been that way for close to thirty-five years. I have no idea how she does it, but each night she comes up with something that is delicious and more often than not, healthful. I’m not sure how our daughter remembers the dinners of her childhood, but I hope it’s fondly.

          This isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy the chemistry of cooking every so often, because that’s really all it is—a combination of ingredients and heat for a period of time and voila—nourishment. It’s simply that I’m more of a breakfast, lunch and dessert kind of cook, if one can call it that. Dinner to me is the grad school of cooking, and my skills are still clapping erasers in middle school.

          I can grill the basic meat groups with a reasonable amount of consistency including the requisite grill marks in all the right places, but men are supposed to know how to do this. Grilling has been a part of our troglodytic DNA since man first fired up a Weber and made burgers. Besides, it’s not that hard. Fire + meat = dinner. The real skills come into play in the kitchen where this and that are combined to make something with way more finesse than a slab of medium rare meat.

          According to Esquire magazine, every man should know how to make one thing exceedingly well. At first, I was going to say that I can cook a mean steak, but I require an actual grill to do this. We don’t serve any sort of cow-related food if there’s snow on the grill, which is generally from November through March, and I have never, in my life, cooked a steak indoors. My son-in-law can cook a perfect steak on a cast iron pan indoors, and I’ve read how to do this, but I’m not sure I want to keep throwing pans out the window, so I’ll wait until it warms up outside. Consequently, we eat a lot of baked chicken in the winter.

          What I can make any time of the year is a perfect omelet. I end up making these a lot because Mrs. G. and I will default to brinner at least once a month and this is when my cooking skills are called up from the minors. And it is a skill, because I’ve had some bad omelets in nice restaurants where they should know better. Some cooks make fluffy, soufflé-like omelets, which are horrible, and some make sloppy once-folded taco omelets where the filling pokes out all over the place. Not me. I’ve perfected an omelet that rolls up with a tight, thin egg layer that surrounds whatever filling is inside. It’s the cannoli of omelets and since it’s my one big culinary skill, I’m comfortable bragging about it.

          I can also make soup, but this isn’t saying much. My dog could make soup if I let him handle knives. There’s been a pot simmering for the past four hours, and it’s just about as easy as grilling because there are only a handful of ingredients—chicken stock, actual chunks of chicken, carrots, celery, garlic about five different types of dried beans and spices. Cook for three and a half hours and then add a fat can of crushed tomatoes and cook for another hour. Voila—soup for the next three days.

         The one simple thing I absolutely can’t make is a salad. My wife makes amazing salads that contain ingredients I would never assume went in a salad. It’ll take her thirty minutes to assemble everything, and even as a confirmed carnivore, I could eat one of these for dinner and be happy. They’re that good. I’ll make myself a salad about as often as ball lightning, and it’s a sad and typical guy salad—lettuce, a tomato and dressing. Boom. Salad. Airlines would laugh at the salads I make.

         So that’s why I’m over the moon that Mrs. G. plans and makes our dinners. I’d probably be perfectly happy eating soup, omelets and sandwiches for the rest of my life, but what fun would that be? Life is better and a heck of a lot tastier with someone who knows how to work a pan.

 

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