Growing up, I just knew I was going to be a career woman. Unlike the woman in the Enjoli commercial, I might bring home the bacon, but I wouldn’t have to fry it up in the pan. Soon enough my ambitious plans for kitchen freedom would face the reality of adulthood and marriage. As a wife, I would need to learn cooking skills, often to humorous results.
My mother insisted that I take home economics in high school. Much of our class time, though, consisted of discussions of measurements, with very little cooking. Indeed, we spent quite a bit of our time discussing cups, tablespoons, and teaspoons, along with writing down random recipes on index cards. Our one moment in the kitchen consisted of making pizzas with mostly prepared ingredients. For some reason, though, my group ran out of time for shredding the cheese for our pizza; I came up with the brilliant idea of making up for the lack by using Parmesan to fill in the gaps. It was edible, if not exactly Italian.
Still this lack of knowledge of cooking didn’t bother me. I was going to be a working woman and so wouldn’t need such pedestrian information. Yeah, right. When I married my husband, my idea of grocery shopping consisted of buying the big box of frozen corn dogs. For the first few months, my husband and I lived off of such prepared meals. Luckily, I married a forgiving man.
Soon I would need shopping and cooking skills, however. In order to survive on my paycheck, we needed to live as frugally as possible, and that finally required me to fry up the bacon myself. I spent hours and hours reading on the internet and in books in order to obtain the information and the recipes that I would need. Unfortunately, as with my home economics class, I would soon realize that information does not always translate into ability.
For my first cooking adventures, I generally chose casseroles, usually Mr. Food’s recipes in the beginning and later moving on to recipes that I found on the internet. My husband regretfully calls this the “Summer of Casseroles.” My inexperience in cooking led to our eating every variation of tuna casserole possible–whether Mexican or Italian, with vegetables or without, and with rice or noodles. During this early time, I also learned to evaluate a recipe as I eventually realized that not all recipes are good. This would certainly apply to a Spanish casserole that I baked during this time. Although it looked good on the website, the casserole was a soupy mess due to a lack of noodles in the recipe.
I also found a rather brilliant idea in my research–making bean burritos ahead of time and putting them in the freezer. I happily purchased a truckload of ingredients and went to work on my burrito assembly line. My husband came home to witness the process with a somewhat bewildered look. After I had stuffed the freezer with my pre-made burritos, though, he realized how easy it was to grab one for lunch. We eventually grew tired of the many bean burritos, but it was a good idea at the time.
Yes, I was very inexperienced in both cooking and baking. Although I had baked muffins and cookies, I had never baked more practical items such as bread and rolls. This would take yet more research and experimentation, especially when it came to yeast bread. No-knead breads were becoming popular at that time, though, and so I was in luck. Indeed, here was something domestic that was easy; my husband certainly appreciated having fresh bread with his meals. It was only later that I learned how to make fresh bread the old-fashioned way, with lots of elbow grease and loving care.
So now that I’m middle-aged, I will wholeheartedly admit that the skills related to cooking have become my most useful. All of my knowledge of English and American literature would not be able to feed my husband and myself. I have since moved on from these cooking basics to food storage and whole wheat baking, but those early casseroles provided me with the foundation for more advanced kitchen adventures.
Marriage would have been much easier, however, if I had learned to fry up that bacon beforehand, or simply even taken an interest in it. Having a kind husband with a sense of humor—and a strong stomach—made the process of learning to cook a bit easier, though.