It seems that when people meet my partner and me, they always want to know who’s the cook, and I always ask myself, why does it matter?
Most people want to automatically assign roles in relationships. In same-sex couples you can’t just apply stereotyped gender responsibilities. Inquiring minds want to know who wears the apron and who is lugging the tool belt.
I do know when people ask us who’s the cook, I point to my partner faster than a Russian spy giving up Michael Flynn’s phone number to avoid the Gulag.
I’ve never liked to cook, although, I grew up with a mom who was the Martha Stewart of cooking before Martha Stewart was Martha Stewart. Almost every meal she prepared was a mouth-watering delight.
She only made two meals that left scars on my palate – baked Spam and Manhattan Clam Chowder. Spam— What is it?? Does anyone really want to know? If the preparation of the protein portion of the meal begins with a can opener – point me in the direction of the salad bar.
She’d try to pass it off as a Virginia Baked Ham with two cloves and a chunk of pineapple. I was only a young child, but I saw right through the poorly disguised costume of pretend pork. There wasn’t even room for a Maraschino cherry. I’d seen bigger pigs in my Playskool Farm.
Then there was mom’s dreaded soup. I always loved the Big Apple but I didn’t love Manhattan Clam Chowder. It was a deceiving dish because it looked like innocent vegetable soup, but it was really the Loch Ness. Under the surface a terrible monster hid— the clam. Lurking innocently beneath a potato or chunk of carrot was a rubbery piece of sea life.
These aquatic boogers taste like the salty bottom of the ocean. They’re dug from under the sand and shucked out of tightly sealed shells to be steamed for consumption. Is there anything worse? Yes, your mother throwing them into her soup. I decided in third grade if I wanted something rubbery to chew, I’d stick with my No. 2 pencil eraser. Ticonderoga had a better flavor.
Overall, mom’s cooking was pure comfort food. All meals came with accompanying gravy. Turkey gravy, chicken gravy, pork gravy, beef gravy and even milk gravy with breakfast sausage. I was part of a meat and potatoes family. Good Irish stock with hearty appetites and clogged arteries.
I loved to watch her cook. The smells wafting from the kitchen were always enticing, but I didn’t inherit the Betty Crocker gene. I’m more pot luck than pot roast. I can make basic generic meals like egg and toast, grilled cheese with potato chips and ham and cheese on rye with a pickle. Don’t expect a Thanksgiving banquet. I prepare bread stuffing, but the turkey is on its own.
I’m a good baker. I love desserts, so my sweet tooth urged me to step up to the oven. Baking is a much more exact science than cooking. You begin with a simple recipe which measures every ingredient. There’s no dash of this or flavor to taste like when you’re trying to prepare a meal.
I like working with sweet sugar, fluffy flour, creamy butter and fresh eggs. It’s exciting to pour velvety batter into a cake pan, set a timer and relax while a tasty treat takes form. I can knock back a cocktail while my kitchen fills with aroma of baked goods.
Cooking is a whole different hectic experience. I’ve never been able to quite figure it all out. I can’t just throw something together. I’m not good at knowing how to combine spices and other ingredients to create something edible.
All the prep work is exhausting— the peeling, chopping, slicing, dicing, thawing, defrosting, marinating, tenderizing, broiling, frying. Dear God, I need a nap.
Then there’s the timing factor. How do you bring the whole thing together? You have to be a meal maestro to orchestrate an entire finished meal. My attempts have left me with burnt rolls, gray shriveled peas and undercooked meat.
I don’t have a chef’s eye. I can never tell if a piece of meat is fully cooked. I start cutting into it to see if it looks done. By the time it is ready to serve, I’ve stabbed it so many times it’s like having dinner with Dexter.
For the most part, baking encompasses dry ingredients. Nothing too messy to deal with, and if you spill caramel it’s fun to lick up. Dealing with raw uncooked meat is gross. Preparing boneless, skinless chicken cutlets is like Murders at Perdue Morgue. I don’t know whether I want to sauté it or embalm it.
It’s not about being lazy; I just don’t like the mess and time it takes to cook. When I’m hungry it’s at that moment, not two hours later when my Chicken Francaise with broccoli and a tossed salad is prepared.
I’m a microwave, prepared food guy. Yes, I like freshly made meals. I just don’t want to cook them. Give me a store-bought rotisserie chicken or something to microwave, and I’ve got a meal. I’m not opposed to an occasional Lean Cuisine. Unless, it requires stirring half way through the four-minute microwave time, then it’s too much like cooking.
I don’t have a shelf filled with cook books, just a drawer filled with take-out menus. I’ll gladly bake you a cake or a cookie, but don’t expect me to whip out my All-Clad and make a four-course dinner.
I don’t need to be an Executive Chef, a Sous Chef, a Line Cook, Short Order Cook or even a Pastry Chef. Just call me a baker, I’m fine with that. I know which side my buns are buttered on.