Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Quest For Fire

Last night I baked some bread. Nothing to get excited about, really, I just poured the mix out of the box, into the bread machine, and pushed "start". But Trish decided to praise me for not engaging in learned, purposeful, incompetence. Bill Cosby once had a great routine about making breakfast for the kids one day when his wife was feeling sick, and the upshot was that Dads that seemed to be bumblers about the house weren't as dumb as they looked. That's what I meant about purposeful incompetence.

My own Dad liked to pretend he couldn't work the microwave, though when Mom wasn't around he seemed to manage. Trish occasionally does this as well, though in her case I think this can be traced to a traumatic incident involving popcorn almost catching fire (people, if your microwave has a "popcorn" setting, I suggest you try it.).

Most men who make it out of bachelorhood have managed to learn how to cook at least a little bit. I don't mean microwaving the "Hungry Man" dinners, either. I mean taking food from a raw state to a cooked one, generally by the application of controlled amounts of artificially generated heat for periods of time. Even if it means getting really good with Hamburger Helper and the Potato Buds mashed potato mix, its still a kind of cooking.

I know for a lot of guys, especially where I grew up, your contribution to the family meals consisted mainly of occasionally working the charcoal grill.

I also suppose, if you were like me, that once married you were quite happy to turn the cooking chores over to your spouse. I certainly was. I did the dishes, and was quite happy to do so. So we men learned how to cook, after a fashion, but then quite promptly forgot again once hitched.

When I took to staying home, we kept that arrangement of her cooking and me doing the dishes. And it is still the official arrangement. But not as much. Lets face it, when the cook gets home at 6:00pm for a planned meal at 6:30pm, there is a limit to what they can do, even if you play the role of sous chef.

Now, there's always the leftovers route, which we take from time to time. Indeed, we plan to have leftovers, in order to deal with just this sort of situation. But there are limits to making that work.

So I gotta cook. And one thing that has happened since taking up the stay-at-home mantle is I've spent a lot more time looking over recipes and helping create the weekly menu. It complicated by the fact that my wife is a vegetarian. Once upon a time she was a pseudo veggie, in that she would eat chicken. But last year she decided to give that up as well (despite this handicap, she does grill up excellent steaks for me and the little guy) and become a full-fledged vegetarian. Except for occasional backslides under duress. But as noted, Jake and I are not vegetarians, and I mostly try to pick things where the whole meal is contained in one, well, container, to make life simpler and not to have to worry about trying to make everything be ready all at the same time.

And of course, that one container often contains meat of some stripe. So that's a complication. And when it comes to chopping and mixing, Trish is way faster than I am. And she can occasionally do that magic sort of thing of "whipping up" a pretty tasty and healthy little meal with little more than a cast iron skillet, a dash of soy sauce, and some stray molecules of argon (Symbol: Ar. Atomic Number: 18).

But there can be little doubt of one thing, and that is that I have become a lot more comfortable in the kitchen than I ever was during my days as a single male, and in a lot less time. And I don't mean knowing how to work a can opener. Is it because I've had a good example? Is it the time thing? It's a lot easier to prepare a meal when you can start at 4pm instead of 5pm or 5:30pm or 6, after all.

What does all of this mean? I dunno. Am I less a man because I can grill the meat instead of just killing it? Should I be worried that I occasionally find cooking a bit fun? What about shopping? I shop for groceries, of course, since I'm at home and have the time. Do I feel weird being a guy in the store on Tuesday morning? Do I care?

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