Friday, February 24, 2012

My Son Is Teaching Me To Cook: Part 1

I am a pretty good baker but not a great cook. It's not that I can't follow a recipe. I just don't enjoy cooking. I don't really care about food all that much (except for chocolate). I think I have too many sweet taste buds and not enough of the others.

My relationship with food has evolved through several phases over my long life.

When I was a young child, my mother cooked dinner every night: meat and potatoes with a side of overcooked canned vegetables and a pile of white bread on a plate.

It was plain and straight forward All-American food. We even came home for lunch every day for soup and peanut butter sandwiches.
My dad "cooked" once a week to give Mom a break. On Sunday night he'd make his "Dagwood Sandwiches" with peanut butter, Miracle Whip, American cheese, pickles and bologna on white bread. We'd watch The Wonderful World of Disney and eat from TV trays.

My mom told how bad a cook she was when she first got married: she put Crisco on dad's burned toast. I thought the apple didn't fall far from the tree since her mom was a also terrible cook. Her gingerbread men were always burned. In her defense, she was using a wood-burning oven (and an outhouse). Grandpa was apparently very miserly with the grocery bill.

On the other hand, my dad's mom was a great cook. She only took her apron off when she went to church and we loved going to her house for Sunday dinner afterwards. She made the same kinds of things that my mom did but it always tasted so much better. I loved donning a big girl apron and helping her in the kitchen. She made pies every week and we would put butter and cinnamon on the extra dough, roll it up and bake it. Yum! My sister went through a spell of refusing to eat anything except Grandma's ham, mashed potatoes and biscuits.
"Convenience foods" like TV dinners and JiffyPop were new and exciting but too expensive. Once in a very great while we'd go to Clem's, the diner where my dad worked during high school and college breaks. I was hyper-aware of the cost of eating out and would order a BLT because I though it was cheap.

Once a month we got KFC for Sunday lunch.
I remember the occasion when my dad ran in to pick up a bucket and forgot to put the car in park. It started rolling into the traffic of Route 40 but my brother leaped over the front seat and applied the brakes.  I'm still not sure how truly accidental his lapse was.

We never went to McDonald's (wildly overpriced!) or any other burger joint. When I was in middle school, Taco Bell's arrival in our town was a big event. We  thought a Bell Burger was thrillingly exotic. Before I met Chris, I had eaten Chinese food once: takeout sweet and sour pork as part of a social studies class.


When my parents divorced, my mom went back to school and then to work so we kids started cooking dinner. I was 12 though, so no gourmet offerings: usually grilled cheese and popcorn because it was cheap and easy. Convenience foods started looking pretty good and cost-effective.
We were always hungry because my dad wasn't always so good about child support and my mom wasn't always so good about budgeting. Five of us shared a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese for dinner. Mike could eat that by himself when he was a teen. If we celebrated with a package of Oreos, they were doled out evenly between us. 

In high school, I worked at a Sears snack bar where I made milkshakes and burgers and could eat what I wanted from their limited offerings. It wasn't real cooking though. Just slap the burger on the grill and drop the fries into the grease.

I went to college and was allowed to eat 3 meals a day at the cafeteria. And all I could eat? I  could have ice cream after -or even for- every meal? We had steak every Saturday night and a salad bar and huge milk machines. I'm not saying it was great food or that the offerings were culturally diverse but there was plenty of it.

My friend Ellen introduced us to "Fuzzy Milk" a combo of milk and cola that was reminiscent of a traditional float. Sometimes I drank milk with a little coffee in it. I was introduced to the idea of vegetarianism, although I didn't buy into it. Slowly my world was expanding. I admit I was mostly trying new liquids of the alcohol variety but still...

After Shimer closed (albeit temporarily) I moved to Missoula, Montana, to live with friends and it was back to a life of scarcity. We would go to a restaurant and share a salad to get the crackers. We'd mix up sugar, flour and a little butter to make fake cookie dough. I was back to dividing the bag of Oreos into equal shares to be savored for the following week.

Within about six weeks, I got tired of my controlling psychotic roommate and returned to Shimer where my life was changed forever.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Joy of Giving Up

Sometimes the Today Show or some other apparently innocent TV show sneaks in a session on fashion or beauty. They demonstrate how to put false eyelashes on or the hottest new six inch heels. For a minute, I watch and then I laugh maniacally and turn the channel or even -gasp!- turn the TV off because I DON'T CARE!

My hair is turning grey, getting long and straggly. When it annoys me, I yank it into a ponytail. I use good shampoos to avoid allergens but I don't blow it dry or use a curling iron or straightener. Why should I? I don't care if it's the latest style.

My eyelashes are invisible and my blond eyebrows are shaggy. I wish I had long, black lashes to bat when I flirt but I am not going to take Latisse. I rarely even wear mascara. I am much more concerned about the health of my eyes and vision than their looks.

My fingernails are short and soft. I got a manicure once (thanks to Pat) but the polish slipped off the next day. I actually USE my hands and they're covered with glue and paint and ink and the only glitter they ever see was supposed to be on a project. I wash them a lot and use moisturizer to keep them healthy and in good working order. End of story.

I wear comfortable shoes -kind of ugly ones with orthotics to tell the truth. In fact, I'd rather be barefoot. My dogs can't breathe with shoes on and if my dogs ain't happy, I ain't happy. I don't understand how women can wear high heels with pointy toes. Seems to me those shoes were designed by sadistic men. It's not all that different from Chinese foot-binding except you can take them off.
I wear jeans and yoga pants with shapeless shirts. I haven't worn a dress or skirt in years (chafing you don't want to know about). My lingerie doesn't come from Victoria's Secret (I don't think they carry my size). For me, a good day means I don't have to wear a bra (TMI?)

I like seeing beautiful clothes. I am entranced by colors and fabrics. But I am sorry to say that a lot of recent fashion trends have left me scratching my head.  Low cut jeans that expose a muffin top or even a crack? Ick.  Drop crotch jeans? Idiotic.
I'm not a big fan of blindly following any rules, especially those of fashion but lately it seems that the industry is just testing us.

In my youth, mixing plaids and stripes and patterns were "Glamour Don'ts." Now this is a hot trend? I like all the pieces
individually but grouped on one body at one time, they give me a headache. She looks like a runaway who is wearing her entire wardrobe.

Would this be a good look for me? How can I make this fashion trend fit my lifestyle? I don't care.

I try to eat healthfully because I want to live to see my potential grandchildren get married. I work out because I want to be able to dance at their weddings. The End.