My Hubby the Chef

This was my first published article.  I wrote it because friends would come to our house for dinner and oooo and ahhhh about how lucky I was to have a husband who loves to cook.  Let me tell you, it’s a mixed blessing!

My hubby the chef…the real story

Probably a lot of you women who saw the title of this article thought, “Oh, how I wish my husband could cook.”  Well listen, sister.  Before you start feeling jealous, you’d better look at the whole enchilada.

Men who love to cook don’t do it so that there’ll be food on the table.  No ma’am.  They cook as an art form, an expression of their souls; in a nutshell, they cook for the sheer joy it gives them, and never for any practical reason.  They love to experiment and are never satisfied, even when they create the perfect dish.

Husband loves his recipes, then leaves them…

Here’s what I mean.  Say my husband eats something he likes in a restaurant.  He becomes obsessed with trying to duplicate the taste.  If it’s squash soup, he’ll buy, puree, and spice squashes for the next month until he gets the recipe perfect.  Mind you, some of these soups are good, and some are, well, awful.  Regardless, we’ll eat squash soup every Saturday night until he gets the flavor just right, and then we’ll NEVER eat it again.

That’s the thing.  Even when he comes up with a great recipe, makes it to perfection, and you rant and rave about how delicious it is, that dish will never, ever cross the table again.  Because even if he tries, he either won’t remember exactly what he did to make it, or he won’t want to make it that way again.  That irritating little creative muse in his head will say, “Just add a little pinch of rosemary and some coriander.”  The next soup may be good, but it won’t taste like the one you thought was perfect.

Another thing, if he asks you what you’d like to eat, and you’re craving some kind of comfort food like macaroni and cheese with its distinctive flavor, you can’t have it if your husband is a chef.  By the time he gets through adding spices, two or three exotic cheeses, bits of ham and smoked salmon, the macaroni and cheese has become a gourmet delight fit for the Hilton, but it won’t satisfy your craving for macaroni and cheese.

Cookin’ shows his favorite pastime…

My husband has learned to be a master of his craft by studying cookbooks (his favorite thing) and watching cooking shows on TV (his other favorite thing).  Did you know there are cooking shows on around the clock, seven days a week, in every language?  I know this because I see my husband assume his “cookin’ show” position after work and on weekends.  Poised on the couch, remote control in hand, he watches sauces being ladled in fancy ribbons over desserts, garlic pressed and sauteed in steaming frying pans that are shaken, not stirred, and white coated chefs giving instructions in broken English about how to fricassee meats and cut butter into flour.  The lawn goes unmowed, the faucet drips – he’s oblivious to it all.

My husband collects the tools of his craft as well.  Here’s how.  He wraps huge, shiny metal spoons and other gourmet gadgets and gives them to me (yes, to ME) for Christmas!  It’s true!  Look here.  When I fry chicken and mash potatoes, I don’t need a lot of fancy smancy equipment.

When we bought our house and remodeled every room, we spent about half our budget on the kitchen.  People say they’ve never seen a kitchen with more cabinets and drawers.  Ours are completely stuffed full with umpteen sizes of ladles, frying pans, sauce pans, wok pans, griddle pans, even a pot simply to cook asparagus.  We have so many spices we could cover Mt. Hood with a fine green dust every St. Patrick’s Day.  We also have several varieties of raspberry and balsamic vinegars, garlic olive oils, and herbed salts.  And the cabinets are full of exotic, and expensive, jars of things like pickled palm leaves and candied ginger – all given to me as stocking stuffers.

Oh no, not gourmet again…

My husband has found that his wife and children aren’t the most appreciative connoisseurs of his craft, so he invites friends over to enjoy (and lavishly praise) the fruits of his labor.  I’d swear he thinks we’re running a restaurant.  He cooks enough for a packed crowd, even when there’s only six adults eating.  We have leftovers for days.  Barbecued ribs may be divine on Saturday night, but by Wednesday they’re about as welcome as sharp bones in tuna salad.  I was raised during the “eat everything on your plate; people are starving in China” era, and I can’t waste food.  I’ve put on pound after pound of unwanted fat since my wedding day.

Here’s another inconvenience of being married to a chef.  Whenever I’m cooking, which by prior agreement is on weekdays, he comes into the kitchen and turns down the heat on my pot of boiling potatoes and other annoyances.  It goes without saying, of course, that he knows better than I do how much heat is needed.  I’m not much of a cook, but I can figure out that if I want those potatoes done in twenty minutes, they have to boil like crazy right now.  He doesn’t do it when I’m in the room, so usually the potatoes are rock hard when dinner is ready.  It burns me!

However, there is one thing I will gloat about.  My husband can’t stand to work in a dirty kitchen, and so he cleans as he goes.  He washes all twenty of the mixing bowls he uses, wipes down the counter after the hour or two of chop, chop, chopping tiny little vegetables that go in his pasta salads, and loads the dishwasher.

When our guests arrive they tell me again how lucky I am.  Yeah, I suppose you could call it that.

Like Mother Like Daughter

It’s five in the afternoon, and I’m debating whether to sacrifice valuable calories for a glass of wine, or save them for a piece of the cake my daughter made last night.  It’s really no contest.

That cake! Oh, my goodness.  I let my daughter make it with her two friends all on their own.  It was from a boxed mix so all they had to do was throw in the eggs, water, and oil.  No problem.

I was working on my computer when my daughter popped in my office and said, “Mom, where’s the recipe for the icing?”  Her friends were right behind her, on either side: one blond, one brunette, and my daughter, the redhead.

This would have been my cue to get up, sigh, and lead the parade of girls back into the kitchen to find the recipe for them, and stick around to oversee the proper making and frosting of the cake.

But doggone it, I didn’t want to get up.  “It’s in the recipe book on the counter by the pantry,” I said.  “The one we always use.  You’ll find it,” I said brightly.  She turned away, the friends pivoted on their heels and marched off in formation behind her, determined not to let anything so trivial as a recipe stand in their way.

A few seconds of frantic looking later, my daughter must have thrown in the towel.  I can picture the scene: “Oh well, I’ve made icing lots of times.  It’s just a box of powdered sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla, and butter,” she probably said as she gathered the ingredients.  To herself she must have been thinking: but how much butter, one stick or two?  Best not to let the troops see you sweat.

I could hear the faint whir of the mixer and lots of giggling as the girls fluffed  he butter, added the powdered sugar and vanilla, then shook out a few drops of green food coloring to make it pretty.  My daughter has helped me frost cakes many times and knows you have to wait until the cake is cooled before icing, but in their lust for cake, the girls put the icing on while it was still warm.

“Mo-om!”  she bellowed. “Helllllllp!”

I ran into the kitchen, bracing myself for the sight of blood. Oh the horror!  The icing had melted into that warm cake and ran down the sides in variegated light and dark, greasy green streaks.  Before I could even say, “What the?” the top layer began slowly sliding sideways, sliding, sliding, sliding, until the bottom edge came to a halt on the counter, and the top edge pointed up to the sky like a flying saucer cruising sideways.

“Mom, help!” my daughter screamed.  As if I could, I thought.  Then the three of them burst out laughing as the frosting started flowing down the flying saucer in slow motion, making a seafoam green slime pool on the countertop.

“This is just like that ‘Macarthur Park,’ song,” I said.

“Huh?” they chorused.

The girls’ fingers nosed cautiously into the frosting, and soon they were brave enough to venture a little sample.  “Tastes a lot like butter,” the blond said.

I dipped my finger in.  “A LOT like butter,” I laughed. “How much did you put in there?”

“Just two sticks,” my daughter answered, eyes wide and looking slightly down as if to say, I may be stupid but ain’t I cute?

“Two sticks?  It’s supposed to be six tablespoons, not two sticks. You put sixteen tablespoons of butter in that icing!”

The girls thought that was side-splitting, double-over hilarious.  They laughed and licked frosting and nearly choked on their glee.  We sliced ourselves an experimental piece of the bottom layer of cake, a little scared because the icing had oozed down into every crack and pore, and it looked soggy and greasy.

Oh, but that greasy green butter cake is the best thing I’ve ever tasted.  You have to close your eyes to eat it, it’s so ugly.  But it beats a glass of wine, hands down.

Women Who Fix Things

I wrote this article after I’d gotten way over my head doing yet another back aching, nail breaking project around my house.  By coincidence, a friend of mine who has five children, Mary, was re-tiling her shower enclosure (in her spare time).  We moaned to each other, “why do we do it?”  This article tries to explain the craziness.

There are women in this country causing a lot of distress to their families and loved ones. You’ll see them lurking in hardware stores – on the paint aisles, in the lumber yard. They may look like your average gal-next-door, but beware! They’re Women Who Fix Things, and most of them are more than a half a bubble off of plumb.

Why? Because women who fix things can’t leave well enough alone. They’re addicted to home improvement. Other people, such as their husbands, are able to go days and even years with leaky faucets or scratched up tables. But women who fix things hear voices all around the house that whisper: “Fix me, patch me, paint me, remodel me.” The only way to escape the voices is to drown ‘em out with a noisy tool, like an electric sander or power drill.

A handy addiction?

You might think a woman with this particular addiction would be handy to have around the house, but think again. Most of these women don’t know the first thing about furniture refinishing, plumbing, carpentry, plumb bobs or T-squares — and a whole lot of other stuff. All we know is that we want to see some improvement, and there’s no way it’s going to get done unless we do it ourselves.

Okay, I admit I’m a woman who fixes things. Big time. But out of necessity, not choice. When I see something that needs doing, I approach my husband, and without one iota of consideration, he mumbles, “It’s fine the way it is.” Translated, that means he doesn’t think there’s any problem, and even if there is a problem, which there isn’t, he’s not going to fix it under any circumstances, and he’s not going to hire someone else to do it, either.

It’s so bad around my house, if I want something done, even if I’m willing to do it myself, I still have to sneak around. That’s because my husband is always against me doing projects, no matter what they are. He knows from experience that soon there will be tools, dust, broken pieces of plumbing and chunks of sheetrock strewn all over the place. Conversely, the dishes, laundry, vacuuming and any late night activities after the kids are in bed will be neglected. A home cooked meal is out of the question.

Bringin’ down the house…

I guess he may have reason to be skeptical. My projects do tend to backfire, I’ll admit. Like the time I decided to sheetrock the garage and turn it into a bonus room. Do you know what it’s like to sand sheetrock on a ten foot ceiling? Of course you don’t, because you’re smart enough to never attempt such a thing. I was covered from head to toe in white dust. I looked the Pillsbury dough boy except where my goggles had been. There was so much dust in the air the fire alarm kept going off. After the fire truck appeared on our dead-end, no-turn-around street for the second time and had to slowly back down to the main road (and fined us $50 for another false alarm), I can’t blame my husband for being perturbed. But I start new projects anyway. That’s what women who fix things do. We delude ourselves into thinking things will be a piece of cake when we ought to know better.

Don’t start what you can’t finish…

How many times have I said to my husband, “If I’d known it was going to be this much work, I wouldn’t have started it in the first place?” It’s a disguised plea for help. Like maybe he’d roll up his sleeves and pitch in, or if nothing else, hire someone who knew what the heck they were doing to finish the job. But my poor husband, who has begged me never to start another project, snarls back, “You started it, you finish it.”

So why do we torture ourselves this way? This sounds nuts, but it’s fun to visualize a shiny new countertop, or a refinished kitchen table. What a high! The problem, like with all addictions, is the side effects — the blackened toe where you dropped the hammer, the fingers with so many little cuts they hurt too much to grip a screwdriver, the headaches and marital conflicts and despair when you realize you’re in way over your head and there’s nothing you can do but keep going because your husband isn’t exactly speaking to you anymore and your children have quit asking you to tuck them in because you’re sweaty and cranky and covered in sheetrock mud.

After each project I say I’ll never start another one. Never, ever. But then I start thinking about new tile in the master bathroom and really, it wouldn’t take that much time to do it, and it would look so nice.

Oh my gosh, if you ever run into my husband, please keep this our little secret, at least until it’s already started.

Things Men Shouldn’t Say to a Woman

I wrote this article after a man made the comment me that I looked like I was gaining weight.  He said my knees looked fatter.  I believe he thought he was being funny, but he wasn’t laughing a couple of seconds later (read further to see why). 

Everyone loves compliments, especially women.  And it’s easy to find something nice to say about any woman if you look hard enough.  Someone who has a bad complexion and missing teeth, for instance, might have beautiful knees.  But do people, especially men, see those knees?  No, they zero in on our weak spots and attack like mosquitos at a Mississippi barbecue.

People, especially men, do this seemingly without effort.  For instance, once I went with a guy to pay our respects to a friend of ours who had just a baby. When my friend opened the door, she looked great.  You know — happy, radiant, the glow of motherhood shining in her eyes. But this guy blurts out, “I thought you just had a baby!” Geez, Louise! Why didn’t he just moo and snort like a pig? He might as well have said, “How come you still look like you’re pregnant, you big fat cow?” That’s all my friend and I heard.

When are you due?

Another time, this man I hadn’t seen in a while came up to me when I was under a lot of stress and had been hitting the bars lately (chocolate bars, that is).  After we exchanged pleasantries, he says, “Are you pregnant?”  It really hurt, especially since I didn’t even have a boyfriend.  He might as well have said, “By the looks of that gut you got on you, big mama, either you’re seven months along or that food baby is totally out of control.”

Any man should realize that women are sensitive about our appearance, especially our weight.  We’re forever checking ourselves out in shiny objects that reflect our images – mirrors, picture windows, Christmas tree ornaments. We’re doing all these double takes, and sadly, most of what we’re seeing isn’t going to get us in next year’s swimsuit issue. We see saddlebags, water weight gain, and a teensy pimple we couldn’t resist squeezing that now looks like Mt. Vesuvius poised to erupt.

So don’t make us miserable by saying something like, “Are you gaining weight?” I had a guy say this to me once. I decided to buck up and stand tall–not get all insecure and mousy like I usually do when someone makes a negative comment about my appearance.  “What do you mean?” I snapped.  He didn’t flinch, the oaf. “Your knees look fatter.”  That’s the honest truth, that’s what he said. It caused a knee-jerk reaction.  I kneed the jerk.

What happened to your hair?

And it’s not only their weight.  Women continually fret about their hairstyles, so why do men always have to say something like, “What did you do to your hair?” That means whatever you did, it’s bad. Real bad. Ugly. Hideous. You’re ruined for life. There’s no hope!  Get a sack over that head, Medusa!

If men would just pay attention, which they won’t, things would be so much better.  Instead of the aforementioned comment about your hair, they could just say, “You’ve done something interesting with your hair.” Then we could say, “Oh, thank you.”  And we might add, “Do you like the way it’s ______ (parted? cut? styled? colored? combed? whatever), and the man could say, “You know, you’d look good no matter how you wore it.” See, isn’t that easy? Over and done. He doesn’t have to lie, you don’t have to feel bad.  And rest assured that we’ll change it back to the old way if it looks that awful, because our girlfriends will hint to us that it’s not our best style, and we’ll change it without getting our feelings hurt.  But if a man tells us it looks bad, we’ve got two options. We’ll either wear it the new way just to spite him. Or we’ll be passive/aggressive and change it, but we’ll start having a lot of late night headaches.

Guys should not get into hair color, either. I’ve had men say to me, “What color did your hair used to be?” This is a slap in the face. It means I got gypped by my stylist or was so cheap I bought some tacky off-brand grocery store hair color and did it myself, and it’s a freaking disaster. Any woman who colors her hair a tint besides blue or purple believes with all her heart that it looks “natural.” There never was any “used to be.” A man just needs to say something like, “Your hair color compliments your eyes.” That’s all. Short and sweet.  This is not rocket science.

Have you tried wearing makeup?

I was talking to a male friend in college once, whining about not being able to get this other guy, Clint, to give me a second look. I wanted commiseration and sympathy, but instead he says to me, “Have you ever thought about wearing makeup?” The a-hole. I was wearing makeup! Mascara, foundation, blush, eye shadow–sixty bucks worth. If I looked that bad with makeup, what a completely hopeless wretch I was. He could have just said, “Give it time,” or “The guy’s not good enough for you.” That’s all I needed to hear. But Einstein tells me, not in so many words, that with my pithy complexion and squinty eyes, I’d at least not be so ugly if I’d only mask myself a little. I ran back to the dorm and cried a river of black mascara that cut valleys through the blush on my cheeks, cascaded over my chin in waterfalls, and puddled on the floor between my legs.

Before I go any further, let me assure you that I’m not ugly. I’ve been told by lots of people, millions of them in fact, that I’m “cute.” I’ve been compared to a couple of models and actresses. I say this only to emphasize how easily men fall into the deep dark pit of sabotaging themselves.  No wonder their wives and girlfriends are mad at them all the time.  Sometimes I think men would be better off if they just let their little head do the thinking, since most of the time the big head seems to be up there just for show.

You look so tired…

Here’s another example of exactly what I’m talking about.  Once I had a party. This man comes in and says, “You look tired.” Du-uh!  I’d been cleaning and cooking and scurrying around all day, for criminy sakes. Of course I was tired, but I didn’t want to look tired. “Beautiful, great, stunning,” he could have inserted any of those words in place of “tired” and he’d have made my night (and maybe his, too). But no, the doofus had to say I looked TIRED. So I rushed off to the bathroom, smeared on yet more blush and cover stick to reduce those dark circles, and went around all night with my eyes flexed open so that I might have looked startled or surprised, but I WOULDN’T LOOK TIRED.

I’ve got an endless supply of these kinds of examples, but I’ll close with this one, just to drive the point home. Once I got caught in a storm with no umbrella on the way to meet my date after work. He sees me at the door and gawks like I’m Frankenstein in stilleto’s. “What happened to you?” he says. The nincompoop. I sat across the table with my head turned down, worrying: “Was my mascara running? Did my hair look like Medusa? Had the concealer washed off, revealing Mt. Vesuvius?” Couldn’t he have just said, “Hi, it’s good to see you.” Nope. Too dumb. Stupid and dumb.

Sometimes I just want to scream, “Come on, guys!  Think about it.  What do you want from us? You want us to be good to you, right? Then take some advice from Thumper. ‘If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all!’”  But will they listen?  Do they ever listen?  Of course they do.  But only to the football game, or to each other’s crude bodily function jokes.

Please feel free to share this with the men in your life, if you feel like it will do any good.  Which it probably won’t….