Courting kitchen catastrophe

. January 30, 2013.

No matter how progressive and non-gender biased our society becomes,the reality is my daughters will one day have their loved ones look to  them and ask what women have been asked for centuries, “What’s there to eat?” For some females, this does not cause panic attacks or severe anxiety. My Mom does not fit into this category. My Mom calls herself a “utilitarian cook.” I never quite understood this term but I think it means she excels at microwaving, reheating or anything that requires a can opener. She is quick to point out that she is “better in other rooms” which could explain her abilities in perfectly laundered and ironed clothing or her VERY happy 53 years of marriage.

Already I see my three girls following in the steps of the women who have come before them. My oldest Lauren reminds me of my Mom and for that matter, Aunt MG, my Mom’s sister. Like her elders, the only thing Lauren likes to make is reservations. I can vividly recall visiting my Aunt in Washington, D.C. My Pops and I were in her kitchen as he contently crunched on an afternoon snack He said, “For once your Aunt has made something halfway decent to munch on around here!” We later discovered that the “crunchies” he devoured were dog treats for her pug.

Life’s little extras

I have taught my eldest child a few skills. She is adept at making a fried egg, pasta and mac and cheese. I just hope she doesn’t “pull an Uncle Jim” in the mac and cheese department. When I was visiting him at MSU I asked what the little black flakes were amongst the cheesy macaroni. He said, “Don’t worry about it Mar. That’s just Teflon from the pan.” I never shared that story with my oncologist, but it could explain a lot.

My middle daughter reminds me of my Grandmother Scheib who was a registered dietician and is still remembered for feeding one to one hundred with whatever she had available at her disposal. It’s as if she performed a miracle of Biblical proportion when she entered her kitchen. My daughter Helena is constantly having perfectly prepared parties. She was born to entertain. Once she called me at work and asked if she could have her friends over and decorate for a “Harry Potter” party. I gave her free rein and counted my blessings she was into the happenings of “Hogwarts” instead of some other vices available in junior high. I came home to discover she had made theme-based food and most noticeably, had taped the Christmas
lights she found in our attic to the ceiling so it would look like the dining hall described in the book. I must admit it was very atmospheric, though to this day, there are still pieces of scotch tape on the family room ceiling.

Instant improvisation

My youngest Maria has no fear in the kitchen. If something doesn’t work out, she will improvise until it does. She reminds me of my Mom’s dear friend Barb, who faced the challenges of feeding five children with strength and decorum. Barb has rescued me from many a disaster. During one of my gatherings, my child quickly opened the fridge door causing the beautiful dessert I was about to serve to splatter at her feet. Barb quickly gave my offspring the “You do not want to find out what I am capable of if you rat us out” face, grabbed a spatula and whipped cream. In minutes, we had a semi presentable treat for the anxiously awaiting guests. As she advises, “You can hide a multitude of sins with a tub of Cool Whip.”

Like Maria, there are some members of my family who have surprised their guests with the unexpected. One brave baker was applauded for her addition of raisins in her famous gingerbread cake. It was not until her friends departed that she remembered that she hadn’t put raisins in the cake. After careful examination, she called the exterminator to take care of the ants (and the secret source of protein and fiber in her baked goods) that she found on her kitchen counter.

When it is time for my daughters to braise, roast, broil and flambé, I hope they remember the long lineage of those who have braved the pursuit of perfecting their culinary skills. I will tell them to stock up on the Cool Whip, smile if your cookies crumble and to always remember there are other rooms in which to excel.

Mary Helen can be reached c/o