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Monday, February 20, 2012

Respect the cook

When we all moved in here twenty odd years ago, cooking defaulted to Jan.  Tom can handle his grill out on the deck, but for cooking you want Jan.  She and I go way back.  She lived with the girls and me when she ran away from home as a teenager.  That made our mom happy, our dad happier, and me happiest of all.  I could quit cooking.

Our mom wasn’t a good cook, except for pot roast on Sunday.  She passed off her skills to my brothers and sister and me; we learned the basics of boiling water and peeling potatoes.  Walt improved to be a good cook and Jan is a mighty fine cook.  Walt never turns down her invitation to stay for supper.

My divorce coincided with Jan moving in, back in 1973.  The events were totally unrelated; the timing serendipitous. I don’t like cooking.  It was difficult enough to pare my skills from cooking for six to cooking for two when I was married. I couldn’t grasp cooking better, too, although my mother-in-law dropped helpful hints.  She was a wonderful woman, and very tactful, but I was a poor absorber.

I think the cooking initially devolved to Jan because she left work at 4:30, half an hour before me.  So, she started the evening meal.  Coming home to dinner on the table, I knew my life was changing for the better. 

Beth and Shelly were little girls when Jan came to live with us.  Six and eight.  Latchkey kids.  The hardest part of divorcing.  Although I’ve heard some fine stories from them since of how they worked around forgetting their key.  That reminds me of a lost key story.  The standing rule was empty your pockets before your clothes go in the laundry basket.  Our dryer had gap between the drum and the frame; if a metal object slipped though it shorted the heating coil and the dryer didn’t dry.  The first time some kid pocket object shorted the dryer, the repair was on mom.  The second time I charged it to Shelly, whose scissors were presented by our repair man.  The bill hung on the fridge and her half her weekly allowance deducted for a long time.  The last time the dryer quit both girls hung over the repair man in the laundry room.  Who was going to be nailed.  Way upstairs I still heard Shelly shouting “It’s your key!  It’s your key!”

When the girls had another year or two under their belts, Jan put them in front of the stove.  I think they were quite willing to learn, another rule was the cook didn’t have to wash dishes.  When Jan went back home to live in 1976, I had two good cooks in the house.  I was in pig heaven.   When Beth went off to college I still had one good cook in the house.  But only for another two years.  Then I was on my own.

I learned to make several dishes that I include in the Family Recipe book that has gone to all new brides in the family.  Bread Sandwich:  fold a slice of bread in half.  Cheese Sandwich:  put in a slice of cheese before you fold the bread in half.  Tomato Sandwich: (I lived on these all summer, from the garden, with other greens tucked in.)  Everybody knows how to make their favorite tomato sandwich, so I won’t go into that.

Here’s what I ate all week.  Fill the copper bottomed Revere-ware pot my mother-in-law gave me with water and bring to a boil.  Add one bag of noodles, preferably home made style and cook until done.  Pour noodles into drainer.  Back in the pot put one stick butter.  When melted add one can corn, one can lima beans, one can tomatoes.  When it’s all hot, add back noodles.  Mix well.  Eat some for supper.  Eat some more for supper the rest of the week.  Find a date for the weekend, or go to your mother’s for supper.

Our cook has some of her art collection on a wall in the kitchen.  The two on the right are water colors by Ned Obeck.  Jan loves his subjects.  The lower one is "The Cookerer."  Above that, "Ice Cream."  The batik in the middle is by Paula Mae Green, "Blue Heron."  We have a heron rookerie not far from us.  It will be bustling soon.  Under the "Blue Heron," a little calligraphy I picked up.  I cannot remember the artist or read her name.  The print on the left, "Woodland Chicadees, 1994," a print by V.J. Shumaker-Pallen.


  1. I remember my Mom telling me that her mother in law taught her how to cook..her own Mom had no patience for "helpers" in the kitchen. Mom insisted that I help in the kitchen. Good thing.

  2. Lovely art collection. I am in serious need of the Family Recipe book; it sounds about my skill level. As ever, I have so enjoyed reading your stories.

  3. I was helping in the kitchen at age seven already (I also scrubbed floors on my hands and knees). Mom would call me in from outside to help while my younger siblings played.
    By the age of ten, I was fixing full meals on my own. I still love to cook and bake, and I enjoy shopping for groceries--maybe because I don't really do much other shopping.

  4. You forgot the recipe for toast sandwich, another standby!

  5. I've mastered adding salami to my bread sandwich. I can make great reservations. thanks for sharing

  6. I always find it interesting that some are natural at cooking while others are not but really all that is required is the ability to read a recipe. People who tell me they cannot cook and then I inquire if they can read always look at me strangely. I think that clock is labeled Yankee but I bought it for the color and I do not research things much unless it's pottery. hugs, olive

  7. I started cooking when my dad died (I was a teenager) and my mom had to go back to work. I think it's the thing I most enjoy doing around the house.

    My sons are all good cooks, but prefer to wing it instead of using recipes.

  8. I have actually won prizes for my cooking. That said, I hate cooking for one so mostly I don't just don't. The best thing I make for dinner is . . . reservations!!!! Unfortunately, I can't afford to do that these days. Sigh.

  9. I quite like cooking. However in this house we have a carnivore who will eat tomatoes and potatoes (due to their honorary meat status) and a vegetarian. So tooooo much cooking is required. The solution I have found is to make big quantities of what ever I cook so there will be leftovers. If I am lucky that means two cooking nights a week. Toast is a wonderful standby.

  10. I love your sandwich recipes! And, actually, your noodle casserole sounds yummy. Am I missing something? :) I didn't learn to cook till I got married (to the most patient man alive - who would eat, quite literally, all of my gustatory experiments). One didn't learn to cook in the barn. Which is where I was. All the time.

  11. Joanne is a terrible cook.....She has survived only because of her sister, Jan, who is a wonderful cook....Cheese sandwiches were her specialty. that says it all. She does make a good waffle but I can't remember when she did it last..Oh well.. I still love her and her company...We do cucumber sandwiches or anything related to cucumbers during season..Remember one road trip where all we had was an orange and cream cheese taken from some "free breakfast" motel..try it, you will like it!! Swiss Army knife, orange and cream cheese.