“What do you mean there’s oil on the top?” my husband screamed into his cellphone.
We were in Santa Barbara for a few days for a semi-getaway. He was giving a couple of talks and I was wandering around and sometimes, we got to wander around together. The only problem was, his cellphone kept buzzing.
Oil on the top? I didn’t know much about cars, but that sounded ominous. But why would anybody be calling my husband about a car problem? He doesn’t know any more about cars than I do. I felt secure in the knowledge that oil in a car doesn’t belong on the top, though. It goes somewhere else. Somewhere inside, I believe. Maybe I should offer my opinion when there was a lag in the conversation.
“What are you cooking?” my husband yelled. “There shouldn’t be oil on the top!”
Oh! Cooking! Well, in that case, I had no opinions whatsoever. I know even less about cooking than I do about cars.
Finally, he hung up. Bad connection, he said. We resumed walking. Our son, my husband told me, was making gumbo. He needed to know how to cook the roux. I nodded and tried not to look like an absolute moron about cooking. It’s exactly the same way I try to nod and look not to look like an absolute moron every time I take my car to the mechanic. Oh, yeah, right! The carburetor has rigor mortis extremis! Well, that can’t be good! Fix it!
I grew up in a family where my mother cooked in kind of a Midwestern style, overcooking everything till it turned brown and dry. My father, I swear to you, barely knew how to operate a can opener. It was the uber-traditional family of the 1950s.
But somehow, my sister and I grew up not knowing how to cook. She and I last collaborated on some cupcakes for our daughter’s seventh birthday. The cupcakes didn’t rise, of course. They looked like the stones you put in a garden to walk on so your feet don’t get muddy. But we tried to make up for this shortcoming by smearing lots of icing on top. Icing — that’s my answer to everything. It covers a world of sins.
“You should have used a cake mix,” another mother told me later. “Nobody can mess up with a cake mix.”
“We did use a cake mix,” I said. “And we still messed up.”
All you have to do is bomb a few cooking assignments and nobody asks you to cook again. My husband eventually took over cooking because — and this is a miracle to me — he actually likes to cook. He’s the one our kids turn to for advice in the kitchen.
Gumbo and roux and oil on the top. What a conundrum. If our son had asked me, I would have given my usual, time-proven answer. Icing. It’s the answer to everything. Covers a multitude of sins.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)