I did Latin instead of domestic economy so, unfortunately for my husband, I could just about boil an egg when we married
I’M SURE I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE who finds beauty halls in glamorous department stores difficult to negotiate without feeling a bit sheepish. All those bright lights seeking and finding every blemish in my face, in stark contrast to the ultra-shiny, not-one-hair-out-ofplace, perfectly groomed cosmetic advisers. It’s no wonder I slink past, hiding my smudged mascara and mismatched foundation. When I scrabbled up enough courage to approach one such paragon of goddess-like beauty for advice, she pointed out that I was using the wrong shade of foundation with such wide-eyed alarming concern that I felt I had committed a mortal sin.
But for me, that sense of intimidation was nothing on the scale compared to how I felt when it came to standing in front of the butcher’s counter, my untrained eye staring at the display of cuts and joints spread before me, trying to figure out one end of a cow from the other. Or could it be part of a sheep? I really hadn’t a clue.
I felt truly out of my depth and panicky beyond belief because of my lack of basic knowledge.
My problems began with the division of household chores when I was growing up. I was much more at home wielding a polishing cloth or a vacuum cleaner, while my sister reigned serene in the kitchen. I could have a novel in one hand, you see, while the other hand buffed casually around the furniture or moved the vacuum cleaner a gentle few inches across the floor. Wrestling with the intricacies of the gas cooker would have required all my concentration.
In secondary school, I chose to study Latin instead of domestic economy. Over those five years, I became acquainted with the finer works of Ovid and Livy, and the problems faced by Hannibal as he crossed the Alps with all those elephants. Those who opted for domestic economy were indoctrinated into the art of being a proper housewife; aka domestic goddess. Rule number one, to have a delicious meal ready for your husband as soon as he arrives home from his hard day at work.
Unfortunately for my unsuspecting husband, I was one of those who could just about boil an egg when I glided down the aisle. I’m very fortunate that I had such a practical, liberated mother–in-law, because she taught all her sons how to cook, seeing it as a basic requisite without which no one, male or female, should venture out into the world. My husband grew up in an environment where she moved around her kitchen with ease, showing them how to cook hearty, succulent dinners for the masses without breaking a sweat, while simultaneously throwing together delicious apple tarts and making perfect custard from scratch. Fair dues to him; in the first flush of married love he took my series of culinary disasters on the chin and swiftly took over the cooking.
Except that the first time my motherin-law came for dinner, I was anxious to prove myself and cook a meal singlehandedly. So I stood at the butcher’s counter watching them cutting, quartering, weighing and slapping on wrapping paper with a consummate calm that disheartened me.
The woman ahead of me in the queue rattled off her requirements with a knowledge that I envied, bandying about terms such as short loin, rib eye and flank with such a familiarity she could have been chatting about the weather.
When it came to my turn, I pointed to what I wanted and hoped for the best. It was nice and lean all right, trim and tender, and it slid apart under my knife. But tasting it was something else. One sliver and I needed a litre of cold water to quench my salty mouth. I had unwittingly bought a piece of ham, which should have been boiled or baked, but certainly not stuck in the oven to roast.
I’m glad to say I’ve picked up some basic skills since then, but I’m still a fully paid up member of the tribe who believes that life is too short to stuff a mushroom. I don’t see the point in spending hours in scrupulous preparation, be it grating and grinding, blanching and marinating, when the meal is scoffed in ten minutes and all you’re left with is a gigantic pile of washing up.
To my credit, however, I cook on Sundays. For the family at large. My husband peels and chops without breaking a sweat and I shove things into the oven and move them around and remember to baste, and hope for the best. And I haven’t poisoned anyone yet or set the kitchen on fire. I love it because it’s more an opportunity for a relaxed gathering around the table than any test of my culinary skills. When the family arrives, I take off my apron and tone down my flushedfrom-the-oven face with a little foundation. And guess what, dear paragon of goddess-like beauty – I don’t really care if it’s the wrong shade.