Sunday, July 4, 2010

Cooking became easier, and more fun, when I learned...

After I went through a rather embarrassing pink & purple stage, 'round about 6 years old, which unfortunately spanned a cold Nebraska winter where my mother had to deal with my stubborn refusal to wear anything but petticoats (it really is a miracle I didn't receive any lasting frostbite damage to extremities), and my insistence on seeing the ruffles on my little-girl underwear -- the back with the ruffle must be turned towards me! I wanted to see the ruffles! Not that I could see these anyway, underneath my other layers of petticoats (although, I think I went through a short lived stage of running around in just my ruffled underthings, which provided me the opportunity to fully gaze upon the ruffles. So taken with white lace was I). My poor mother then gave up trying to make me normal, and she also endured a winter where I would only wear swimsuits. How was I so seasonally challenged in my garment selections?

I lived in bliss with my laced ruffles worn on the front.

At the what I'm sure was urging from a school friend (oh, the peer pressure of kindergartners!), I joined a Girl Scout Bluebird group. If my memory holds, the leader of this Bluebird chapter was the mother of the Urging Friend.

My mother walked with me down the block, to the meeting house. Gaggles of girls and mothers were already crammed in the house's kitchen, eating brownies sprinkles with powdered sugar. I remember liking the brownies. That was about all I liked about the evening.

Herded up creaky stairs, edged with the wood banisters so popular in the neighborhood's older homes, these rails balancing generations of young growing up and old growing down, we were then arranged in a circle around a darkly stained four poster double bed. The bed was high and fluffed, and ornamented with overstuffed pillows. What I would be taught later, as all Good Bluebirds were, to be a bed ruff, skirted the fat bed. My ballerina mind was taken with this ruff. We didn't have ruffs at home. Beds wore petticoats too! How delightful.

My delight was soon lost amid tedious instructions on how to make a bed -- properly. Sheets even on both sides, top sheet pulled up high enough to then fold over the blanket that should come up to about a foot from the headboard, smooth out wrinkles, tuck in on all sides, fluff comforter, arrange pillows. One didn't just "make a bed" -- one "made a bed up." This is what we would all be expected to do for our husband's, for our marriage's beds someday. Why men were so interested in pretty beds with ruffs puzzled me. When mom wasn't home, I thought, papa didn't seem even slightly concerned with beds, or bedding, or making anything for that matter; except, piles of sweet smelling sawdust in his garage or alphabet soup and dumplings for dinner.

Notions of making beds "up" (just making them was hideous enough to me at that point, minus the possibility of someday having a ruff, of course), danced through my head, leaving in their tracks nothing but boredom. Really? Girls did this? They met, and ate brownies, and watched an overly made-up woman overly make-up a bed? Pirouetteing, my thoughts performed a demi detourné, and I found myself looking the other way.

I became tomboy extraordinaire. Lace was traded for blue jeans and ballerina shoes swapped for riding boots. I am unsure if the scarring experience of brownies and bluebirds and domestic instructions in Good Wifery, indeed culminated into The Turning Point; but, soon I found myself making mud-pies and bringing water bug specimens into my room where they were kept in old jam jars and lined up in a proudly scientific manner on my bookshelf. I am fairly certain I never went back to that Overly-Stuffed house again. My time was not wasted on learning how to make a bed up and eating baked goods, but on organizing Radio Flyer wagon races, riding my bike on the school playground which clearly had a "No Bicycles" sign posted, and Kicking The Can.

The things that girls did seemed so boring in comparison to the fun that boys appeared to have. As I aged, the measured gap only grew wider. By high school, girls were focused on fostering femininity and getting a "catch," and behaving properly. "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach," indicated to me that, as I was not interested in finding my way to a man's heart, I should stay away from any such culinary way-finders. The notion of making any man's bed continued to send my mind into convulsions of obstinate refusal.

Cooking became mentally lumped in with Girly Things, associated with pink and purple, and boring instructions. My aversion to cooking also could have stemmed from my failures, at seemily every try. I daydreamed and put in too much oil. Or, too little sugar. Loaves fell flat and brownies burned, forgotten in the oven, or the timer unheard over my guitar practicing. Cooking and I didn't have a very good relationship. That is, until I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease.

Then, I was forced to cook. My gut demanded it of me. Cooking could save my life. I was forced to learn ingredients, make from scratch, and pack my own lunches and dinners. I checked out two years worth of Gourmet and Saveur from the library, and flipped through their glossy pictures slowly, dog-earing recipes and returning the issues with thumbprints of olive oil. This was gastronomic pornography, and I was addicted.

This food was art...

Some of this food was even made by, get I secretly wondered if they made their own beds along with dinner? I now know a man who loves to cook, and he rarely makes his bed. Books and laundry, clipped recipes and articles, and kids' school reports litter the bed, relocating pillows to a new neighborhood on the floor. This bed is overly-stuffed, but not with ruffs. I still hold that men don't care about "made-up" beds, anymore than my kind of man cares about a "made-up" woman.

This week, Gluten-Free Girl asked a question: "Cooking became easier, and more fun, when I learned [...]"? My answer? When I discovered that cooking could be art, it could be beautiful, and it could be interesting...

Pleasure came not in accurate measurements, and I opted rather for my grandmother's "pinch" method. I discovered delight in chopping and throwing things in, sometimes willy-nilly. Still, today, recipes make me nervous. My independent streak (ok, in truth my hard-headedness), relishes the freedom to change things, and to remain uncommitted.

Good food, I found, could be natural and unadorned. It could be perfect in the tasteful simplicity of an apple.

I learned that I love to cook. And, I learned that I could cook with an un-made-up bed...

~ Brown rice couscous ~
Romaine lettuce
Green olives
Olive oil

Red wine vinegar
Sea salt
Cracked pepper

~ Buckwheat groats ~
Red leaf lettuce
Green onions
Olive oil
Sea salt
Cracked pepper


  1. Gastronomic pornography? crack me up. And we forgot the radishario (or whatever that thing was called). Next time.

  2. I know! I forgot the radiccio! I saw it as soon as you left and I got my watermelon out for juicing. Next the mountains!

  3. this was such a well written post, and I love that your mom let you be not "normal". Good Mom!

  4. Indeed, I am ever thankful for my "abnormality" and more so, for my mom! She is an amazing woman.

    Thanks for reading, Maybelle's Mom! :)

  5. Wow, I was a girl scout for years, and we never learned things like these. Made up beds? No, a weekend in the woods and cooking over open flames! Horse back riding! First aid! The things a good scout should know!

    I did, however, have professional instruction on how to make a bed. In fact, college level education. There is a whole day in nursing school dedicated to instruction and practice. Hospital corners and such. Never ruffs though!

    (love reading your blog Erin, and came upon this post randomly this morning. You are an entertaining author)

  6. Vanessa - I wish I would have been in your scout group! College educated bed making.....oy, was that a long day...? ;)

    I am SO glad you enjoy reading! Thanks!

  7. I love your poetic writing. i can't express this as well as you, but just like you, I'm so happy i found my love for cooking (: thanks for sharing (:

  8. Thank you so much, Shu Han! And I'm very glad to have found your blog!