I only have a kitchen because it came with the house! That statement was e-mailed to me by a friend who knew it expressed my view exactly. It's not that I wouldn't like to feel at home in the kitchen, it's simply that - like a dog who chases a car and catches it - I haven't a clue what to do with it.
Summer serves me well because I have no fear of the grill that lives on the deck. I'm actually pretty good at flipping burgers. But any family celebration or holiday demanding more than burgers magnifies my deficiencies in the kitchen. Husband Ray, who creates a variety of gourmet candies eagerly anticipated by family and friends each Christmas, spends far more time in the kitchen than I do in November and December.
I think because my mother was such a fabulous cook that - instead of taking the opportunity to learn from her - I was afraid to try and fail miserably. Consequently, there's no fancy meal preparation at the Goff home, only simple fare. I once wrote that dinner at our house was a success if I placed the bag of potato chips on the table at the precise moment the microwave signaled the hot dogs were done. That still is true, although when our mothers were living, we brought them to our home for dinner every Tuesday, ensuring that Ray got at least one decent home-cooked meal a week. The Moms were appreciative guests whose compliments encouraged me to try new recipes.
Mom knew her way around the kitchen. She had an astounding repertoire of culinary treats, and I thought there wasn't anything she didn't know about cooking. That is until Dad brought home a can of oysters and requested oyster stew for dinner. Mom found a recipe and set to work. A half-hour later, she called a neighbor to inquire whether she'd ever made oyster stew. When she answered in the affirmative, Mom asked how many cans of oysters she used.
"Well," said Mom, "I've just finished cleaning a can, and I only have about a tablespoon and a half of oysters."
"You're not supposed to clean them."
"You're not? But isn't that green stuff ...?"
"Well, yes," said the neighbor, "but you eat it."
"You EAT it?" exclaimed my appalled Mother.
Years earlier, in Dad's political heyday, Mom and other wives of city commissioners (there were no husbands of city commissioners then) often shared recipes when their husbands got together at one of their homes to socialize and discuss city business. (Also at that time, there was no concern about commissioners having such discussions outside open meetings.)
The ladies listened as Mom described her recipe for fried okra, which included stirring in a diced ripe tomato near the end of cooking time. Sylvia, respected as a fantastic cook, said she'd like to try Mom's recipe but was reluctant to do so because, "I've used okra in recipes before, and by the time I finish peeling it, all I have left is slime."
I frankly admit that I didn't see the funny side of Sylvia's comment when Mom reported it until she explained that you don't peel okra. I have had that botanical information about okra for decades and haven't found the opportunity to apply it, so I've filed it away with learning that bok choy is a vegetable ... which explains why the grocery store butcher had no idea what I was talking about when I asked him for a half-pound of it.
My friend Margaret is a wonderful cook who collects cookbooks, nearly 2,000 to date. Most of mine, on the other hand, came with appliances so I own, about as many cookbooks as I have kitchen gadgets. It's about time I opened those books and put the kitchen to use. Still, someone has to keep restaurants afloat, and I don't do it, who will?
- Marsha Henry Goff is a freelance writer in Lawrence. Information about purchasing her book, "Life Is More Fun When You Live It Jest for Grins," is available by calling 843-2577 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.