The Whole Cooking Thing

“Spice Up Your Dinner With an Asian Salad,” the entreaty came, sprawled across my computer screen. Go ahead. Spice it all up. As if it’s not already spiced, or partially spiced, or certainly spiced enough, given the other issues of the day. Immediately, upon reading the dictate, I had visions of serving people in kimonos, chopsticks in their hair, rice paddies to their backs. Scents of soy and teryaki infiltrated my olfactories and I, let alone my kitchen table, felt instantly, well, spiced up.

I don’t mind cooking. When I was first learning, I viewed it as a creative process. I worked in the department of a women’s magazine that edited food stories, so I read a lot of recipes, mainly to make sure that “T” meant tablespoon and that we said “1/4 tsp” instead of “1/4 cup.” That is bad, when it comes to salt. And yeast. During this time, I also amassed quite a collection of plates and cups and such, none related, except to me. 

Before I had babies, I was at my zenith. Top of my culinary arc. The corona. I made a lot of tasty and beautiful things. Now, fourteen years after they were babies, I still cook most every night, but have fallen into a bit of a predictable pattern, I must say. I have the books, I have the knack, I have the inventive spark. But by the time dinner comes around, I’ve used them all up on other endeavors.

So, when I was told, so forcefully, to spice up my dinner with an Asian salad, I took a little offense. Who the heck are you, telling me to make an Asian salad. But then, I realized that making an Asian salad is exactly the kind of thing I would do if I had the time. I would make the time, I declared, talking to the screen. I read on.

You, that would be me, will need…dried shrimp, sliced pork, hot chilies, preserved radish. What is “preserved” radish? And how long has it been preserved? And in what, where, how, by whom? Okay, then. Preserved radish, fish sauce, and to round out the list of staples I would have in our pantry, tamarind juice. Oh yes, pass me a little tamarind juice, won’t you? It’s right there, on the shelf next to the oyster butter.

Please. 

I lost my enthusiasm. I cannot cook an Asian salad, tonight anyway. I will have to fly to Korea to buy the ingredients. This is insane, I thought. Often, I play a sort of game-show game with myself. I am told that I must cook a meal using just five ingredients that exist in my freezer, fridge and pantry. Sometimes, I get to use six. Then, ready, set, go…select them, whirl the possibilities in my head, and begin.

I clicked off the Asian salad web page and went into the kitchen. Mushrooms, carrots, hoisin sauce, chicken, rice. You want Asian? You got it.


I Am Woman, Hear Me Sizzle

I have a grill, purchased when we moved into our house five years ago. Every house should have one, I thought. I have put food on the grates and cooked, myself, without assistance, about three times. Grilling, still, in these modern times, is male domain. About sixty percent of all outdoor cooking is done by men. A casual sampling of males I know turns up a higher percentage, even on gas or electric contraptions, on which women tend to participate more.

We have a charcoal grill, which requires some knowledge of science and engineering, I am learning. On Saturday, I thought we should use it. The weather was just right. At 5:15, I lit the fire. We ate at 8. This is a long time to the plate for a process that is supposed to be convenient. About three coals turned gray. The other 900 didn’t. I tried to cook four hamburgers and four chicken breasts over the three coals. After a half hour, the meat was raw. I could put my hand on the grill without incident.

“Girls,” I said to my daughters and their friend, “I don’t think it’s getting hot.”

Laughter all around. I threw an entire box of matches on the mound.

“Should I call my dad?” the friend asked. 

Horrified I was at the suggestion, four-foot long tongs clenched in my fist. “Absolutely not. I can do this.”

“Maybe, start over,” she said. 

I took the meat off of the grill and put it on a plate. Then, I sprayed the coals with the lighter fluid that I am afraid of, and tossed a match on the pile. I stood across the street to do it. Thinking the coals were lit, I put the meat back on the grill. I was getting really hungry. My entire being smelled like a smokehouse. I was a smokehouse. It took an hour to cook the burgers and the chicken, and that is without the finale in the microwave. And, we needed new buns because all the pink juice drenched the original ones. 

When we were done eating, the fire was perfect. I filled up the teapot with water and poured it on the grill. Sizzle sizzle.