Tuesday, March 5, 2024 -
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Where’s the brown sugar?

My late father taught me many things: how to write, how to drive in the snow, and how to be a caring father. He didn’t teach me how to cook.

My mother did all the cooking in my childhood home — and I mean all the cooking. But she didn’t teach me either. She taught my sister.

We’re talking about the 1960s and early 1970s in America — The Wonder Years era — a time when roles were well defined. My sister helped my mom with the cooking and I helped my dad with all the “man chores”: watering the lawn, cutting the grass, and cleaning up after the dog.

In retrospect, my sister got the better end of the bargain. Why? Because the skills she learned in the kitchen served her later in life much better than those I gained on the lawn or with the dog.

I never went on to own a dog or a lawn, but my sister does own a kitchen. As do I, and any aptitude I have in it is self-taught. I guess you can call me an autodidactic culinarian.

When I say my mom did all the cooking, I mean all the cooking. And I’m using the word cooking here very liberally. Cooking means making sandwiches, cutting up a salad, washing the cherries — let alone actual cooking, like cooking spaghetti sauce or making a kugel.

I don’t think to his dying day, my father ever made an omelet. I once saw him cook corn on the cob. The kitchen just wasn’t his business.

However, I never judged my dad too harshly for this because that is what he knew, how he grew up.

He was of the Greatest Generation, the Leave it to Beaver era, when domestic roles were defined differently: women in the kitchen, men out at work. Not in all homes, granted, but in a lot of them, and definitely in the house my father grew up in, and — to a large extent, at least when it came to the cooking — in my home as well.

It wasn’t necessarily the case in The Wife’s childhood home, however. She grew up with a father who did dice a few onions and scramble a few eggs. So when we got married, it was a clash of civilizations.

Except that it wasn’t, not really.

First of all, the times had changed radically, and with them, gender roles.

Secondly, I’d lived out on my own for a while before getting married and — to survive — had to do some cooking. I can’t say I enjoyed it much, but with time and with my mother having written down for me some basic things I never picked up at home because I was too busy changing car pistons with my father — things such as how to make rice and even popcorn — I managed.

It took some trial and error — I once thought a potato omelet sounded like a great idea and just threw uncooked potatoes right into the pan with the eggs — but being of average intelligence, I eventually figured it out.

Still, I never found much pleasure in it. Instead, I found the whole experience to be a waste of valuable time. Shopping for the food, cooking the food, eating the food, cleaning up afterward — the entire thing took hours.

So I always opted for the easy way out. If I had to cook — and with four kids and a working wife, I had to cook — I would take the path of least resistance: make the easiest thing I could that took the least amount of time possible. I cooked a lot of hot dogs.

The Wife, too, was not necessarily a cooking enthusiast. Neither of us are foodies, both definitely from the “eat to live” rather than “live to eat” part of the spectrum. And while The Wife cooks better than me, she also was never overly fond of it and also always felt there were better ways to spend her time.

So for much of the last 37 years, we’ve been eating pretty much the same stuff. She makes what she knows, I make what I know, for Shabbat we make it together, and somehow we’ve made it work.

The kids like the fare; they are used to it, and now when they come over they even appreciate it and consider it comfort food.

“Abba,” they often say when they stop by during the week, “how about a hot dog.”

But I was getting bored.

I never went through a mid-life crisis, but I felt a late mid-life crisis — or, should I say, an early later-in-life crisis — coming on.

How much of The Wife’s brisket could one man eat? How many times could I make the same Hungarian potatoes? I yearned for some gastronomic variety.

And then, recently, I discovered Pinterest, and what a revelation that was! A virtual treasure trove of recipes, menus, and culinary inspiration. And all with only a five-to-ten-minute preparation time.

Aye, but there’s the rub.

My mouth waters at Mongolian beef or black bean taquitos recipes, but the preparation time is misleading. Pinterest will tell me it will take only 10 minutes to prepare that Mongolian beef and 20 minutes to cook it, and I’m thinking: Hey, I can do a half-hour; what’s a half-hour for some good Mongolian beef?

But it’s a lie. It takes me 10 minutes just to locate the cornstarch and then another 10 minutes to figure out where the brown sugar is hidden.

“Honey,” I scream, frustrated out of my mind, “where’s the brown sugar?”

And then it hit me. I really don’t mind cooking; in fact — while listening to some music or a podcast — it can actually be semi-enjoyable. What I hate is the irritating hunt through the crowded drawers and shelves looking for all the ingredients.

So, after 37 years of marriage, The Wife and I came to a new understanding. If I crave more Mexican and Asian food on the menu, she’ll find and gather all the ingredients from the pantry, and I’ll use the Pinterest suggestions to prepare a variety of dishes.

My late mom would be proud. My dad, however, would probably have said, “Son, have you lost your mind?”

Reprinted with permission from the Jerusalem Post.

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Herb Keinon, a Denver native, interned at the IJN before going on to a career at the Jerusalem Post, where he is a senior contributing editor.

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