cooking school

by bam

oh, we’ve always dabbled. cracked the occasional egg. picked the shells out of the bowl of orbiting yolks before they got in the brownies, down the throat, into a cranny where they might not be welcome.
we’ve supplied little hands with cutters. watched dough turn to abstract-art cookie. we have certainly poured sauce from a jar to a pile of cherry garcia. made concoctions that started with yogurt, but then took a turn, a sharp one, that resembled a goo–a primordial swamp, maybe–that you’d not want to spoon on your innocent tongue, your tongue that did nothing to deserve such a lashing.
but until now we’ve not had reason to put syllabus to the science of measuring, mixing, making what passes for rations.
good thing, though, i travel through life with a phalanx of sensible folk. they keep me in line. tie me down like gulliver and all of those wires. (i remember distinctly the drawing from long long ago, of the very big traveller ensnared with dozens of cables, courtesy of the little people in the land of faraway lilliput.)
i’ve an old old friend from the news biz, you see, and she now makes a living wholly in kitchens. at the moment she cooks at the right hand of that fellow who’s made quite a name taking mexican food to very high art. he has cookbooks galore, and a tv show too. you might know his name; it rhymes sort of with payless.
but long ago, when i went to a newsroom each day, my friend typed just over the wall of the cubicle that backed up to mine. mostly because i happened to sit–a mere accident on the seating chart, i assure you–next to what’s called the test kitchen. so my friend jean marie, decked out in her apron over working girl clothes, cooked a little, typed a little, perfuming the room with eau de onions and garlic.
as a matter of fact, in the first weeks after my wedding, that dear blessed soul supplied me with nightly lessons on how to get food to the table.
now she’s back writing again. a dalliance i suppose. since she’s busy cranking out cookbooks, jetting all over the globe.
and she wrote, not long ago, that it is imperative children learn to feed their sweet selves. or else, she warns, they’ll starve off in college.
she lays out five easy pieces.
read recipe, gather ingredients, make sure teaspoon does not turn into tablespoon is class no. 1.
next, boil water. three, preheat the oven. and learn how to wait till it’s really, truly hot enough to roast a fat hen. four, she insists, is fry a potato. five, scramble eggs.
you’ll never go hungry is her sensible motto, what with those little tricks in your pocket. you can fill up from sun-up to sundown, day after day, if you don’t mind a perpetual run of eggs and pasta and a hunk of some bird.
i’m not so ambitious. i started my boys with toast. how to, the verb. how not to set thin slabs of bread to smoking the kitchen.
i skipped over boiling; visions of saints and sinners dunked in cauldrons of bubbling solutions might have steered me away. (i’m telling you, catholic school fills a head with colorful pictures.)
in our defense, eggs a la hot sauce was long long ago a weekly adventure for boy no. 1. like some sort of astronaut launching toward space, he cleared the deck of our old maple island, lined up his beakers and flasks, and had at it, following religiously every step of dear mollie katzen’s “honest pretzels” (a fine children’s cookbook, one i would recommend) prescription for plain scrambled eggs.
i’ve not seen those eggs, though, since he needed a stool to see over the counter.
hmm. maybe it’s my fault; i have been accused of babying my boys. maybe ouef a la neuf, served on doily-draped trays, as i puff up their pillows in their beds in the morning, is, i admit, just a little too much.
but after reading my friend, i stepped up to the cutting board. we got serious. filled in the blank spots in their schooling. which means i tried to teach boiling.
the stove, there, got in the way. see, we have a model that belongs in a fire house, or maybe a diner. just yesterday, in fact, the lovely people who make it informed me i shouldn’t have it here in my house. i might want to sell it on ebay, they kindly suggested. seems the level of flames on a commercial old stove could singe the hairs off the arms of a child. even a child who’s not yet a saint.
so for now, we are skipping that lesson, taking the fast track straight onto roasting. but then again, that nasty hot oven might singe some more hairs, so maybe we’re back to a refresher in eggs.
the little one, though, has his own kitchen plan. he would like to start and stop in the dessert dept. he thinks pie a la mode is the height of his reach. thinks it will put him through at least community college.
he suggests whipped cream–how to push down the nozzle, squirt a spiraling blob–makes for a sensible next step.
the boy, basically, is rewriting the cooking school curriculum. back on the day he enrolled, he leapt straight into lemony squares. found the dusting of powdery sugar a climatological trick he’d not tire of, as long as it coated his tummy, his tongue, and half of the kitchen. why bring out the snow shovel, please.
next day after school, he enlisted his grammy to teach him the fine points of making that pie. the filling, he learned, comes from a can. the strips you make with a wheel zoomed through some stuff that comes in a package. how thoughtful, he thought, for some faraway stranger to go to the trouble of starting his pie.
criss-crossing the crust did get a bit tangled. but oh, well. at worst, he discovered, you just lick the canned goo off your pinkie and thumb.
i though am worried. unless we kick it all up a significant notch, we are destined to a long life of eggs ala tabasco, polished off with a spinning case of desserts that might never stop spinning.
it is not, not at all, what my friend had in mind when she insisted we head off to school there in the kitchen.
but at least we’ll be fed. and no one will starve off in a dorm with a bunk and a keyboard, and our own personal requisite: the wheel that makes highways of pie crust.
i can’t imagine a single professor who wouldn’t trade lattice-top pie ala mode for a pass on a paper turned in a day or two late.

what essential lessons would you count in your cooking school? have you already tried the fine art of teaching your children to fend for themselves? who taught you? what are your most unforgettable kitchen triumphs or fallen souffles?