just ponderin'

… on ‘cooking’ and cooking

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Study of a Dog. Joyful. About Cooking.

Marshal Dillon Dingle does not cook.

Oh, sure.

Sometimes Marshal Dillon Dingle thinks about cooking.

Photographic proof:

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Marshal Dillon Dingle Thinking About Cooking.

See?

But, in actuality he does not really get beyond the thinking phase. And, if I’m to be completely honest, he is really just method acting in the scene above.

Mainly because he cannot read.

Or turn on the stove.

Yet.

When I was little, and living on the south side of Tewksbury, Massachusetts, I really wanted to learn to cook.

This was a bit of a problem though, because my mother really didn’t want to teach me to cook, and there really wasn’t a whole lot around to cook.

For a long time, my sister and cousins and I would, during our weekly Sunday post-church visits to my Nana’s and Papa’s house over in Woburn, placate our cooking desires with the following recipe-oedic activities:

1.  Watching Nana cut up radishes.

1a.  Carefully using the salt shaker to salt the frack out of them before eating them.

2. Helping Nana pour frozen french fries on cookie sheets, which she then put in the oven.

2a.  Carefully using the salt shaker to salt the frack out of them before eating them.

Oh, and there was ketchup.

But I didn’t like ketchup because, to me, it was A. Not a food group like my father said it was, and B. Gross.

And, because we were still so smitten with the idea of cooking, often we little cherubs would go outside, create muddy gush, and make more ‘food’.

Muddy gush?

Oh I totally remember the recipe for that.

  • One part dirt, as many rocks and/or refuse removed as possible
  • One part (or less or more) water, preferably not brown colored (hard to come by in South Tewksbury, but easier to come by in Woburn).
  • Mix well into a muddy gush and mold as desired, adding more dirt as necessary.
  • If you want to upgrade ‘muddy gush’ to that fit for royalty, add one egg.

Not kidding.

One egg.

You could practically never get the egg.

Mostly because eggs were very valuable food items and not often cast off to the masses who are making pies and cakes, substituting flour with mud.

And, also, corporal punishment was not only legal, but encouraged by all of society in the mid to late ’60s and early ’70s. Especially, we thought, for egg theft.

But sometimes, sometimes, an adult would take pity on us and gift us an egg to mix in.

Yes.

The answer is yes.

We were often hungry children.

Even when I got a little older, like about 6, my mother would not let me near the stove.  She claimed it was because I would probably burn the house down.

Valid point.

But also, as with so many of her rules, I think she just needed things quiet, so she could “relax”. 

So my sister and I had to be quiet.

And flame free.

So, since I could not use the stove, specifically and especially without any supervision (supervision, at the time, being the closed door of my bedroom, with me inside playing with my Fisher Price Play Family Farm with the barn doors that moo’d when you opened them)… anyway, one would think cooking was beyond my grasp.

And it was, on weekdays anyway, when we were off to places like nursery school and pre-school (and then school-school, and yes we called it that).

But on weekends, as far as I was concerned, there was all the time in the world to create cooked things, but there was a problem.

My parents did not emerge until at least 11:30 a.m. on a Saturday or a Sunday.

Like, ever.

Yes. Ironic isn’t it?

Don’t use the stove, but get up at about 6:00 a.m., get your sister out of her crib, and, you know, stay reasonably safe until you are allowed to come in our bedroom when the big hand is on the 6 and the little hand is on the 11.  

They would put a cup of milk on a refrigerator shelf I could reach, and pour cereal into two bowls before they went to bed.

I’d get up, get my sister out of her crib.  Then I’d get the milk, pour the milk on the cereal – telling her that she was not old enough to either open the refrigerator, nor pour the milk – and, voila!, culinary excellence.

But, as with all creative endeavors, eventually one has to push themselves to go further.

And I did.

Here were the rules of weekend mornings, as I understood them:

  1. Cannot use stove, or oven (that oven got added to the ‘no’ list after a cold, Saturday morning, when I didn’t want to break the ‘don’t turn the thermostat up’ rule, but wanted a little additional heat).
  2. Cannot use knives (might stab yourself (never said ‘or your sister’, but I made that leap on my own)).
  3. Cannot use the can opener that you have to twist/wind (I accidentally cut my finger one day with that one, trying to open a can of paint. Don’t ask.)
  4. Cannot pick up the milk container because you might spill it.
  5. Cannot use eggs, even for art projects (which really was about making little holes in them, blowing out the insides, coloring them with paint or markers, sticking straws in them, and pretending they were flowers). I learned it on Zoom.
  6. Keep the sound on the TV low (no more than 3 on the dial).
  7. Don’t go outside.

Okay, so that was it. Seven rules.

Specialites de la Maison:

Hot buttered popcorn:

  1. Save the Jiffy Pop popcorn from the night before
  2. Carefully close up the foil around the popcorn
  3. Sneak it into my room and put it in the closet
  4. Get it out in the morning
  5. Put it next to the heating duct or in the sunlight
  6. Put really hot water in a Dixie cup
  7. Put margarine (we never had butter) into the hot water
  8. It will melt, sort of
  9. Pour the butter water on the popcorn
  10. Serve mushy in front of a good episode of Lassie.

Corn:

  1. Use the pointy, non-turny opener tool to open a can of corn
  2. Don’t actually open it all the way around because that would be too easy
  3. Use a toothpick to eek out every single kernel of corn from the tiny triangle opening you made, into a Dixie cup
  4. Put next to heater or in sunlight
  5. Never stir
  6. Serve with the top corn kernels a little warm and the rest room temperature, in front of a good episode of Lassie.

That was pretty much my repertoire.

But my sister thought I was pretty spectacular at the chef thing and always ate what I made, which I think is called ‘positive reinforcement’.

When I ‘grew up’ and the Nearly Perfect Husband and I had our first place, we were both pretty new at cooking (beyond Chef Boyardee via his dorm room hot plate), so we learned.  We outfitted our kitchen with things like pans, a spatula, and a can opener (the twisty kind, I could be trusted with that by then (sort of)).  We added to things over time – usually when a friend was over and asked for some sort of kitchen utensil we didn’t know we needed… then showed us how to use it (at which time we learned we couldn’t live without it)).

And now, twenty-six years later, I can cook a few more things.

And I still love it.

Sure, those days back in South Tewksbury sound sort of stark, and in ways they were.

But it was the same – and is still the same – for so many kids then, and now.

We didn’t know we were poor, or that other kids were having hot breakfasts with their Moms and Dads on Saturday or Sunday mornings. Or that cold, stale, butter-watered popcorn or carefully cultivated room temperature-ish canned corn wasn’t a great breakfast dessert.

The weekends were awesome!

Great food, great television, and freedom bestowed upon us via the love and trust of our parents.

Okay.

Via our parents’ strong desire to sleep late.

Whatever.

Freedom is freedom.

Now, if you don’t mind, I’m headed off to cook myself something to eat.

And to try to find a great episode of Lassie.

Well now you know I’m kidding.

Duh.

Every episode of Lassie is great.

Thanks for readin’.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs always, you can come on over to Just Ponderin’s Facebook page to comment or just hang out.

Elena Peters

midlife blogger & pinterest master

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