Do What You Do

vintage 1922 kitchen prepI always liked to cook, partly due to Granny Tea’s rather clever psychology when I was growing up. I remember poaching an egg when I had to stand on a chair at the stove to do it, and I started cooking the occasional main dish for supper when I was in the fifth or sixth grade. Whatever I made she would tell me what a marvelous cook I was and rave about my food, insisting that I was a much better cook than she. It wasn’t until two or three years after I married that I realized I’d been had- all my best recipes, the ones that everybody asked me to share, came from Granny Tea. She didn’t like to cook, but she was more than capable. Her psychology worked, and I fancied myself a good cook, and I enjoyed it, too, which is half the battle.

vintage cook kitchenWhen the headmaster and I married, naturally I wanted to learn his tastes and preferences for food. So every time I cooked a meal, I asked him his opinions on it. Without fail, if it was the second time I’d made it, he would say, “Well, it was really good, but we just had this recently. I’d prefer to go a little longer between servings.” The other thing he would say is, “It could use more cheese.”

So I kept spreading my menus apart, so that first we had the same thing no more than once a week, than no more than once every ten days, and then no more than once every two weeks, (this was very hard as we had *no* money) but still, every meal he would tell me it was very good, but hadn’t we just had it?

So I finally asked him to specify just exactly how often was too often.

He chewed slowly and thought about it, and then he said, “I think I don’t want to eat the same thing more than once a month.”

Let me clarify that he really had _no_ idea what he was asking, as he didn’t cook, didn’t grocery shop, and didn’t know the first thing about meal planning. If I had told him that was impossible, he would have been most agreeable to having the same meal more than once in a month, but I was a newlywed in love with her husband, a newlywed who liked to cook, and a stubborn woman who liked a challenge.

So, stunned as I was, it did not occur to me for a minute to tell him how difficult this was. I just decided he should have what he wanted, so I learned to cook beans and potatoes in about fifty ‘leven ways.;-)

vintage housewife at tableIt helped that I liked to cook more than any other chore, because he also thought sheets should be washed every day, and I didn’t even try to do that one. It also helped that he had come across a source for literally hundreds of free back issues of women’s magazines and brought them home to me. So I perused them daily for new ideas, cut recipes and cooking tips out, and pasted them all in an old photo album, which is still one of my principle cookbooks.

In the years since then, dh and I have sort of reversed our ways. He likes to eat, but not as much as he used to, and he doesn’t mind eating the same thing pretty frequently. But *I* learned to love the variety, so I don’t like eating (or cooking) the same thing more than a couple times a month.

In the years since then, we’ve also had literally hundreds and hundreds of people in our home to eat. I am *not* a gourmet cook, but I am good at stretching a meal, cost cutting, economical, frugal dishes, and variety. I’m fairly competent at substitutions and adapting recipes based on what we have on hand. Frequently I’ve been able to help a young bride with some tips. But occasionally, I’ve listened to a sister lament that she can’t ad-lib like I can with a recipe, or she can’t stretch a meal like I can, or she can’t feed a crowd like I can.

Which brings me to the real point of this post. IN every one of those cases, those women had other gifts and talents, areas they excelled where I do not. I think a basic competency around the house is important, but I don’t think we all have to excell at the same things.

Tom Baker Dr. Who style felt dollIf called to, I can hem a skirt, sew a button, patch a pair of blue jeans, even make a simple skirt, a curtain, or an apron if I absolutely must. But I do not excel at sewing and it won’t be pretty. I’m quite dreadful at it, and it frustrates me to the point of tears, gnashing teeth, and hateful thoughts.

If I have no other option, I can do a mediocre job of stenciling some lettering on the wall, but I’m not very good, it’s not something I enjoy, and I can’t get too creative with it. Other people do beautiful work in this area.

Other people do a much nicer job than I do at keeping up with those little gestures that make home special- turning back the covers for the family members, leaving sweet notes in special places, remembering that this child loves violets and that one loves buttercups, and that the spouse likes three splashes of cream and two spoons of sugar in his coffee and not the other way around, and they write little notes to friends and family and never forget a birthday. I’m not like that.

Other people play beautiful music on an instrument, filling their homes with the joy of music. I can carry a tune, and I can turn on the C.D. player.

Other people introduce their children to the joy of sports and play tag with their kids and take them to baseball games and get out and race them. That’s not my gift.

Even within the kitchen, some excel at bread-baking, some excel more at food preservation, and others can’t bake a decent loaf of bread but make excellent biscuits.

As I said, I think we each need to develop some basic competency across the board, but once that’s done, there’s nothing wrong with focusing on your special gifts, talents, and bent.

radical one mudpie at a time

Be radical, but be that radical person in your unique way.

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4 Comments

  1. Amity
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    As I weep and gnash my teeth though menu planning every week, I will try to remember this post and be thankful for my growing basic competency in the kitchen, and for the grace to enjoy the other gifts that God has given me once dinner is done. Thank you for the reminder that I don’t have to excel in the kitchen, just make sure that everyone gets fed.

  2. Posted February 21, 2014 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Wow, just what I needed to hear today! Such good advice and counsel from a wise woman. Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Maggie
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    Sheets washed every day? Did that happen in the home he grew up in?

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted February 21, 2014 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

      Yes, it did happen in the home he grew up in. He was raised by his grandmother and her home was absolutely spotless. It was also devoid of books or toys, and the only time he ever remembers her being angry with him is once when he threw a water balloon outside and it accidentally hit the dining room screen and splashed water inside the house.

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