Living the Good Life 9-6-10
* Editor’s Note: Carolyn White comes to us from the Western Slope edition of the Fence Post, where her column was a weekly feature for nearly three years. A freelance magazine writer since 1984, she’ll be submitting one story a month from now on plus an occasional, full-length feature article or a filler. Carolyn lives with her husband, Frank, in Olathe, Colo., along with two horses, four cats, one dog and seven chickens. She’s “thrilled to be back in the office” after a long hiatus and looks forward to catching up with her readers.
My husband, Frank, took over in the kitchen last year after getting laid off from his job (and I switched from part to full time). Considering how little experience he’d had as a house-husband, he’s done surprisingly well … guess it depends on how hungry you are.
Initially, he prepared everything over the outdoor grill, which meant that we ate a whole ‘lotta meat – almost always wild game – and nothing else. Usually over or undercooked, it was often cleverly camouflaged by an assortment of sauces. I never knew that ketchup and mustard could be so versatile. Once he tired of grilling, he bought a smoker at a yard sale for $60. Afterward, the flavors became even more exotic. He burned, quite literally, through at least a cord of pine, mesquite, cottonwood, and even cedar (which made things taste particularly awful), regularly charring or drying out our supper so completely that we could barely saw through it. “That’s OK, honey, I like steak this way,” I’d assure him, discreetly spitting chunks out.
The experiments became increasingly complex after Frank discovered flour. One evening, after locating the directions on the back of a package, he mixed his very first, from-scratch, chocolate chip cookies. The dough ran together on the pan, but nevertheless we devoured the entire batch within a half hour. It took at least a dozen, additional tries for him to get things right. Sometimes, as with the meat, all we had for dinner was – you guessed it – cookies.
As his confidence increased, he searched through my cookbooks and boldly concocted a meat roll. It wasn’t very pretty, but impressed with his efforts, I praised him enthusiastically. Consequently, he continued making them, never knowing that it took entire glasses of milk for me to wash my portions down.
Eventually, he branched out to biscuits. Throughout that winter we lived on biscuits: biscuits with gravy; biscuits with greasy ribs and mashed potatoes (from a box); biscuits and hamburgers; biscuits and shredded beef; and even dessert biscuits covered with butter and jelly. Overnight, I gained 15 pounds. But then, just when I didn’t think that there were any other ways to eat starches and proteins, he attempted tortillas. Ironically, they were to become his ultimate, culinary triumph.
Frank loves authentic tortillas, and once he set out to replicate them he was obsessed. This project, though, took much, much longer to get right. He dabbled with both tortilla and maseca flours; mixed them with either water, assorted oils, or milk; tossed in table, sea, or garlic salts; and once or twice added, just for fun, entire kernels of corn. Again, I encouraged him as best I could, bravely downing each new version. (It helped that I’d be ravenous after eight hours on my feet, plus a long commute.) But it was only after he’d created an entire plate of perfectly- rounded, carefully stacked, and wonderfully-smelling tortillas for a potluck – and then watched each one rapidly disappear – that he was finally, noticeably satisfied. “I’m getting to be a pretty good cook,” he commented during the drive home. I was definitely proud. But truthfully? I felt a bit wistful, also.
It’s odd to no longer be mistress of my own kitchen. Over time, Frank, it seems, has grown surprisingly more territorial: he’s constantly either washing the dishes; wiping down the counters; scrawling something else on our grocery list; or sweeping the floor. But a few weeks ago, I discovered just how serious he’d become about “his” space. Coming in from work, exhausted, I was met with an icy glare instead of his usual, friendly hello.
“Did you put regular flour in my tortilla flour jar?” he demanded.
“Uhhh … I might have,” I replied awkwardly, immediately heading to the pantry and rummaging through the storage containers to check.
He lifted a towel from atop a bunch of flat, pasty white, indistinguishable blobs. “My dinner has been ruined because I used the wrong stuff,” he complained.
Understanding his frustration, I patted him gently. “Oh, c’mon, honey, they’ll still be good.”
“Well … maybe,” he sulked, “… but I doubt it. Be more careful next time, OK?”
Slowly, I backed away, “Yeessssssss, dear.”