On the Day the Wife Gave Up Cooking
There are four basic principles that should not be overlooked in cooking any dish—proper and accurate measurements; proper cooking temperature, proper length of cooking time and proper time of serving.
-Duncan Hines from Adventures in Good Cooking and the Art of Carving in the Home (c. 1939)
Food is all mathematics, Betty Crocker and her kind
tell me, an artist at heart. Still, I stray from the stove
one minute too long, boil the two-thirds cup milk over,
follow a flash of ruby wings outside the kitchen window
add three cups flour, harden a reputedly moist red velvet cake.
If you can read, you can cook, my mother tells me,
stroking my poet’s soul. Pare, blanch, fold in, try out.
The words take me on a journey far from my milky mess.
Strain, sieve, sift, simmer. I truly believe a watched pot
never boils. I do not watch. I do not watch.
Pears, peaches, plums, potatoes. I bake a poet’s potluck
no-one dares touch. It’s all so simple with a head for numbers.
Twenty-two wafers equals one cup crumbs. Sugar.
Brown, light or dark. Teaspoon, tablespoon. Squash, strawberries,
split green peas. Dessert even the neighbor’s dog will not eat.
The fly in the rice is this: I want to cook like I live.
I want to curry with abandon. Salt and pepper to taste,
to taste. Stand for hours under the scrub pine, palms full
of chokeberries, waiting for the chickadees, all the while
breathing in the forbidden curl of burning roast turkey.
I want to flirt with the young butcher.
While away the hours batting my eyes, asking
How big the roast? How fat the pan? How sharp is that knife?
Pay him to bone two pieces of meat, roll and tie them together.
Stroll home with his meat under my arm, and serve salad from a bag.
Truth is, if I were a bird, a robin or cardinal, I would not have to measure
my food, no cups, no quarts, no gallons, no liters. If I were a poem,
another master would measure my words, weigh my meter, scan
my rhyme. So on this day, in this kitchen, I will peel away my layers,
remove my core, hang my skin from a hook in the ceiling to dry.