To say that I’m a bad cook is probably not politically correct. It’s like saying Chanel is fancy. I mean it’s implied. So in recent years I have removed the constant turmoil that this “bad cook” phrasing was bringing to my husband and have declared for all concerned parties that I don’t cook.
But just like when I said I don’t read she got me a book, and when I said I don’t eat she got me a sandwich, or when I said I don’t walk she sold the car, when I said I don’t cook, my dear MIL fired the cook.
Now some of you might ask why I put up with this open antagonism and if I don’t have any self-respect that I’ve agreed to be treated like a petulant child. My answer would be that I listen to her and try to please her because of my claim of being in love with my husband who loves her a lot. I mean I just don’t claim I love him. I truly love him. Not all claims are made by insurance companies and hedge funds organizations. Some claims are actually true.
The cook getting fired was the most unforeseen incident of my hitherto lazy and self-serving life. I had never thought the cook would leave. Why would anyone in her position leave her job? She was the uncontested ruler of our kitchen. Not just the kitchen, she frequented other neighborhood homes and brought back the latest gossip. She also was my fashion advisor, social compass, moral guide and life coach. She gave deep, meaningful advice about things that she had no idea about but just the fact that she went out on a limb to give credence to my worst-cooked imaginations was enough to keep her around. Unfortunately , even though I enjoyed a close and somewhat gossipy relationship with her, she wasn’t in my employee directly and so my MIL reserved the happy power to fire her.
So the cook was fired or as my MIL put it, she “let her go”. And I wouldn’t have been so bothered if my husband hadn’t woken me up right the next day to ask where the eggs were.
I groggily got up and lazily made my way into the kitchen. My husband asked me if I was sure the eggs were in the oven. I mean, don’t laugh at him, people! He’s a good guy with limited common sense. Where are the eggs normally found? Under the hen, right? So nature wants us to keep them warm. Warm and fuzzy. That’s exactly how nature intended for them to be stored. Just because nature allowed us to eat eggs doesn’t mean we take liberty with the concept of keeping them warm and mess with this rule. As I was rummaging in the oven, my husband found the eggs in the fridge.
For the life of me I wouldn’t know why our ex-cook would put them in there but she did have a mysterious way of running this kitchen so may be this was that.
After he found the eggs he just handed them to me and walked out the kitchen.
I stared at his retreating back. What was I expected to do with them is something that I haven’t found out until today but I tossed the eggs in a pot, poured some water in it and set it on the stove. Then, since I was awake a full two hours before I’m ever up on a regular and normal day, I decided to take a leisurely walk through the neighborhood and enjoy the sunrise.
But, to my utter disappointment, the sun had already risen and the neighborhood was full of children waiting for their buses. It wasn’t quite the early morning scene that I had anticipated. It was chaotic and so noisy. I made my way back home.
As I entered my home there was an eerie silence. Not just that, there was the smell of burnt rubber. Oh boy! Is mother-in-law cooking again, was my first thought. I slowly walked over to the kitchen so as not to tip her off of me approaching and hoping to catch her in her substandard housekeeping skills. I peeked around the door. My mother-in-law and my husband were both stooped over the stove. They were examining the pot that had the eggs in it. The eggs that I had put on to boil. The eggs that my husband now had in his hand, squished between his thumb and index finger and squishing them more while they made an odd belching sound.
I heard my mother-in-law say,
“Well, nothing to do! You’ll just have to have breakfast at work. You’re getting late”.
As my husband dutifully nodded and threw the eggs, that I had boiled for him so painstakingly that morning, back into the pan, I was enraged. A thousand thoughts flooded my mind.
I should probably let it go was what my mind said.
“But I spent fifteen minutes filling the pot, putting the eggs in and turning the stove on”, my heart said.
Well, more like two minutes, my mind had to speak again.
Can’t be two minutes, was definitely longer. My heart said somewhat defiantly.
Before my mind could say another word, my heart started the age-old monologue that my mind finds so difficult to counter.
“Why do you not think that what I’m saying is significant? Are you the only smart thing here? What about my feelings? Don’t they count for anything? I know I’m not as smart or witty as you but me being a sensitive organ has to count for something. You suppress me and suppress me and suppress me all the time and all I can say is that it makes living with you very difficult”.
As the heart stopped to take a breath, the mind immediately found the window it was looking for and totally backpedaled.
“Dear! That’s not what I meant. Of course in this particular instance you’re right. Actually you’re always right. I wouldn’t be able to tell feelings if they crapped on my sanity. I welcome you to hold your feelings much much higher than any cognitive astuteness that I may possess. Any wisdom that I have is nothing when compared to the many feelings that you have. I hope you can forgive me. I see I’ve made you upset with my nonsense. Can I make it up to you in anyway? May be I should stay quiet for the rest of my life?”
As my heart was going to accept this apology and ask the mind to never speak again, my husband interrupted me,
“When did you come back?”
“Just now! What happened?”
“This happened”. He showed me the pot that the eggs were supposed to boil in and my heart broke. I say “supposed to boil in” because they didn’t follow the program at all. In fact they had totally ignored all the ways in which eggs boil and decided to be mushy and soft and burnt all over and basically, be disgusting.
I gasped. Why did this happen?
“Well, nothing to do now”, my MIL said in a loud voice. My head jerked up.
“God! Why have you put her in my home? So she can be a witness to all the embarrassing things that happen to me?”, I complained to God angrily.
My husband left the kitchen to get ready. I followed him. He casually told me that he’d be late from work.
I wanted to cry. Not only did I have to spend nine hours without him, there was a possibility that I might have to spend ten hours without him. Why did I even come into this world? I thought bitterly.
After my husband left I decided to eat a bagel and call it a day. I could just sleep until he came back home. I went back into the kitchen and saw MIL examining the eggs and then looking up at me.
“Well daughter-in-law ! I think we have some cooking to learn today”.
“Errr but I can’t teach you any cooking. I hardly know any”.
My MIL laughed derisively. I felt a little nervous but then squared my shoulders and tried to win this one,
“Dear MIL! I think we need the cook back. You fired her without thinking of the consequences. I can’t eat my cooking and I don’t think you should either. It’s atrocious, to put it mildly. Once I fed the dog a pancake I had made. My poor father had to take him to the hospital and the dog needed four blood transfusions. Apparently I hadn’t mixed the batter well. So my father taught me to not mess with things that I know nothing about. And that’s one rule I’m not going to break anytime soon”.
“How old were you then, dear?”
“Well”, I hesitated and then decided to add four years to what my age was then to make it look like a decision that was somewhat recently made , ” I was nineteen”.
“At nineteen years old you didn’t know how to make a pancake from the box?” I’ve never seen her eyebrows so high.
May be I went a little overboard. May be turn this down a notch.
“Erm not exactly nineteen. I think more like seventeen.”
“At seventeen years old you didn’t know how to make a pancake from the box?” Her eyebrows were going to get lost in her hairline pretty soon. I decide to make it sound a little closer to the truth.
“I guess I was more like fifteen”.
“At fifteen years old you didn’t know how to make a pancake from the box?”
Okay! We could play this game forever. I decided to be upfront.
“The truth is that I’m not a cook and I don’t intend to cook ever”.
“Then how do you intend to feed yourself and your family?”
“By hiring a cook”.
MIL sighed. I thought I won and turned to leave when she said,
“I promise to hire the cook back if you spend just one day in the kitchen with me”.
So I won this? Like I knew I would. I have to do this more often. Not back down. She scares me on purpose. I should have a slightly stronger spine. I can stand up to her. This was nothing. Next time when this happens…….
She mercilessly pulled me out of my quiet, overjoyed celebration of my emancipation from her fascism.
I looked at her blankly. She gave me the sweetest smile.
“My dear! What I would like more than anything is for you to boil an egg with me and then we will see where our imagination goes”.
Egg? Imagination? What is she talking about? But I decided to humor her for one evening so I smiled back.
“Sure MIL! Just tell me what to do”.
Word of caution from the wise: don’t ever say “just tell me what to do”.
Now my mother-in-law may be a good cook in her time but that day she was just talking smack. I mean why the hell would she want me to take four eggs out of the fridge to boil. I don’t like eggs as far as I remember except the last few times when I ate about six or seven of them at breakfast, just to see what all the fuss was about. Or on occasion when I added them to my salad so I don’t feel so hungry and empty afterwards. Or sometimes when I’m hungry in the middle of the night and scramble two or three to eat while I watch TV. Okay may be I don’t hate eggs all that much. I dutifully took out four eggs waiting for the circus to begin.
She next told me to get a steel pot from the pot cabinet. Now I know she lives with me but really doesn’t get to know me at all. She should’ve known by now that I have no interest in knowing where a certain pot lives in our kitchen. That’s the job of the cook. At the memory of this kitchen being full stocked with a cook once my eyes begin to water but I hold back my tears and bring out a pot.
MIL looked at the pot and then at me and then said, somewhat mockingly,
“This isn’t a steel pot, dear”.
I knew she’d find fault with all of my actions that day so I just let it go and tried to pretend like I didn’t hear her.
As I stood there defiantly, she reached behind me and pulled out a steel pot from the sink and handed it to me.
“This, dear, is a steel pot”.
“Why, they look different!”
“Yes, dear”, she started patiently and then quickly decided to jump to the next instruction.
“Could you please fill it?”
Fill it? Well that’s not exactly an elaborate instruction. I wondered if I should show her some Gordon Ramsey shows and ask her if that’s how she hopes to be a cooking teacher but decided to teach her in my own way.
“MIL! We are both new at this, I know that. But I’d appreciate it if we did this right. For the purposes of this cooking class I’d give complete, understandable instructions. Do you think if you gave a cooking class and said “fill it”, people would be able to get what you meant?”
I smiled at her like a teacher smiles at a particularly thick child trying to grasp a simple math concept. MIL looked stoic.
“Well, my dear, I can assure you that none of the people coming to a cooking class are seeing an egg for the first time in its raw form. This isn’t a cooking class. Far from it. This is just so I know how much work I need to do and be prepared for”.
How much work? What is she talking about? Is she saying she’ll be my cook? Really not a bad idea. She cooks good and won’t charge us anything.
MIL had been watching me as I was thinking and finally said,
“You know we are boiling an egg. What do you think you need to fill this up with?”
I looked at her blankly. She smiled at me blankly. We both stared at each other.
She finally decided to throw me a bone.
Of course, water, you dunce! I angrily chided myself and filled it with water to the brim.
“Let’s loose some of that water, dear. You need to keep some space available for the eggs too”.
Uff! The reverence for the eggs! It’s like she’d like the eggs to be her daughter-in-law. Keep some space available for useless, worthless, stupid eggs!
“You like ’em!” My mind reminded me.
“Do you want to get fired?” I asked it angrily.
“I’m already working undertime”. It reminded me sardonically.
“Yes and that’s because I’m here to work overtime for her”. My heart interjected lovingly and possessively.
“Dear? Dear?” MIL was calling me.
“Yes! Yes, yes!”
I quickly went over to the stove and put the steel pot on. Next I unloaded all four eggs in, one rolling after another.
For some reason MIL screamed. I turned around and there was a horrified look on her face.
“You have to be careful with the eggs”. She said in a high-pitched voice.
“Because you might break them. Eggs break”.
“Do they? But they don’t break when a whole hen sits on them!”
MIL made an impatient sound and fired her next instruction.
“Turn on the stove”.
I did as asked. Then after making sure that the eggs were settled in the pot nicely I made my way out of the kitchen, plonked myself on the couch and started to leaf through a magazine that I had just gotten the day before.
MIL followed me.
“What do you think you’re doing, dear?”
Seriously! She’s the queen of asking the obvious.
“Reading a magazine”. I said briefly and returned to my magazine.
“Then who is going to watch the eggs boil?”
Watch them boil? I looked at her quizzically.
“The eggs need to be watched”.
“Or you should set a timer. Do you want to repeat what happened this morning?”
“Of course not”.
“Okay then let’s set a timer”.
I confidently went into the kitchen and set the timer for…….. two hours.
MIL looked at me, almost scandalized but kept her composure.
“May I ask, dear, why you chose two hours?”
I knew this topic would come up and I’d have to, in the course of this egg boiling, explain to her how eggs work.
I smiled patronizingly and said it really slow.
“How many days does the hen sit on the egg? “
“I don’t understand why that’s even a consideration of yours”.
“If you don’t answer that then we can’t move forward”.
“I don’t know”.
“A full day. Or sometimes more. So if it takes the hen that much to get a chicken out of it, do you think you could just boil an egg in a few minutes?”
I continued to smile like a grandmother who is waiting for her granddaughter to say something stupid so she can correct her again.
“So are you hoping to hatch a chicken out of it?”
“Then I suggest that you reset the timer for fifteen minutes”.
A little flabbergasted I did as told and looked expectantly at her.
“Well now we wait.”
So we waited. Those were the longest fifteen minutes of my life. She and I continued to breathe the same air when she abruptly said, five minutes in,
“Let’s get some toast ready”.
Thankfully I can do that so I immediately popped two bread slices in the toaster and refocused my attention the eggs.
The water was bubbling and the eggs looked and acted a little chaotic. I had left a safe distance between me and the eggs so I don’t get splattered. At the end of the fifteen minutes and as the timer rang, MIL declared that the eggs should be good and ready.
She carefully poured out the water and asked me to sit at the table while she got them ready.
She took longer than I thought she would but I flipped through a magazine until she called me.
I went to the table and she had made the most wonderful egg salad.
“Here, dear”. She made a sandwich and handed it to me.
And it was divine. It melted in my mouth. It had a creamy quality to it that I hadn’t quite expected. It smelled wonderful.
MIL smiled as she watched me wolfing down my sandwich.
“Would you like more dear?”
After I was fed and watered and we had both brought our coffees to the living room and were watching TV, she asked me,
“So how did it feel to eat your own cooking?”
“It wasn’t much of cooking”.
“Well it was. You did something that can actually go very wrong”.
“Can it?” I started wide-eyed and then realized that it had gone very wrong just that morning.
“Dear! Cooking is a life skill. We should know some cooking. What would you do if you were stranded on an island with a coconut? We should know how to feed ourselves and our family too. One of the best things that I could do for my kids was cook their favorite meals”.
I’m enraptured. She’s being gentle and reasonable. She isn’t being pushy. She was actually quite patient with my complete ignorance about the kitchen.
“MIL! I’m going to make more of an effort. I’ll try to learn more. May be I won’t make great, Michelin Star worthy dishes but I’ll work to make sure my family never starves because I can’t cook”.
“That’s very smart of you, dear! As for Michelin Star meals, don’t worry about them. For them we will have our lovely cook back”, she said casually.
“What? Really?” I jump with excitement and joy.
“Dear! The last thing I want in this household to happen is a Michelin Star meal served on the rubble of our burnt down kitchen “.