Bullwinkle and Waffles

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Who taught you to cook? Was it your mom or dad, or some other family member? Did you read a lot of cookbooks or maybe figure it out from trial and error? Or were you in school when there were lots of homemaking classes available to teach you? Maybe you were lucky like me and learned from all three.

My mom is a great cook. I was fascinated to watch how she made cornbread. Scoop in some flour and yellow cornmeal with a pinch of salt, a pinch of baking soda. An egg, some oil or grease or something. Tip in some buttermilk. Stir it up, dump it in a pan. When it looks done, it is. How could someone just “know” how much of everything to put in, what temperature, and how long to cook it?

Being a novice, I plugged away with cookbooks and directions. After awhile, I started to realize that years of measuring ingredients would give me the magical touch of proportions and estimations of ingredients and eventually I would be able to cook like my mom.

Title 9. I didn’t understand its significance much at the time. I wasn’t interested in high school woodshop class or boy’s sports. But with this new law, now girls were no longer excluded from classes or sports just because of their gender, and boys could make a claim to classes that historically belonged to girls. In my sophomore year, the biggest impact I felt was the first day of homemaking class when four boys showed up in the middle of a room full of girls. No soft milquetoast fellows could have pulled it off. These were jocks. Popular guys who played football AND basketball. They stuck together, probably for protection, and the four got their own “kitchen” to themselves.

In general, it was hugely entertaining. They flirted, we flirted. They cracked jokes and made funny mistakes; we felt smug at times. But we couldn’t feel too superior because most of their stuff turned out fine. And they never burned out the disposal by leaving it running all night, or set a dishtowel on fire like one of the girls did. It was rumored during the “brownies” lesson that they had put pot leaves in theirs, but I never did find out if it was true.

My husband never took homemaking classes. When I married him, he knew how to fry eggs, sort of. But that was fine, because I was prepared and experienced enough for the both of us. And eventually, I was full-time cook to the six of us. But somewhere around kid #4, I could feel the reserves draining away. It was tough to cook dinner seven nights a week, and it was even tougher to THINK of what to cook seven nights a week.

Even though my husband couldn’t cook, he was very agreeable. When baby #4 was born, I felt like I just couldn’t manage the dishes all the time anymore. (just to keep from maligning him, my husband was studying engineering full time at UC Davis and supporting us with 3 different part time jobs) So I made him the offer: He and my 8 year old could now take responsibility for the dinner dishes, or… he could buy me a dishwasher. The next day we were at the appliance store with a credit card.

So I repeated the process.

“I am not going to cook on Sunday nights anymore. From now on, you are responsible for what we have on that night.”

He got the deer-in-the-headlights look.

Taking pity, I told him, “However you want to do it; order something, have the kids make something, cook something…Only, I don’t want to have to think it up myself.”

He started getting a better expression on his face, but it wasn’t because he could foist it off on someone else. No, it was because he apparently started to feel his creative ability surge up within him.

The first Sunday night started off optimistically. “We’re having waffles,” he announced. I left the kitchen to enjoy my new freedom and so that I wouldn’t be tempted to jump up and interfere. The kids went in to keep him company. “The directions are on the box,” I called out. But men are apparently more likely to discover and follow directions if they are encrypted by a secret society and buried in a vault at the Vatican than if they are printed on the box under the title “Directions.”

He used the whole box.

“Well, I stirred up some batter, but it didn’t look stiff enough, so I put some more mix in, but it didn’t look like it would make enough, so I added some more milk and an egg but then it seemed thin, so I added more mix, and it’s a little doughy, but it makes the waffles nice and thick?” He had all three of my waffle irons going at once, trying to get them all cooked in time for dinner. At least no one went hungry.

The next Sunday rolled around. Obviously, he was most comfortable with “breakfast food.”

“I’m going to start with hash browns and then add some stuff.” As before, I ducked out. This one took a little longer. He shredded the potatoes, lots of them, and fried/steamed/ browned them in the cast iron skillet. Then he took out one of my pint jars of home canned beef and stirred it in to cook with it. There was some reaction to his ingredients that made everything have a sort of blackish cast to it. It didn’t taste that bad, but it LOOKED terrible. The kids managed, mostly, to get past the appearance and eat some. We asked him, “What is it, what do you call it?”

He said, with an unsmiling face, “ I call it “Bullwinkle.” We let it rest.

After that, we discovered Papa Murphy’s You Bake pizza and became one of their steady customers. Nowadays, my husband has become pretty serviceable with spaghetti. I sit at the counter with a glass of wine and watch him make it. Except for his heavy hand with the garlic, I can’t complain. It’s hugely entertaining. He flirts, I flirt. Sometimes I feel smug. And I try not to feel superior because most of his stuff turns out quite well. But mostly I am very grateful and appreciative of his good humor and willingness to do this very nice thing for me.

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