I’ve never been the kind of mom who has a plate of warm cookies waiting on the counter for my kids when they come home from school. Certainly I’ve made plenty (okay, a few) batches of cookies in the past 18 years, but mostly any sweets we have in the house come straight from Safeway’s cookie aisle. My own mom was the same: she made a pretty good chocolate chip cookie from time to time, but usually it was Oreos or Nilla Wafers after school, and I never felt neglected.
Recently, however, I’ve discovered that boxed mixes of cakes and muffins are easy to make, and they’re nice to have on hand when I’m feeling the twinges of guilt I often get for not being more housewifely. (That guilt must be bred in the bone – do you guys feel it? It’s strange, because I never wanted to be a “housewife,” I certainly wasn’t raised with that type of life in mind, and I never considered that it was solely my job to feed and nourish my family. I’ve always taken a more egalitarian approach: “Who’s hungry, what should we eat, and who’s going to make it?” More often than not, the answer to that last question is Stouffer’s.)
Anyway, maybe it’s a cultural thing that has managed to seep in through the cracks in my half-assed feminism, because when the house smells like baking, I get this satisfied feeling that, just maybe, I’ll get the knack of being a good mother someday – probably around the time the kids go off to college.
Since I’m clearly not (and never will be) the kind of mother who jumps up to tie on an apron at the first sign of a hungry expression, I felt perfectly justified last week, when Michael asked me to make brownies, in telling him I wasn’t in the mood but that we had a mix in the cabinet and he was free to make them himself. He must have wanted brownies more than I want to breathe, because he pulled out the box and got started at once.
A few minutes later he brought me the bowl and said, “Does this look right?”
The contents resembled nothing so much as damp leaf mold and sandy gravel. “Um, what’s wrong with it?” I asked.
“That’s what I’m asking you,” he said.
I sighed. I really hadn’t wanted to make brownies but had suspected it would come to this. “What are the clumps?”
“I think… butter?”
“Bring me the box.”
He handed me the box of brownie mix and I read through the instructions. “Did you add the ingredients in the right order?” He looked blank. “Did you beat the egg first?”
“I put everything on the list straight into the bowl.”
“So, you didn’t melt the butter,” I said.
“Was I supposed to melt the butter?”
“Well, see, the recipe says to melt the butter.”
He took the box from me. “Oh, yeah, look at that. ‘Half cup of butter, melted.’ It’s even in italics so you know it’s important.” He sounded impressed at the foresight of the Duncan Hines recipe people, while not at all concerned that their ingenuity was completely wasted on him.
“For next time, it helps to read all the way through the recipe before you start cooking, to make sure you know all the steps.”
He interrupted me. “Next time? I don’t want to be a housewife, Mom,” he said. I rolled my eyes and handed the bowl and the box back to him. He recoiled like I was handing him a bowl of leaf mold and gravel. “I don’t know what to do with that!”
“I don’t know what to do with it, either. I’m not a housewife, Michael,” I told him. That cracked me up, though he just gave me a well-honed “you’re so lame” look.
By now I wanted some brownies, too. “Just keep stirring. See what happens. Maybe the clumps will break up. If not, try smushing it all down into the bottom of the pan and hope for the best. That’s the secret to my success.”
“What success?” he asked. He wandered off with the bowl in the crook of his arm, peering into it skeptically.
“Don’t forget to grease the pan,” I added.
“Why would I grease the pan?”
Half an hour later, for better or worse, the brownies were in the oven and Lizzie was charging into the kitchen. “I smelled brownies,” she said. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me you were making brownies. But don’t worry, I came immediately.”
”Michael made them,” I said.
She frowned. “Michael can’t make toast.”
“I know. He can’t make brownies, either,” I said.
”Hey!” Michael protested. “I can, too. You just have to melt the butter and grease the pan.”
Liz narrowed her eyes at me. “Did he really make them? But they actually smell good,” she said.
“He really did,” I told her. “Don’t worry, though. He doesn’t want to be a housewife.”
(Liz didn’t bother to comment on that, beyond saying, “That’s fair.” She’s got an impressively high tolerance for the ridiculous.*)
The brownies were delicious. Michael survived his first lesson in cooking. Tomorrow, maybe I’ll teach him how to make toast. He should learn, just in case he changes his mind and wants to become a housewife, after all.
Have fun ’til next time,
* Lizzie’s tolerance for the ridiculous is a Godsend because I rarely have to explain myself. For example, the other day I was making her a breakfast of scrambled eggs with feta cheese and capers – OMG, sometimes I DO nurture with food; who knew? – when I became curious about something. “Liz,” I said, “if you were a caper…”
Before I even finished my sentence, she was nodding thoughtfully. “Mmm,” she said. “Good question…”
You can see why both of these strange young people are wonderful to have around.