Janet Sheridan: Wanted: A cooking staff
July 14, 2011
According to researchers in England, cleaning and cooking causes blood pressure to spike. No wonder more than 50 percent of women older than 60 have high blood pressure — too many years scouring sinks, chasing dust bunnies, chopping onions, and serving half-cooked turkey.
I hope the researchers didn't expend much time, money, and brainpower obtaining results already familiar to those of us who clean and cook.
My aversion to cleaning is well documented; my relationship with cooking is more ambivalent. When I have plenty of time and all the ingredients, it's fun. But, when the cream sauce refuses to thicken and the bread dough won't rise, it's miserable.
My first solo cooking adventure involved tapioca pudding and disaster. Probably because I attempted to read the funnies, badger Barbara, and cook at the same time, I reversed the measurements for sugar and salt, using a pinch of the first and a half-cup of the second. When I served it for Sunday dinner, my siblings gagged and writhed.
Dad tried to stop my tears by eating the lumpy brine, saying he worked in the heat all day and his body needed lots of salt. I noticed one spoonful took care of his deficit.
As a result of my many cooking snafus, I envy the calmness and skill of TV chefs, but I wonder what happens when they cook at home, unassisted by staff and distracted by family. Do they pour excess water off half-cooked rice, strain lumps out of gravy, and flap a hand towel at their shrieking smoke detector when they open their ovens?
I watch chefs in spotless TV kitchens and think I could talk and cook simultaneously, wearing a smile and spotless clothes, if I had a team to trim the fat, toast the nuts, and peel the shrimp.
I'd like an assistant who could produce a uniform chop, dice, or mince on any vegetable or fruit — a task that baffles me. My chopping method is to flail away at the butternut squash with a knife too dull on a board too small until I can't stand it anymore and decide massive, irregular chunks will suffice.
I want an assembler who would study my recipes and find all the ingredients I tucked away absentmindedly after shopping. If I'd forgotten the rhubarb for the rhubarb pie, the assembler could run to the store while I pressed my apron.
This detail-oriented person would also pre-measure all ingredients — flour, mayonnaise, honey — and put them into little glass bowls lined up in the order needed. I'd tell jokes as I added ingredients without looking, just like on TV.
My next hire would be a pots, utensils, and tableware expert who would possess perfect depth perception and proportion discernment in order to gather casseroles, loaf pans, and skillets of the correct size and shape.
This helper would also select appropriate serving dishes — the first time.
Too often I pour a chocolate-caramel pudding into a lovely bowl only to discover it looks like an insignificant puddle at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I normally dirty three dishes before I get it right. I would use the time my selector saved me to polish my French accent.
I'd have a timer on my staff to remember small details that elude me: preheating the skillet so added ingredients sizzle fetchingly rather than lying in a cold, sodden lump and watching over anything I attempt to broil so I wouldn't have to scrape off the blackened bits before serving it.
The timer would turn on the oven so it's ready when I slide in the pumpkin pie and turn it off when the pie is done — no more staring in bleary-eyed amazement at an oven left on all night.
Finally, a nagger would come in handy to remind me to never again attempt homemade candy. Ever.
No wonder I'm exhausted by the time I've prepared a meal.
I've done the work of six people.