My mother did not cook because she’d never been allowed in the kitchen. She came from a wealthy family, where “Cook” (an older Irish woman) was responsible for meals, although my imperious grandmother planned everything, including which silverware and plates were to be used. My mother was raised by “Nanny” and driven to school by “Chauffeur.”
After college, she fell in love with a man from a poor family. My grandmother did not approve and refused to invite him either to her brownstone in the Silk Stocking district of New York City or her country house in an affluent New Jersey town. My mother married him anyway, and they moved to San Francisco to get away from the ill will. My father took odd jobs, and they subsisted on cheap Chinese food from North Beach. Within four years, my two sisters and I were born, but my father couldn't support the family, and my grandmother said she’d help out if we moved back east.
Every weekend my mother took my sisters and me to the A+P and filled the shopping cart with hot dogs, chicken parts, tuna fish, Wonder bread, Cheerios, green olives (for martinis), and a huge container of Breyer’s vanilla ice cream. Dinner was usually hot dogs boiled on the stovetop, along with canned peas, or chicken topped with a can of tomato soup and called chicken cacciatore. I lived for the times my friends invited me to their houses for steak or veal parmigiano and hot Pillsbury rolls. Lavish Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners were at my grandmother’s house, prepared by her new cook–Irish, of course.
For birthdays, my mother would buy a Betty Crocker cake mix; my sisters and I would take turns stirring and fight over who got to lick the icing. The only thing I ever learned to make was oatmeal over a Bunsen burner in home ec class. After college, I went to Europe and met husband #1. By husband #2, I was back in New York, but he was an executive who considered the Four Seasons our cafeteria. Husband #3 had a short shelf life—I figured out that maybe I’m a loner.
In my own fixer-upper apartment, I installed a brand new kitchen with shiny appliances. Deciding to christen the stove, I bought a piece of salmon, squeezed lemon on it, put it in the broiler, and went to answer a phone call. Suddenly the smoke alarm went off. Flames were billowing from the oven. I opened the door, pulled out the salmon, and doused it in the sink. Saved. But I quit at nothing, so the next day I bought another piece of salmon. I turned on the oven. The LED display didn’t light up. Two days later, a Maytag repairman arrived. He got down on his knees and examined the oven with a flashlight. “Lady,” he said, “you need a new burner. That’s going to cost $400.”
“But I only used the stove once,” I protested. “This is ludicrous. What can I do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?”
He stood up, pocketed his flashlight, and looked me in the eye. “Lady,” he said, “don’t cook.”
I guess you could say: Like mother, like daughter.
Margie Goldsmith is a writer whose articles about travel and adventure are at www.margiegoldsmith.com.
Slow-cooked Salmon Without the Smoke Alarm
6-oz. fillet of salmon
Preheat oven to 275 F.
Line a baking pan with aluminum foil and coat with olive oil.
Place fish skin-side down, and rub the top with olive oil.
Place a slice or two of lemon on the fish and squeeze on some lemon juice.
Sprinkle with salt.
Bake until the thickest part of the fish can be pierced with a fork, about 25-30 minutes.