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3:16 p.m. - 2012-09-18
Recipes For A Good Life

Hey, Romney, since I supposedly pay no income taxes can I have the $130K+ I've mistakenly let the government keep over the course of my working life? And could you send over those teams with the dump-truck loads of handouts I was supposed to get? Thanks ever so.

Much love, ~LA the victim of nothing but almost 30 solid years of wretched GOP economic policy.


Taking my absurdly tall kid out after school today to buy him some jeans. His old ones mostly still fit around him but the hem on the legs is hitting him at mid-shin. Wolf is a styling guy, but capri pants? Nope. So we're off to my favorite couture boutique- the House of Old Navy. I need to do some jean shopping for myself soon. Praise the gods and goddesses last winter's jeans still fit, but one pair is so elderly the material is closer to tissue paper than denim and the other pair is new enough but even shut-ins like me need more than one pair of jeans. However, my jeans shopping will be done alone so I can cry in private. No need to subject my kid to his mother's fitting room hysterics.

Change of plans. It's simply too ugly out there to be driving around for an errand which can wait for more clement weather. High winds + wet roads + poor visibility + slippery leaves on top of wet roads = LA's elderly Ford Escort and its equally elderly owner stay the hell home.

This actually works out nicely. Mick and I made a huge Sam's Club haul yesterday and there is a lovely eye round roast beast in the fridge just waiting to be crusted in garlic salt and roasted until the smell of its yumminess would make even the most dedicated vegan drool a little. A damp day is perfect for cooking like this. I think sometimes I like cooking more for the aromas coming from my pots than for the eating of the meals within. By rights I should be a baker since my snoot is all about the delicious smells, but baking is too exact a science for me. I cook by guess and by golly. And by nose. Truly. I haven't used a recipe exactly as it was written in 30 years. Except, of course, for the aforementioned baking. Can't dink with baking too much. Though my crisps and cobblers tend to be far more redolent with spice than the average. As for savory foods an experienced eye and a sharp sense of smell are my guides.

Now that I'm teaching Wolf to cook I'm a bit shocked by how intuitive my cooking is. Explaining to Wolf why the burgers need to be smushed so flat before putting them on the grill and how to temper an egg mixture so it doesn't curdle into scrambled eggs instead of a creamy sauce is odd. These are things I learned by experience by making hockey puck burgers and clumped béchamel many, many times until I figured out how to do it correctly. Nowadays I rarely flub stuff. It's just there for me. How to keep a marinade from turning into pickling brine or the garlic from scorching. And as I unpack these tricks of my craft and explain them to my son I'm surprised by how much I know.

Wolf, as almost all beginning cooks are, is worried about screwing up and yet anxious to get to the fun parts. To him the prep work is boring. "Come on, Mom! Enough with the mincing and the stirring! I wanna put it in the pan!" He's learning though. And by 18 he'll be a far more competent cook than I was at his age. The one thing he really, really needs to get over is his fear of getting hurt. Burned, mostly. But the knife work scares him too. I tell him burns and cuts come with the job and being timid is going to get him hurt worse. I snort when I see him stirring the pasta water wearing an elbow-length oven mitt and standing there three feet back from the bbq and tossing the matches in. After 40 years at the stove I can dunk my fingers into boiling pots and flip sizzling cutlets with my bare hands. Scraped knuckles, nicked fingertips, blisters, grease splattered eyeglasses, singed hair, they all come with the job. Something he's going to have to accept. He will. Someday soon he's going to sear his first real battle scar into his hide or whack off a chunk of finger and realize he'll live. From there his confidence will grow. Once you've rinsed your own blood off the carrot shreds you get the idea that cooking isn't for sissies and you get braver about things.

Not that I want him to get hurt. Not by a long shot. If I can I'll spare him 'fun' experiences like the time I set my head on fire trying to light a pre-WWII ancient gas oven with a Bic lighter. Or that time I ran a steel skewer through my forearm. Or steam-boiling the inside of my wrist and watching in shock as my flesh just evaporated down to the bone. (I still have the scar from that one. A discolored dented mark about the size and shape of a quarter.) If I can teach my boy how to handle himself in the kitchen without major damage to his bod I'll be very happy. But the minor stuff? Wolf is going to have to learn to deal. The occasional bacon fat pop and knife nick, eh, no biggie.

In fact there's very few aspects of the now-scorned art of keeping a house that are without some physical danger. Cleaning fluid fumes, sprains and strains from reaching and crouching to get at crud high and low, near-hernias from shoving furniture, sneezing fits from dusting and de-cobwebbing, bleach marks on skin and clothing doing laundry, sore knees from doing the floors, nausea from cleaning out the fridge/scrubbing toilets/cleaning up pet (and human!) puke and poop, falls from stepladders, or even the sheer disgust of cleaning a child's bedroom and the weight of fury from seeing the wasted money and futile quacking spent on trying to teach our offspring the necessity of taking care of their toys and things, and the very real pain of stepping on a Lego with your bare feet.

It's absurd, really, how little value and respect are given to the supposedly 'easy' job of caring for a home. Sure, as an artist and a homemaker my time is less structured than those who punch a clock, but this doesn't lessen the demand for me to get my shit done. It only means I don't have anyone else (like a boss or a time-clock) to hate if I slack off.

Okay, I totally appreciate how free I am. I've been on the other side of that boss/paycheck dynamic too. And I do not for one second belittle or discount how sucktastic working for The Man is. These days my life is absolutely free of nitpicky asshole customers, power-mongering bosses, backstabbing co-workers, the office gossip mill, heck, I hardly ever need to set my alarm clock, I dig it. I'm simply speaking of work which has so much value yet is never recognized by the reward of a paycheck. I also understand that the cleaning pixies and food shopping fairy and the invisible chef don't come by and do all the home chores for those who slog off to their jobs every morning. I did that double-duty for decades and it royally sucks. To work all day and still have to face down the laundry and the glopped up house and the hungry kids the minute I got home...oy. Ain't nobody got it easy. Mostly I'm free-associating because teaching my son how to cook has churned up some surprises.

I don't know how Wolf will eventually earn his living. I've steered him toward the culinary arts because there's a lot scope there for someone who is creative yet craves structure and constant results. Cooking is a Good Thing for an Aspie. I truly believe Wolf knowing his way around a kitchen is the key to his future success. He has options. Everything from being diner fry cook to a cruise ship galley serf to school cafeteria aide in a hairnet to having his own joint or even being a homemaker for a spouse with an outside job. Whether he's a line cook at Denny's or the next Bobby Flay he's taking his first steps right here in my kitchen. And I'm feeling the lag time lost to the years he spent in the autism wilderness. He's 15 already and nearly as tall as I am. That's we're just getting started now freaks me out more than a little.

Alex can hate me all he wants, but by the time he was 15 I'd taught him so much more. Not only how to cook, but how to handle money and define his ethics and use a socket wrench and fill out a job application and throw a knife and figure a tip and mow a lawn. And bunches and bunches more. Life skills I know damn well he uses every day whether he wants to acknowledge where he learned them or not. (Okay, knife throwing probably doesn't come up often.) I feel like I'm always playing catch-up with my younger son. True enough he's a far kinder and more compassionate person than his brother ever will be, or even as I was at his age. At 15 I was a bucketful of snooty 'tude about my book learning and my supposedly big genius brains. It'd be some years before kindness and compassion superseded my snot-ass Mensa world view. But this doesn't stop me from worrying about Wolf and how it's going to go for him out in the big wide somewhere. On some level I believe the courage he needs to face down a sizzling pan and a razor-sharp chef's knife is exactly what he needs to do for himself in every aspect of his life. Bravery and self-reliance spillover, you see. If Wolf can take on a tricky sauce and a flaming broiler then he'll be able to ask for that first date. Negotiate a lease. Train a dog. Demand satisfaction from the dry cleaner who didn't get the spot out. He'll be okay. He won't have to stumble along until he's almost 50 before he gets for himself a satisfying fulfilling life.

Perhaps it's dopey to think that if Wolf can make a panini he'll be happy. That if he can judge the freshness of a peach or the quality of a cheese he'll also be able to judge someone's character and be safe when he deals with others. It's just that until very recently I'd done a crappy job of managing my own life and I believe it's a parent's only responsibility to give their children a leg up on Life. To take the accumulated knowledge our mistakes and experiences have taught us and give it to our kids early enough so they can skip over the same old shit and go on to make new mistakes of their own. To shorten the learning curve a little and hope like hell our progeny do okay faster and sooner than we did.

And to think all this started by teaching my kid how to make a Monte Cristo sandwich, ~LA

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