I always said that my mother gave me the best preparation for married life. She taught me nothing about house work cooking or cleaning. So when I got married my husband had to do it all. It was great.
At age 19, I had never used the oven, never vacuumed a carpet and never ironed a shirt. I was your typical spoiled princess, expecting to snap my fingers and see other people jump to my commands. Its not easy growing up spoiled because you eventually have to face reality. As a teenager I was used to throwing my dirty clothes on the floor of my bedroom and they would magically reappear clean and folded in my closet the next day. I would come from school and a hot meal was ready on the table. Imagine my shock when I went to university and would throw my clothes on the floor and find them lying there the next day? The day after, the pile kept on getting bigger. Oh no! you mean I have to do laundry? Maybe, I should throw away the clothes and buy new, but I figured that would get too expensive so I introduced myself to the laundry room at the university dormitory where I was living. I approached the task with lots of trepidation. That big machine thing with the huge hole in the middle was intimidating. It was mocking me. “You can’t do this, you can’t do this, you can’t do this, nah nanah nananah!”. It seemed rather obvious that you should stick the dirty clothes in the middle, put some detergent to top. How much detergent? O! I don’t know. Maybe this should be enough, a scoop or two a third won’t hurt. And then I pushed a button and it starting buzzing. I could hear the sound of water woshing around in there. Hey! This isn’t so hard. This is dead easy. Even I could do it. One hour later, I learned the lesson about separating your clothes based on color. Everything came out a pukey shade of pink. At least I didn’t have to worry about color coordination since everything was the same color now.
At least I didn’t have to cook. The dormitories I lived in had a cafeteria that served three meals a day. Yeah! So when I got married I knew how to color separate but couldn’t fry an egg. I didn’t know that in order to fry an egg you should heat some oil in a pan and then break and egg in the middle, that was too hard for me. Luckily, my husband is a great cook and he seemed happy to make great meals everyday. Until one day I had the following discussion with my mom over the phone.
Mom: What did you have for dinner last might.
Me: Take away Pizza.
Mom: Doesn’t your husband mind?
Me: No, why would he mind, we like eating Pizza straight out of the box.
Mom: But you are married now, you can’t keep doing this.
Me: But I never ate pizza straight out of the box before, it is rather liberating to be able to do that.
Mom: Well, your husband doesn’t mind now, but later on he might appreciate it if you prepared him a nice meal once in a while.
Ok, I was determined to learn to cook. My path of cooking for beginners began. I mean how hard can it be? I am a university graduate, surely I can figure out how to cook. So I went to the bookstore and spent 2 hours examining all the cook books on the shelves. After careful examination I settled on buying this one. My main resource in cooking for beginners life.
Which turned out to be a good choice since it teaches all the basics yet it contains a variety of interesting recipes. Every night I would sit for hours studying the my chosen cooking for beginners book to try to settle on a simple first dish for me to prepare. My diligent studying of the book got me the mocking remark “Is that you Ph.D thesis?” from my husband. He said that each time I opened that my cooking for beginners book I got a serious look on my face that reminded him of students when they are revising their Ph.D thesis. From then on, the cooking for beginners book has been called ihath’s Ph.D. thesis, we still call it that today. Finally, I settled on a pasta dish. It seemed easy. You boil some pasta, make a sauce to go on top. How hard can it be? Only problem was that my Ph.D thesis didn’t mention that you should put the pasta in already boiling water. I instead placed the pasta in a big pot of cold water and proceeded to boil. How was I supposed to know that the pasta would stick all together and come out a giant gew mass. “Why didn’t the Ph.D. thesis mention that you should boil the water first?” I asked. “It is because everybody knows that you should do that.” Replied my husband.
My poor Za’atarah. When I remember all the disasters that I created in my kitchen on those first few months. My Za’atarah would eat it anyway and then try to give me compliments on my progress. There was the burned rice. The chicken that stuck to the pot. The mashed potato that was too liquid and the chili that made you wanna call 911.
And then there was the pita bread incident. After several months of adventures, I decided to get really brave and make pita bread from scratch. Only problem I didnt calculate how long it would take and started making the bread around 9:30 pm. At 12:30 pm I was ready to start baking the bread in the oven. My husband was tired and wanted to go to sleep. He kept urging me to leave it alone and that he will buy me all the pita bread I wanted the next day, but being the stubborn Iraqi that I am I persisted that I would finish what I started. And then I burned my pinky finger while opening the hot oven door. Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! I cried in panky pain. I burned my finger. I insisted I had to go emergency right away. My poor Za’atarah got dressed and took me to nearby emergency department of a near by hospital. We sat there in the waiting room for two hours while doctors and nurses attended to heart attacks, drug overdose and accident patients. I sat there with my red pinky and started to feel a bit silly once I compared my “injury” to the very real injuries of the people around me. When the doctor finally saw me, I wasn’t in pain anymore. It seemed to have gone away on its own. But since I was there I showed the doctor my pinky anyway. I could tell that the doctor was resisting the urge to laugh. He was kind though, he placed some dressing on my finger and bandaged it anyway, instead of kicking me out for wasting his time.
On my way home, I remembered the wonderful Czech movie “Pysna Princezna“. Proud Princess but it can also be translated to the snotty princess. It is a childhood favorite of a mine. A tale about a super spoiled princess who rejects love letters from a king in far away kingdom. The king disguises himself as an average man and decides to teach the princess a lesson with both tough and tender love methods. I really felt like the silly “Pysna Princezna” on that day. But, for the first time, I didn’t like playing that role anymore. It was time for me to grow up.
This business of cooking for beginners is hard tireless work.
When I got home at 2:30am, I finished making the pita despite my husband’s urging to go to bed. I think he was afraid I would detonate a weapon of mass destruction in the kitchen by accident. I persisted and it actually tasted alright. Now that is what I call determination.
Do you have a cooking for beginners story? I would love to hear all about it.