Friday, September 13, 2013

A wife is as good as she cooks

As a full time journalist, and wife, I have to make certain compromises to balance my two worlds. The first and foremost was cooking, closely followed by grocery shopping.
In the two years I have been married I have made six trips to the grocery store, each visit was worse than the one before.
The latest one took place a couple of months ago at Lulu Hypermarket. Apparently, I picked the wrong place and the wrong time to go. I ended up almost running over shoppers with my uncontrollable trolley, and then packing random shoppers’ trolleys with items on my shopping list. While I found this amusing, others failed to.
Once home I managed to make two Arabic dishes, although bland and burnt, it was edible. In spite of having broken three plates in the process, it was not a complete disaster.
I was then faced with the horrifying realisation that my mother would probably tell me off for my clumsiness and blaming me for not wanting to spend my teen years with her in the kitchen like other good girls. Any ounce of my Arab heritage was now invaded.
Sadly in many Arab societies, a wife’s success is measured by how well she cooks and how fat her husband is. While growing up I though this was a ridiculous notion, it turned out to be true.
Having been invited along with my husband to family dinners where other husbands would proudly showcase the wonderful food their wife made would make me boil with envy. Even my Facebook has been swamped with dishes my fellow friends have made for their husbands.
I would then smile, compliment them, and when asked simply say I cannot cook because I have no time.
In reality, I can always make time, either by watching less TV shows, or cutting down on my shopping addiction, but this excuse suited me best.
“My mum used to tell me you being able to cook is more important to me than your medical degree,” my mother would tell me. My mother, who I hear was a great doctor but since birth only witnessed her work in the kitchen, later regretted giving up her career to be a house-wife. But as a cook, I believe she was better than any of those popular, usually unhygienic, chefs she watched on TV.
My mother knowing my cooking failures has repeatedly pushed me to watch Manal’s cooking shows. Surely having “no time” to cook meant I did not have the time to watch the show that would teach me how to.
Alas, I thought why not give it a try. I know my mother only wants what's best for me.
Not only did I not own half the fancy cooking equipment chef Manal used, but I could not find translations to certain ingredients. Shopping for the Arabic ingredients was out of the questions as I usually fail to find anyone in the store able to help.
As I then thought I should just Google recipes, all the Arabic dishes I found were in Arabic. Ingredients were, again, lost in translation.
After that I stuck with skyping with my mother to tell me how to make certain dishes step by step.
The trouble with most dishes, though, cooking time was at least two hours. Even so, I convinced myself it was worth being named a “good wife”. But even that was not easy.
With over 40 years of cooking experience under her belt, my mother would get frustrated when I asked for explicit details. When I asked how much salt to add, she said "just enough". When I asked how much pepper, she said "a little bit".
With that description I was not surprised my food came out the way it did.
I am sure if I rely on trial and error, not only would I reach a point that I can keep the food down, but I would manage to understand food chemistry.
I have concluded that cooking in not a learning curve, its simple if you have time and people who can explain it to you. But I will no longer strive to blend in with my Arab peers but say proudly, “I don”t cook”.
Be certain that the next time I cook a great Arabic meal, those I envied will be the first ones to be invited.