Today I made a lasagna. I like making lasagna because there’s a big margin of error. You can screw up multiple things and still come out with a decent-tasting meal. People who know me know that I am not a good cook. I’m okay at making bread and some desserts, but if my husband (the family chef) goes out of town for a few days, I will be content eating Caesar salad, tuna salad, and scrambled eggs. That’s pretty much my preferred cuisine.
I was raised in the 70′s, when certain segments of the American population were beginning to have new ideas about how to raise girls. Both my parents are passable cooks, but neither of them taught me how to make anything more complicated than tuna salad on toast. My theory about why my parents never taught me to cook is that they wanted to reject certain notions about what girls needed to learn. Self-professed feminists, they rejected teaching me skills associated with femininity and instead focused on intellectual development, swimming lessons, and apple-picking (I have vivid memories of climbing tall trees to get the best apples at Wright’s Orchard). Though my mother knew how to knit and my father made all of my sister’s and my Halloween costumes on his sewing machine, neither of them taught me how to knit or sew or crochet or cook or bake or, I don’t know, make jam.
There’s a family story about how one time I tried to cook a vegetarian meal from Mollie Katzen’s Enchanted Broccoli Forest cookbook and used vanilla yogurt instead of plain. The meal was inedible. Further, I was mortified that my parents and sister laughed at me, rather than offering encouragement for next time. So for me, there was no next time. I can hardly remember cooking a thing all through graduate school except for the occasional group-effort Thanksgiving meal. I could manage some mashed potatoes and a pumpkin pie.
Now I feel kind of cruddy that I’m a bad cook. My husband has a broad repertoire that includes everything from beef stew to pumpkin shrimp bisque to pork loin to tofu curry. Many of our friends are excellent home chefs, and get-togethers at our friend Sandy’s house on the beach often include command performances by a different friend each night. Recently, our buddy Harold made salmon in a salt dome. Freaking salt dome?, the scrambled-eggs-for-dinner-again cook in me asked, as I watched my friend sculpt a giant dome of, well, salt.
So today, in an attempt to sharpen my dull skills, I decided to try making a lasagna with only a glancing look at a very vague recipe I found online. Okay, so I had to watch a Youtube video about how to slice up a portobello mushroom. But other than that, I tried to figure things out on my own. Do you know how stupid you feel at my age watching a video of how to cut up a large mushroom? As I was preparing the meal, though, I cheered up a little. If my husband were to run off to Shangri-La tomorrow without me, I said to myself, at least I could make a variety of pasta dishes.
A close friend is coming over for dinner with Joel and me tonight. Let’s hope my improvised lasagna is in a forgiving mood.