You know those annoyingly perfect moms, the ones who regularly whip up Martha-style baked goods, fire up their sewing machines to create curtains and costumes and construct museum-quality dioramas for their kids' social studies projects? I was not that mom.
I never even owned a glue gun, and when it came to school-related special events, I shied away from the food and decorating committees, and instead was the loser mom who always volunteered to donate paper goods. And heaven forbid, if the class already had leftover plates/napkins/cups from the last party and only foodstuffs were requested, I was not above using refrigerated cookie dough or (more likely) purchasing store-made baked goods, then individually rewrapping them in order to pass them off as my own. So sue me, Betty Crocker.
And, landfills be darned, the best thing to ever happen during my mommy years was when it was deemed that our schoolchildren could no longer drink from the God forsaken fountain, and, henceforth, parents were requested to donate cases of 12 oz. bottles of pure water that hailed from some mythical springs in Maine, which, thankfully, were easy enough to procure (on sale) at Stew's or Stop & Shop.
I blamed my lack of domestic goddessness on my upbringing. Like me, my mother was a Pop N Fresh/Slice-and-Bake/Shake N Bake/Hamburger Helper "mistress of convenience," whose idea of a homemade Halloween costume was stapling cupcake liners down the front of an old sweatshirt (clown) or plopping a (not necessarily white) sheet on my head (ghost). If she was feeling fancy, my Hanukkah gifts (barrettes, socks and panties) were wrapped in the Sunday comics, and ordinary (yellow or chocolate) birthday cakes came straight out of the Pillsbury box, decades before Funfetti was an option.
My mother's disinterest in the domestic arts was obviously related to her own background. My Grandma Hilda (may she rest in peace) was a Yiddish-speaking Eastern European immigrant who spent her days rolling out flaky dough for her famous babka and rugelach, making stinky gefilte fish and stuffed cabbage, and sewing complete wardrobes for her entire family, overcoats and all. And while these old-school talents were appreciated by my frugal grandfather, my mother (whose classmates wore fashionable store-bought clothing and dined on mild-smelling lunches featuring white bread and mayo) wanted nothing more than to appear "American." So, in an unconscious form of rebellion, she shunned her mother's uber-domestic lifestyle and adopted a more laissez-fare method of housewifery, one that I wholeheartedly embraced when I entered into marriage and motherhood.
My minimum-effort approach to homemaking happily continued for the next couple of decades, until one day while I was waiting for the (toaster) oven to preheat so that I could "prepare" dinner, I grabbed the remote and begun haphazardly channel surfing in order to pass the time (God forbid I should polish the silver, scour the sink or mop the floor), when I came upon the yet-to-be discovered channel known as the Food Network, and there I sat, mouth agape and transfixed for hours, not even noticing that the pizza bagels had long since turned to charcoal.
Now, up until that day, the only TV culinary aficionados I was familiar with were the ones from my youth, mainly the larger-than-life (in personality and stature) Julia Child and the chair-hopping wine guzzling Galloping Gourmet. Both were talented and entertaining for sure, but due to their cooking styles (butter, butter, and more butter) and their non-glam appearances, neither was someone I aspired to be.
But the chefs on the Food Network were different. First off, there was Giada, a drop dead gorgeous Italian with cleavage down to there, a hot hubby, cute child and house overlooking the Pacific. Her primary focus was Italian and Mediterranean cuisine ("spa-gee-tee" was her favorite word), though it hardly mattered what she made, everything looked delish.
Then there's a blond bombshell named Sandra who was all about simple and affordable menus and creating beautiful and festive tablescapes. And even though I found her kitchen set a little too "done" (and her orangey spray tan a bit diverting), I was willing to forgive her because she devoted an entire segment of every episode to "cocktail time."
Perhaps most fascinating was Ree, the red-headed earthy ex-urbanite turned prairie mom who cooks up hearty cuisine for her "hungry cowgirls and cowboys" on her beautiful ranch in Oklahoma, while Charlie, her bacon-loving Basset hound lies protectively at her feet.
Watching these shows was like entering an alternate universe. One whose inhabitants were not kerchief bedecked housewives from the old country, but stunning and stylish women living interesting lives who gained fulfillment from creating beautiful meals for appreciative friends and family. I decided that I wanted to be like them.
And ever since then, instead of loitering at Loehmann's, I started spending my spare time spice shopping at Penzeys, and buying inexpensive kitchen gadgets at Bed, Bath & Beyond. Now, my Mother's Day/birthday/Hanukkah/anniversary wish lists include a Ninja blender, Calphalon cookware and a KitchenAid stand mixer, gifts that previously would've landed my husband in divorce court for sure.
So now, if you'll excuse me, I need to start planning the fabulous five course farm-to-table meal I plan to make for my son before he heads back to Storrs for the fall semester.
"Why go through all that bother?" my mother asks when I call to invite her to join us for our special dinner in honor of her grandson, "Why not just bring him to the Hoedown?"
And once upon a time, that would've been all the permission I'd need to blow off spending time in the kitchen. But now that I'm a full-fledged Food Network fanatic, I turn down her suggestion and even ask her to come over a few hours early to serve as my sous chef. And how can she refuse? After all, when it comes to domestic endeavors, we both have a lot of ground to make up.