Cheeseburger in Paradise by
(302 Stories)

Prompted By Learning To Cook

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My kids in the kitchen, 2009

My mother neither taught me to cook nor encouraged me to learn. She cooked for the family because she had to, but she never enjoyed it. And she never invited her daughters to cook with her. If I ever did any cooking at all at home, it would have been to open a can of Campbell’s soup, add the requisite can of water, and stir it until it was ready. From Campbell’s I progressed to Lipton’s, where you actually had to measure the water and then put the ingredients in when it was boiling, but that was the extent of it.

I realized there is nothing very hard about cooking as long as you follow the recipe (and don't pick a recipe with too many steps).

In seventh and eighth grade, the girls at my school were required to take Home Ec. It was not just cooking, it also included a unit on sewing and one on childcare, but the cooking unit was the best, because we got to eat what we made. Assuming it turned out edible. Since my high school was on a college campus, we used the college facilities, which included a Home Ec “lab” with multiple shiny, well-equipped kitchens. However, I have no memory of what we actually cooked, and I certainly didn’t take any of those recipes with me past eighth grade. (Btw, the boys had one semester of Nutrition in seventh grade, and then for a year and a half they had a free period. We girls were pretty frosted about that!)

A few months after I graduated from college, I went to work for the US Department of Transportation, and moved into a house in Inman Square, Cambridge. To celebrate my first venture at living on my own, my mother gave me two cookbooks. The first, a large hardcover book, was The Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer. This has been a classic for generations. In a parody of Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas, she had inscribed it “Happy Homemaking and Merry Cooking! from December 1972 on, whenever you’re in the mood.” This book has been surprisingly useful over the years, and I still consult it from time to time.

The second cookbook was The I Hate to Cook Book by Peg Bracken. This book was written in 1960, when of course women had to cook all the time whether they liked it or not. It is full of easy recipes, with humorous commentary sprinkled generously throughout. (It also has wonderful illustrations by Hilary Knight, the same artist who illustrated the Eloise books.) I actually made many of the dishes in the book during my early years on my own. Once I progressed to recipes that didn’t involve using things out of cans, I stopped looking at it. I have written about it in two previous stories, Green Onions and one actually called The I Hate to Cook Book, so I won’t repeat the hilarious recipe for Skid Road Stroganoff here.

In both of my marriages, it has been my husband who has done most of the cooking. Currently I am responsible for making dinner on Thursday nights, and one night a week seems like plenty. When Molly is home, I generally get her to cook with me, and in fact, she frequently finds interesting recipes online that we try out together. During the times when Sabrina has been at home too, the three of us actually had fun cooking together, and Sabrina contributed a lot of British recipes, as described in the Green Onions story I referred to earlier.

At some point I realized that there is nothing particularly hard about cooking as long as you follow the recipe (and don’t pick a recipe with too many steps). I admire people who can just make it up as they go, but to me that seems like a recipe for disaster.

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy

Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    What a great play-on-words last sentence and a terrific song title title, Suzy. (One of my favorite — and yummiest — Buffet songs, at least lyrics-wise.)

    Sandwiched in between (see what I did there?) is a fun story about what I would describe as your “agnostic” view of cooking through the years. “The Joy of Cooking” was also one of my mother’s recipe “Bibles.” I had forgotten, however, the “Eloise” connection to the “I Hate to Cook Book,” but, yes, great illustrations by Hllary Knight.

    And congratulations on your perfect choice of husbands, at least in terms of cooking duties. As they say, “The way to a woman’s heart….”

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    I think our stories are similar, Suzy, though I don’t even cook one night a week (as you discovered when you visited last summer). My husband doesn’t cook at all, so all the responsibility fell to me before he retired. Like you, I took Home Ec in 7th and 8th grades (required in 7th, I took it instead of being in Choir in 8th, a big sacrifice, but I knew I wouldn’t learn to cook from my mother). I think it ‘s great that your mother gave you those two basic cook books once you were on your own and you found good recipes to try. Good for you! As you say, following a recipe, as long as there aren’t too many ingredients, should be straightforward.

    It sounds like your family has a lot of fun cooking together. That’s the best!

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    I remember both of those cookbooks, and still have a Joy of Cooking in the house. A real oldie, it includes useful information on things like how to prepare game (squirrels etc) and make anything from scratch. Not that I do that. Home Ec (and Shop) used to be sex-segregated, and may have disappeared from current curricula-but they were (are) useful life skills. And who doesn’t need life skills?

  4. Suzy, My mother cooked and baked very well but made no fuss nor took any special pride over it.
    And I don’t remember cooking with her nor her giving me any cooking tips – except to check raw chickens for overlooked feathers and to keep a tweezer in the kitchen to pluck them!

    How my son became a very good and adventurous cook is a mystery – he certainly didn’t get his interest or skill from me. When he visits, he cooks!

    Fun that you sometimes cook with your daughters, and how enviable that your husband cooks!

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    I remember the I Hate to Cook book. I must have had it at some point. Cooking is like chemistry — just measure carefully and don’t skip an ingredient. While my husband never cooked much of anything, my son and sons-in-law do much of the cooking in my kids’ homes. By the way, love the featured image with your kids.

  6. What a great-looking and great-cooking family! One seldom sees photos taken in the kitchen, in my experience, and this example makes me think it proves to be a great background, a venue in which people are very authentic and very at-home.

    My mom always knew where to find her very beat-up “Rombauer,” and I too have used it from time to time. I think more iconic for many of us in our generation was the MOOSEWOOD Cookbook–did you ever add that to your library? Your choosing two husbands who did most of the cooking does seem like truly a long-odds win for you.

    • Suzy says:

      No, I never had the Moosewood Cookbook, although I have heard of it. I have a vague recollection that it is a vegetarian cookbook, which is not something I was ever interested in. Husbands doing the cooking came about both times because I did most of the baby and child care. My second husband is a much better cook than I am, my first not so much.

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