When I was younger, I would gaze up at my giant of a father and think that when I was that tall, I too would be able to create delicious food with ease. I would dart nimbly around the kitchen in over-sized oven mitts, pulling small hors d’oeuvres out of thin air. I would know exactly what spices to add to Italian dressing when marinating steaks, and I would know how long to put leftover Buffalo Wild Wings in the microwave. I would be able to do these things because Dad knew how to do these things.
My father makes man treats, a classic macho snack, almost every Sunday during football season. He pulls them out of the oven, and I devour them without regard to their scalding temperatures. Man treats are forged from tender piles of ground beef and spicy sausage browned perfectly on top of small pieces of toasted, though not crunchy, bread. Cheese melts in your mouth when you bite into a man treat, and there will be cheese in every bite because it is so evenly mixed in with the meat. It literally oozes this cheese.
I made man treats the other week, and I destroyed them. I used French baguettes instead of cocktail-size rye bread and didn’t drain the meat after cooking it; the crusts were hard and cut my mouth while the middle was soggy. I substituted link sausage in for ground, so some man treats were overwhelmingly spicy and others were overwhelmingly bland. My father didn’t care about any of this. He was too busy being horrified that I replaced Velveeta with cheddar cheese, of all things.
I was ignorant to the fact that learning is involved with every skill. I refused to take any sort of cooking class other than Home Economics, which I was forced to take in 5th grade. I never read that chapter in cookbooks that tells you how to measure flour. I refused to ask my father for help. None of these things seemed important, let alone necessary. To add to my ignorance, I was convinced that after merely reading a recipe, I somehow knew exactly how to improve it. How about we add M&Ms to this batch of anise cookies, to make them taste better? Cranking up the heat on the oven makes food cook faster, right? No, I don’t have pure granulated sugar, but I’ve heard confectioner’s sugar will do the same thing.
I have incinerated dozens of chocolate-chip cookies, over-spiced several pizzas and drowned an entire family-sizes pot of Kraft Mac’ n’ Cheese in skim milk.
I don’t know what possessed me to make man treats. It may have been that I thought they were simple enough; ground beef, sausage and cheese on top of bread should be fairly difficult to mess up. It may have been that I was nostalgic. It may have been that Dad had just texted me: “I just made man treats!” In any case, the idea rooted itself in my brain.
I called up my dear friend Maciej, who, aside from loving home-baked goodness, has an oven, a stove and baking sheets. And while he saved me from reducing myself (and his apartment) to ashes, he didn’t have the common sense to stop me from cooking altogether.
Somehow, I got lucky with the man treats. While the baguette crust toughened up in the oven and the cheese lost its melt-y quality, the snacks still tasted good. And I created them without learning how to cook, without conforming to my father’s system of “learn first, know later.” My father laid the foundation, but I blazed my own path toward freedom. I could feed myself. There was hope yet for my life as a mature, considerate, responsible adult. Who knew what was next? Maybe I could be trusted to buy groceries. Or schedule appointments for myself. Or balance my budget. Or pay one of my economics major friends to balance my budget.
Part of me is firmly convinced that someday I will magically wake up with the knowledge of how to cook. In the meantime, I called my father to exult in the joys of adulthood. Perhaps now he would let me in on discussions of mature things, like politics and golf. Perhaps now I would understand them. But Dad was unimpressed. I know this because in my next care package he sent a package of cocktail-size rye bread and a pound of Velveeta.