After several months of pretending I was Rachael Ray – i.e. an oven mitt that burst into flames (with my hand in it), pizza dough that got waay out of control, a hard-boiled egg that exploded in my face, and soggy meatballs – I finally decided to take real cooking lessons.
The first to take on the dangerous task of teaching me the culinary arts was my mother-in-law. The day of our first cooking lesson, I half-expected her to answer her door with a face shield, gloves, and some sort of helmet (I was sure D-Man had told her the stories). But no, there she was, all smiles and hugs and kisses, and seemingly very excited to teach me how to feed her starving son.
Our first assignment was a favorite dish of mine: spinach croquettes. Fairly easy since my mother-in-law guided me through the whole process and would only occasionally ask me to stir this or that. When it came time to liarlas, which means forming the spinach dough into proper croquette shapes and breading them, we each worked on opposite sides of the stove. My mother-in-law had finished her batch and was about the help me with mine when she noticed the giant monstrosity of rectangular croquettes that my little hands had molded. In one swift motion, she pulled out a kitchen knife and aimed it at one of my croquettes.
Mother-in-law: “You do realize that one of your croquetas is the size of three?”
Me: “I would say about two…”
Mother-in-law: “Why are they…rectangular?”
Me: “No idea…they’re still edible though?”
Mother-in-law: [Realizing that her next step in teaching me could be crucial to my learning experience, and not wanting to traumatize me or involuntarily starve her son to death:] “Sure! Let’s not worry about it. Croquetas can come in any shape or size; rectangular, jumbo-sized, what-have-you. Carry on.”
The news of Michelle the English teacher attempting to cook authentic Spanish food must have spread throughout town, because I received a handful of extra cooking mentors overnight.
They were probably all afraid that if left any longer in my Rachael Ray fantasy, I’d accidentally burn the town down.
And so it began that one of my students, a retired chemistry teacher, began sneaking Tupperware containers full of food into my bag.
Me: “Really, you’re so sweet, but you don’t have to…I can manag…”
Retired chem teacher: “It’s no trouble at all. Here, take some lasagna with you, too. Just heat it up, D-Man will never know.”
Me: “But…I think four containers is more than enough. What will you feed your husband when he gets home?”
Retired chem teacher: “Oh, I’ll just make him a sandwich.”
Me: “No, really, I can’t accep…”
Retired chem teacher: “You’ll just have to. I’ve seen your husband. Much too skinny. Off you go!”
One of the town moms also volunteered herself to be my cooking mentor, and she casually began to find herself baking or cooking some “super simple” recipe just as I was finished giving English classes to her two daughters.
Now, the five Spanish meal times are as follows:
Breakfast, when you wake up.
Snack, at noon.
Lunch, at 2pm.
Merienda, at 5pm.
Dinner, at 9pm.
Baking and cooking at approximately 6:15pm was no doubt some sort of strategic plan to save the town from future combustion.
So once a week Town Mom sits me down in her kitchen with a cup of hot chocolate and tries to teach me quick and simple recipes like flamenquínes, white-wine-and-mushroom sauce, and chocolate cake.
She’s even kind enough to write the recipes down in my little planner before sending me off on my merry way.
Though my chocolate cakes still look like some Pompeii molten lava disaster sequel.