Friday, April 3, 2009

Chapter 29: Who is Cooking?

Evolution is amazing. The man’s role has been changing with time in order to be a survivor. From mammoths hunting using spears made of sticks and stones, to fighting a war using bows and arrows, to killing hundreds using armor tanks, to destroying a whole city using atomic bomb, then to chopping up a rack of pork ribs in the kitchen. Yes, the man has exchanged his role with his woman, so that he could do the cooking while she continues with her overtime. In appreciation, the woman has even granted him a nice appellation – the new age man.

The woman said that a new age man should be understanding and romantic. He should be gentle to her and always be there for her not only physically, but also mentally. If a new age man is able to cook well, that will earn him enough brownie points for the woman to marry him.

The woman is too busy with her career to cook for her family. There are endless meetings and never ending overtimes to deal with and it will be too much to ask for if the man expected her to cook after she returns from work. The meals, house works and kids can be taken care of simply by employing a maid.

That is why we have Chen Hong from Taiwan and Jamie Oliver from England to teach the man how to cook. To teach him how to brew herbal soup for his wife who is so tired from her overtimes. To teach him how to surprise his girlfriend with a nice New York cheesecake when she was so angry with him. And to teach him how to teach his female colleague how to bake walnut brownies for her boyfriend. That was the reason why Sally was at my kitchen on a Saturday afternoon.

“Beng, is it going to be very difficult?” Sally asked while staring at the ingredients.
“No, brownies are one of the easiest cakes to bake,” I replied as I took out the baking tins from the cupboard.
“Will it take very long?”
“Yes it will, if you continue to just stand down there and stare at the ingredients.”
“Okay, what should I do first?”
“Line the baking tin with the greaseproof paper,” I said as I handed Sally a shallow rectangular baking tin and a roll of greaseproof paper.

I sipped on my coffee as I watched Sally put the baking tin on the greaseproof paper to estimate the size, then using a pair of scissors, cut up the greaseproof paper. She then attempted to press the greaseproof paper into the baking tin. As she squeezed the greaseproof paper to fix a corner of the baking tin, the greaseproof paper was torn. Sally stared at the paper, then at me. I sighed.

“Sally, before you fit the paper into the tin, you can try to fold the sides so that the paper can fit easier into the lengths and widths of the tin.”

Sally cut another piece of greaseproof paper out and folded the four sides of the paper according to the lengths and widths of the baking tin. She then pressed the greaseproof paper in lightly and cautiously. This time, the greaseproof paper was safe.

After I switched on the cooker to heat up the steamer, I turned the dial on the oven to hundred and eighty degree Celsius to preheat the oven. Then from one of the shopping bags, I took out the bar of dark chocolate and butter and passed them to Sally.

“Use the weighing scale there, weigh the butter and cut out a piece that is the same weight as the chocolate bar. After the water in the steamer has started to boil, put both the chocolate bar and butter onto a bowl and put it into the steamer. While the mixture is melting, make sure you keep stirring them,” I instructed.
“Hey Beng, why make such a big fuss? Why don’t we just put the chocolate and butter in the saucepan and boil them directly?”
“Because if you do that, the chocolate and butter will dry up.”
“Geez, this is so troublesome,” Sally sulked.

While Sally was stirring the mixture, I asked her: “Why are you baking walnut brownies for you boyfriend? Is it his birthday?”
“Yah, and when I asked him what he wanted for a present, he said that he wishes to have a birthday cake that is baked by me.”
“Is he aware that you can’t cook?”
“Nope. I didn’t tell him that. So I guess he just presumed that I could bake.”
“And he asked for brownies?”
“No he didn’t specifically say what kind of birthday cake he wanted, but I like brownies,” Sally grinned.

Just as I suspected. It was not really common for guys to like brownies. I would have chosen a tiramisu or a coffee cake.

After the chocolate and butter mixture was melted completely, I helped Sally to take the bowl of mixture out from the steamer. Under my supervision, she used an electric mixer to beat together the sugar, vanilla essence, salt, eggs, and nearly some egg shells. Sally had accidentally dropped a substantial amount of egg shells in the mixture when she cracked open the eggs but luckily I was there to scope them up. I then instructed her to sift the flour while I stirred in the chocolate and butter mixture.

“Sally, did you take home economics as a subject during secondary school times?”
“Yap, I did.”
“And didn’t your teacher teach you how to cook?”
“Yes she did, but I was not interested,” Sally sighed. “Do you know what they taught in school? Rock buns, sultana biscuits, fried noodles, stir-fried eggplants… argh, if I don’t even like these foods, why will I be interested to learn how to cook it?”
“Hey, you can’t be learning strawberry shortcake, English shortbread, fried rice with X.O. paste and grilled salmon steak at that level right?”

Sally showed me the sifted flour and I instructed her to fold it into the mixture. From one of the shopping bags, I took out the packet of walnuts and passed it to her so that she could add them into the mixture as well. I then helped her to pour the brownie mixture into the prepared baking tin and spread the mixture evenly.

I took another bigger shallow baking tin and filled it halfway with hot water from the kettle before putting the tin into the oven. Then cautiously, I placed the tin of brownies mixture into the tin of hot water. After that, I closed the oven door and set the timer to thirty minutes.

“Beng, what is the purpose of that tin of water?” a wide-eyed Sally asked.
“If we don’t do that, your brownies will have an ugly crack on the surface. The purpose of this tin of hot water is to spread out the heat in the oven,” I explained.

While waiting for the brownies to be baked, we sat down in the living room to have some coffee.

“So how did you pass your exam since you can’t cook?”
“Oh, I managed to have a borderline pass,” Sally giggled. “I knew that my practical tests will score badly so I tried to push up my marks by doing better in theory.”
“But did you really score very badly for the practical tests? What were you tested on?”
“There were two practical tests; one was sewing and the other cooking. For the sewing part, my mom did the skirt for me and I just handed it up.”
“Then you should have scored well right? Unless your mom’s sewing skill is just as bad?”

For that comment, Sally hit me on my arm.

“No, the skirt was fabulous. But the sewing test had two portions. In the second part, everybody was supposed to thread the sewing machine one by one and show it to the teacher.”
“And you didn’t know how to thread a sewing machine?”
“Yah,” Sally blushed.
“Then how about your cooking test?”
“We were supposed to bake ginger bread for the cooking test and we did the test in the school kitchen so there was no way to cheat,” Sally stuck out her tongue. “My ginger bread turned out to be a total failure. I mistook the salt as sugar and I forgot to put baking powder into the mixture. Worse still, the ginger bread was burnt.”
“Erm… and I assumed that your teacher had to taste everybody’s ginger bread to give marks, including yours?”
“Yah, poor teacher,” Sally giggled.

“Anyway, I don’t see any purpose in taking home economics classes,” said Sally. “I don’t see any need to learn how to sew or cook at all.”
“I could understand the sewing part. But you do need to learn some basic cooking right?” I disagreed.
“Well, I can cook Maggie noodles,” Sally grinned.
“Hey girl, after you got married, you can’t expect your husband and kids to eat Maggie noodles for lunches and dinners right?”
“Huh? Why must I cook after I got married?”
“You can’t be expecting your husband to do all the cooking right?” I raised an eyebrow.
“No, silly! Of course not! I think my future husband will kill me for that!” Sally laughed. “There’s always the maid right?”

Thirty minutes had passed. I took out the baking tin from the oven carefully and put it on the table to cool. Sally and I looked happily at the brown and fragrant brownies that looked simply delicious.

“Can I cut it now?” Sally asked.
“No, let it cool first. If you cut now, the brownies will stick to the knife.”
“Hey, baking is not that difficult after all!” Sally realized. “All it takes are some mixing and then just shove it into the oven!”

Yeh, baking or any kind of cooking is never rocket science. Maybe somebody should tell the woman that cooking together with her man can actually be fun.