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Cooking With Elbow Grease

By Lee Lynch


Lee Lynch
Photo: E. Mulligan

I don't know whether my mother didn't teach me to cook because I abhorred participating in any activity dear to that high femme, or because she found me so inept. Maybe it was because I failed dish washing. I can still hear her stinging comment, "Use some elbow grease." I was a scrawny little girl -- I didn't have any elbow grease, for crying out loud.

Has anything changed? Do baby butches coming out still blunder around the kitchen like Pooh with a honey pot on his head? Are their femmes, decorated with rings in their eyebrows and stovepipe jeans, refusing the cook's role and marching them into hot kitchens, and promising hot gratitude in return? Not that femmes always come to cooking naturally. I remember what Carol and I suffered back in the late sixties: we thought chicken was fried by putting it, dry, in a frying pan. When it refused to lose its pink color inside, we added an ill-fitting cover. We were very thin.

I have always had three major problems in the kitchen. Problem One: the basics. It's like using a computer, nothing works until I find the "on" switch. For example, successfully boiling an egg is cause to declare a national holiday.

Problem two: Coordinating more than three ingredients at once. I get confused and forget to add item number Eight while whisking items Four, Two and cup of Seven.

Problem three: What to serve—a.k.a. terror of cooking for a femme. Left to my own I would eat the same thing day in and day out. Actually, I am on my own and that's exactly what I do. I hate to have to think about eating and preparing stuff.

There have been periods in my life when I've actually liked cooking. In my thirties I had more time for such frivolity. I'd prop open the back door so I could see the town light up at twilight and I'd bake a cake, or make cat food for the week, all six cats in rapt attendance. The times my partner cooked with me were some of the most loving hours I remember spending together. Friends would come over and hang out while I baked a batch of cookies for us to devour.

Each relationship brought its own culinary pleasures. Tee and I took turns cooking. One day we'd eat southern dumplings and key lime pie at her wooden dining room table; the next, I'd cook one of her favorites - liver and onions - on my tiny trailer stove and we'd share the meal across the fold-down Formica-topped table.

Another partner had major food sensitivities. We ate brown rice and vegetables till they came out our ears. I'd make her a simple crisp with Granny Smith apples every week because it was one of the few treats she could tolerate.

Marcia raised two daughters, so cooking was second nature to her. She could whip up a mouth-watering meal out of odds and ends in the refrigerator in no time flat. I did little cooking while we were together.

Now I live next door to The Pianist and The Handydyke. Our dinner ritual developed some years ago when we'd get together for Monday night pizza. I'd bring my Amy's frozen pizza (what would I do without Amy?) and they would have a "Tombstone" or a "DiGiorno's." The pizza was phased out when The Pianist decided we needed to test the bulk of the recipes contained in our forthcoming Butch Cookbook. The Pianist happens to be a gourmet cook. She's also good at delegating, so The Handydyke gets her turn in the kitchen. Even I stir, make a salad when needed or slam the back door as the popovers are rising. These friends upset my boring-meal routine delightfully by forcing me at gunpoint to take home leftovers.

Perhaps it's because we're women that my relationships and friendships seem partly shaped by cooking. Or maybe it's because we're lesbians and cook for ourselves or each other, not for men, those poor babies who work so hard all day.

If you come to my house for dinner, expect quesadillas, which I recently re-learned to make from my Sweetheart, after forgetting everything The Pianist taught me. Recipe: grate cheese, heat refried beans in the microwave, cook in the garage-sale quesadilla maker on whole wheat tortillas, when browned, slop on some salsa and bagged lettuce. Other than exceeding my no-more-than-three ingredients rule, nothing is simpler. It even has the three food groups. My mother would think I prepared it with a dollop of elbow grease.
Copyright 2007 Lee Lynch
Lee Lynch has been writing about lesbians since the 1960s when she was a frequent contributor to "The Ladder." Since then she has published thirteen books. The latest, Sweet Creek, from Bold Strokes Books. A 2007 recipient of the Alice B. Reader Award, she was named to the Saints & Sinners Literary Hall of Fame in 2006.

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