Carpool Confidential

Posted by: , August 6, 2012 in 10:09 am

carpool 20090904 1005371 Carpool ConfidentialCertain critical relationships in life demand intense scrutiny before entering into them. Most people would agree, for example, that marriage partners fall into this category, as well as prospective nominees for U.S. Attorney General. But what of carpool partners? Frankly, I can think of few relationships that demand a higher level of trust and compatibility.

My most traumatic carpool arrangement was last year, with Tammy. She had a new car, an easy-going personality, a flexible schedule, and a polite kid. Perfect! Yet I hadn’t considered the dark side to this arrangement. Tammy was also a gourmet chef and cooking instructor, who once dazzled me with her demonstration on how to make a roux, whatever that is. I once tried to mimic her lesson on spinning a batch of cinnamon Danish dough in the Cuisinart until it releases effortlessly from the bowl. The results were too humiliating to discuss here. I could not foresee that I’d become obsessed with Tammy’s cooking acumen, and would take it out on her kid.

“Say, Kyle,” I’d pry, “Do you happen to know what your mom’s making for dinner tonight?” Kyle answered like the maitre d at a five-star restaurant, “Tonight is spicy seared tuna and fusilli with sun-dried tomato pesto, asparagus and mushrooms,” as visions of leftover meatloaf danced in my head.

Tammy must have been on deadline for her next cookbook, I figured. Normal mothers didn’t cook this way. I tried — and failed — to take pride in my humble menus, mostly culled from a thrift store copy of an Idiot’s Guide to Making Dinner: lasagna using no-boil noodles; baked trout slathered with bottled teriyaki, and my all-time favorite: Crock-Pot chicken and rice, thrown together in ten minutes flat with a can of tomato sauce and a seasoning packet featuring a warning label that reads: “Contains enough MSG to cause brain lesions in lab mice.”

Eventually, I vowed to stop haranguing Kyle with my carpool interrogations, but I had already created a monster. “Tonight we’re having Caesar salad with fresh croutons, crusted lamb with mint pesto, broccoli rice puffs, and nutmeg meltaway cookies for dessert,” he piped up, though I hadn’t even asked. My hands gripped the steering wheel with white-knuckle intensity. Don’t compare yourself to a woman who owns a German-made nut roaster and a granite mortar and pestle, I told myself. Your family is well nourished, even if they’ve never had nutmeg meltaway cookies. Unfortunately, my brain synapses had already started to burst.

The next evening one of my kids scowled at dinner, “What’s this? Why aren’t we having lasagna? It’s Tuesday!”

“Tonight we are having stuffed shells with homemade marinara, roasted peppers, green salad with freshly toasted croutons, and juice l’orange,” I said proudly. This dinner had taken me three hours to prepare, and I waited for the compliments to pour in like a sommelier decanting a fine Chardonnay. Instead the kids were intensely spraying ketchup over their pasta shells like they were putting out a fire.

My wise husband praised the meal, but the kids were mutinous. They liked the bottled marinara better, the type that Kyle had taught me to disdain as something only fit for a dabbler. I was secretly glad that my experiment with gourmet cooking repulsed my family. I could now cease and desist from competing with Tammy, she of the spicy bison kabobs and the Amaretto mousse.

When Tammy asked me if I wanted to carpool with her again this year, I lied and told her we were moving to Baltimore. I’m not worried about running into her, either. I don’t think they sell organic Hungarian paprika at Costco. Besides, she had a good influence on me after all. No longer is MSG one of the four main food groups in our family. And I’m slowly getting the hang of whipping up that cinnamon Danish dough in the Cuisinart for the exact number of seconds (17.4) until it releases effortlessly from the bowl. One day, if I am brave enough, I will look up the meaning of the word “roux.”

Judy Gruen’s latest book is The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement. She has no plans to ever write a cookbook, even one with the word “Crock-Pot” in the title.


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