Friday, June 30, 2006


A reader wrote a comment on my blog a few days ago, asking me why I call myself a bad housewife and although I figured it was obvious to anyone who has ever been to my house for dinner, it's probably not obvious to those who haven't.

I recently stopped working after spending many years as an elementary school teacher in Los Angeles. My husband and I agreed that it would be nice for the whole family to have me at home for a while. With that decision in place, I took up my old dream of becoming a domestic goddess with newfound fervor. Ever since I became a mom - first to my step daughters, then to my own daughter - I've been trying to provide a home where a good home-cooked meal brings the whole family together at supper time. But sadly, that never happened. I'm just clueless in the kitchen. I would attempt making these elaborate meals for my family and never quite get it right.

It's harder than it looks. One of my daughters is a vegetarian, another dislikes veggies and considers herself a hardcore carnivore, and the third one favors cheese and butter dishes and American diner style food. My husband and I like ethnic foods, but our preferences were never first priority. Whenever I cooked a meal someone was always trying to hide the food in their napkin so they could throw it in the trash. My daughters mastered the art of moving and rearranging food on their plates so that it looked like it had been eaten. Sometimes the last morsel would “accidentally” fall from the fork and the person would be unable to eat it. My husband always eats my cooking and always says it's delicious but that’s a biased opinion. My daughters soon figured out that my feelings were being hurt and would always tell me how yummy things were before complaining that they had eaten way too much at the previous meal and couldn't have more than a bite or two. Five minutes after dinner, the smell of microwave popcorn would waft through the air.

But all that would change now that I was at home in Phoenix with the Food Network. Day in and day out, I was surrounded by my mentors: Rachel Ray, Elton Brown, Sandra Lee, Ina Garten; they made it look so easy. The Food Network was always on at my house and hope sprang anew. I bought myself a microplane and a mandolin slicer because the new tools gave me confidence and once again I started cooking on a daily basis. Every meal was an adventure, an adventure in trying to make my food look and taste as good as the dishes my mentors were producing on TV. But meals that took Rachel Ray 30 minutes to prepare took me 3 hours. The fancy dishes that graced Sandra Lee's television “tablescapes” looked and tasted like rejects from a high school Home Economics class on my table.

I tried to distract myself from the truth. After all, a good housewife does more than cook. I decided to add cleaning and sewing to my domestic goddess agenda. If you're failing at one goal, why not just add more?

I must confess that I never learned how to do any of this stuff when I was growing up. I always got out of it because I was working and going to school, and my parents were thrilled enough by that to give me a reprieve from household chores. So, lacking previous experience, I did what I always do. I found a book that explained it all to me. Mrs. Dunwoody's Excellent Instructions for Homekeeping would show me the way. The first thing I did was make a schedule and buy the proper cleaning supplies, then I set to work.

I started off great. I could sweep, vacuum, load the dishwasher, sort, wash and fold laundry, vacuum, clean the toilet, scrub the tub and Windex the mirrors with the best of them, but Mrs. Dunwoody wouldn't let me off the hook with that. No, she wanted me to wash the windows, air out the books, sun and air the mattresses and pillows, clean the lampshades and blinds and miter the corners when I make the bed! Fuck that.

To console myself, I've taken up sewing. My daughter got a little basic sewing machine from Santa a few years ago and after making a little Teddy Bear and stuffed Lady Bug, she decided to take up archery instead. So, I borrowed her sewing machine and set my sights on becoming a seamstress.

A friend of mine provided some additional inspiration when she lent me a book called Generation T. It has all kinds of ideas on how to cut up and recycle old tee shirts and make new things out of them. The author assumes you know nothing and takes the time to explain a few different types of stitches. She also has a real punk D.I.Y. attitude which is empowering for beginners, like me. So I cut up a few tee shirts and soon felt confident enough to do some real sewing. I took my daughter to the fabric store with me. Being the Gothic Lolita girl that she is, she promptly picked out an elaborate Victorian dress pattern complete with bustle for me to sew. I steered her back to the Sewing for Dummies section, but she flatly rejected those patterns as boring, so we left the store without buying anything. A few days later, I went back on my own and picked an easy-looking summer dress pattern to make for her for 4th of July. I bought some fabric from the clearance section and got to work. My handiwork is pictured below. The model has requested anonymity.

So, I guess now you know why I call my blog the Diary of a Bad Housewife.


Anonymous said...

the meals you made for Teresa and I were quite tasty. I think the dress in the picture is cute. I've tasted your drinks, you are quite the hostess. What we need is a lesson in self confidence.(or the old who gives a f---?) You are devine! Love ya, A.

Anonymous said...

like mother, like daughter?

Matt "Max" Van said...

Nice work, really!
And cooking, traditionally, is just a matter of following directions. If you're like me, following directions is just not on the resume. So, cooking is more about creativity, something that I bet you know more than I do. Therefore, you already know that it takes failure, first, to become creative.
Anyway, not to be a total shill or anything but you might like what the gals at Punk Rock Domestics have to say :

Sylvia said...

You know how to cook. You made dinner for me and Dan years and years ago. It was well prepared and tasted great. Remember?

The problem is that you're trying to be short order cook. Learn to make 5 simple meals and rotate them. Then say this to those kids:

"When you grow up and get a JOB you can eat in a fancy restaurant. Right now this here is what is on the menu."

Alice Bag said...

Thanks everyone for the encouraging words. I'll keep trying. I also checked out the Punk Rock Domestics website and found a lot of great stuff to keep me inspired and motivated.

Anonymous said...

awww how cute, i like that photo!! just what i needed to see.
cheers me up on this dreadful monday.. well i guess i should get back to work!!!
little one

darkside777 said...

how can I get one of those dresses Alice?????
it has been SO hot in LA....
Please, I am serious....

your model looks awesome!

darkside777 said...

also, I can offer my services of teaching you how to cook...
i would be happy to do that!

also when you cooked for Sarah & I, I loved what you made....
I couldn't make it at home like yours...

Jenny Lens said...

LOL! It's the Bags, version 2! How funny!

Cos as good as I am in the kitchen, I can't carry a tune to save my life. WE ARE WHO WE ARE, so get over it. Especially if your family is giving you a hard time about it!!

I am an excellent cook, can make up delicious recipes at any given moment (has to do w/ability to visualize and taste what is in my mind), often know more about how to cook something from farmer's markets than those selling them, look at recipes and can figure out how to cut ingredients and time in 1/3 (who needs a pinch of this, that, let the spices rot -- why do they sell such large bottles?), and have spent years reading about food and nutrition. Yet am now a raw foods vegan, so just cos I can do that does not mean I have to. Remember that.

Sweet 16 Suggestions:
1--Give it up. Cooking is fun. MAKE it fun.

2--Eat WHAT YOU WANT TO EAT. If you enjoy buying, prepping and tasting the food, it will be GREAT. And if it's good enough for Greg and you, that's it. That's enough.

You think you can figure out what kids/teens want or will eat? Ha ha! PLUS IT is NOT a good idea to eat a big dinner!! No problem if anyone skips dinner. I haven't had dinner in years!

3--SIMPLE recipes. Better for the digestion too!

4--KISS: keep it simple and stupid.

5--NO fancy equipment. Best dishes are made in pyrex bowls (cut up fresh, in-season veggies, add a little water, stick in oven, low temp and let slowly cook).

Mandolins can be dangerous. Only use if food tastes better, not for presentation. Too much work for that! When I dehydrate fruit and veggies, out comes the simple mandolin. Otherwise, nothing wrong with a good knife and cutting board!

6--Cook things separately if they take long time. Like cook tougher veggies and then add easier ones. Or start to cook meat separately from veggies, to be sure it cooks well, then add together.

7--Carrot pea soup: buy little carrots, chop up w/water, slowly low temp cook, then add frozen peas and fresh cilantro when almost ready to serve. That's simplified, but that's the idea. Keeps things tasty.

8--Keep it simple! Minimal cooking, standing over a hot stove ain't fun unless it's really cold out.

9--Blender, esp the kind you can put into a pot and blend veggies to make a thick soup, but leave enough unblended veggies and meat so it's chewy.

10--Do you have fresh farmer's markets? Eat seasonally, even if you get produce from indoor market. Follow mother nature, eat lighter in summer, melons and romaine lettuce now; oranges and kale later (for example).

11--Lots of fresh fruit and veggies. a great summer dinner is nothing but a salad of greens and fruit. No nuts, seeds, oils, just that.

12-Stir fry is amazing. Get an anodized wok, so you don't use much oil but stay away from non-stick cos they are poisonous. Cut and cook according to toughness.

If tough, cut in smaller pieces and cook first. Progress to veggies easier to chew raw, cut larger and barely cook.

CUT EVERYTHING FIRST, then don't overcook anything, just get something tender, add next ingredient, and go from there.

Throw in meat if you must. But there is nothing as tasty nor healthy as fresh stir-fried with fresh veggies cut in different sizes.

13-When cutting, don't make everything same size. Will taste too much alike.

14--Finally, if your family doesn't appreciate your efforts, let them fend for theirselves! I've been cooking since forever. My mother always encouraged me to participate, and I truly think it's the artist in me that responded.

You have to do it with joy, not because it's the thing to do. Or the misbegotten claptrap that it brings families together. Oh please, don't fall for that shit!

15--Keep sewing! Do what feels good. And looks good on you and reluctant models!

16--Don't forget that housework is the manifestation of keeping women powerless. And those fancy homes and meals are usually created by servants, who are trained and paid to make the rest of us women toe the line. As if!

Final thought: there are tons of recipes online, so you don't need to spend money on a book. Make sure it's simple!!

If you want, I'll send you a ton of recipes I've put into the computer. Just add meat if you must (or serve these dishes on side w/meat). Lots of tasty dishes, easy, and yes, some ethnic too! Lemme know!

Jenny Lens said...

Alice, forgot the carrot soup also has yams/sweet potatoes. I have some amazingly simple veggie soups that will warm your kitchen when the desert gets cold and freeze very well.

yeah, I miss cooking. But it's so liberating not to have to deal with it!!
jenny ;-)

Anonymous said...

you're a fucking neff.