Who cooks, burns

Cooking gyozas. Ready-made.

How was I to know?

I followed instructions on the back of the pack. No de-frosting.

You place the gyozas, one side down, in a pan Once hot enough in two and a half tablespoons of oil. Then wait till one side is lightly brown and add water. Cover till two thirds submerged. 

Therein lies the danger. 

I tipped water into boiling hot oil and vroom. Great flames arced up to the range hood.

Husband stepped in. Lifted the flaming pan to the sink where the flames died down. 

‘The range hood is on fire,’ daughter said, as black smoke billowed to the ceiling. 

Husband ripped off the sheets covering the burning range hood fan blades, flung them onto the sink and in thirty seconds or less the whole thing was out. Not without a molten blob of plastic stuck to the surface of the insulating pad and our extractor fan no longer in place. 

No other harm done, apart from the stinking smoke that set off fire alarms blasting for several minutes as we opened windows and doors wide. A black smear across the wall. 

The dogs mere bemused. My daughter was amused. My husband comforted me, given guilt rested on my shoulders. The responsibility for this hazardous occurrence. All because earlier we discussed who should cook the gyozas. Something I’m not inclined to do, though perfectly capable.

‘Learned incompetence’ they call it. 

I have passed on the baton for cooking to my husband and daughters. They cook with gusto and enthusiasm while I have lost all such desire.

It’s boring, to stand chopping vegetables, stirring soups at the stove. I’ve lost all patience with the delicate art of cooking. Though I know how to cook. 

I did it for decades when my children were small. Nothing too fancy though in the days of my first significant boyfriend we took to inviting friends over for what we called Gourmet Dinners where we all tried to outshine one another with our culinary skills. 

My greatest achievement: Coquilles Saint Jacques.

When I first suggested these to my second significant boyfriend, third or fourth in fact, who became my husband, he laughed. The idea of scallops grilled to the end of their life with butter and cream put him off.

It puts me off now, too, but in those days, decades ago, it was the height of deliciousness. 

All those dishes. Lobster mornay. Angels and devils on horseback, as canapes. Prunes wrapped in bacon, ham wrapped in cantaloupe, the sweet and savoury grilled. All those culinary delights of the day, long gone from people’s tables. 

I know you must be careful when adding water to boiling oil. I know it spatters and sparks whenever a drop of water enters a pan of sizzling oil, so why did I imagine a whole jug of cold water into a pan with a good inch of sizzling water below would make it beyond a crackle? 

Carelessness. A lack of interest, resentment that I was tasked with this duty in the first place.

It’s no excuse, only an explanation of sorts.

When I was young and my elder sister spent her weekends cleaning the house from top to toe, in her role as first born daughter and because my mother was away at work in a children’s home looking after other people’s children, I did not fancy the role of cleaning or cooking myself.

I did not see why I, as a child, should burden myself with wiping down tables, loading clothes into washing machines, hanging them out, bringing them in, dusting and sweeping, the endless domestic role of good housewife. 

Not for me, not then, not ever. Four years older, my sister charged me with one simple task. Tidy our shared bedroom. The room she and I occupied during the nights when my father visited. 

Why should I sweep dust out from under our beds, strip sheets off beds, spread fresh ones, shift the under sheet to the upper and throw the used sheet into the wash? Ten sheets from ten beds in all. Straighten blankets.

Why should I do this when outside my brothers played at insect collecting, rock examining, digging holes, while I and my sister tidied up after them and ourselves? It made no sense.

The sun shone high in the sky; the outdoors beckoned. I sat on the front fence on top of the block of bricks that formed part of the entrance and considered my fate.

My sister soon forgot me after first issuing instructions. Later she would call again and stir me from my reverie. But for now, I could soak up sun and cogitate on the state of the street, of the world, of my little corner of life. And resent the call to action in much the same way I felt the night the oil was too hot and too high to accommodate a jug of cold water.


We rescued the food but not the range hood. If only it could be restored but they don’t make our type of range hood anymore. Like so many machines from the past it has outgrown its relevance and needs to be replaced with a safer one, which involves more than fitting in a new item but also creating a hole in the wall. 

A big task and not one I will be undertaking.

We will need help.