ray bunnage was my best friend for most of the 60’s:
from our late single-digit years up to our early teens.
the bunnages weren’t as well-off financially as we thomases
(his dad was a methodist preacher & mine an english prof);
probably this does much to account for the fact that ray
was generally *much more practical* than i was (he began
earning his own money by the then-usual paper routes and
lawn-mowing jobs quite a bit before i did, for example).
we ran around together everywhere and hung out quite a bit
at each other’s houses… sleepovers and all the usual
kid stuff. but it occurs to me now that we *never*…
or almost never… spent much time in *my* familiy’s kitchen
but we spent *many*many hours cooking… and of course eating…
and i’ll’ve forgotten most of it. but i remember the
already-old-fashioned stand-up mixer we’d use for cakes
(from a premix box). and, get this, a hand-cranked
*ice-cream* maker (i’ll’ve only participated in making
it maybe one or two times… they made pretty big batches
and there was always a grownup involved; it was something
of an event… and the like-no-other batches lasted weeks).
another thing that comes up in my memory quite often:
cooking burgers out. ray liked to knead an enormous amount
of “seasoning salt” into the burger patties… enough that
they were almost falling apart… before grilling ’em.
and i copied his style as i did in most culinary matters.
anyhow, i suppose i’m bringing this up now as evidence
that even in childhood i enjoyed at least glimpses
of the cooking-is-fun-and-easy vibe… but mostly
down the street.
at home with just the family? not so much.
i can barely remember “helping” my mother
in the kitchen (by getting in the way and
licking the batter off the beaters and such).
my *clearest* memory of suchlike matters is
proudly peeling and mashing potatoes for
thanksgiving day. i must’ve done this
for a few years in a row. i seem to have
been influenced in this choice-of-specialty
by the comics: “sad sack” would sometimes
be shown peeling potatoes as a punishment
(“K.P.” stood for “kitchen patrol” or
“kitchen police” or somesuch thing, but
to me it was “keep peeling” [probably i got
this deliberate-misreading from my sister])
and for some reason i got a kick out of
identifying with this character.
but for the most part, i picked up pretty early
on the “housewifery is a trap for the less-fortunate”
vibe loud and clear from both parents (and the
culture at large… n^th wave feminism and
“do your own thing” and whatnot) and wanted
nothing to do with *anything* as “useful” as
cooking. once you let it be known that you’re
*good* at that stuff, they’ll keep making you
*do* it over and over. what’s next, *cleaning*?
then a bunch of years passed. ray moved away.
i got another best friend, chris mc-garry.
then mc-garry moved away. a year-and-change
later, he set up an interview for me at the
hotel he was working at and i got my first
full-time job and moved out of my dad’s place.
another year passed. and chris moved back
to bloomington. and the hotel fired me
and i got a bunch of temp jobs.
ray young was my employer first… but then,
and in pretty short order, my room-mate and
bachelor-life mentor. ray ran a carpet-cleaning
business and first hired me… i answered a want-ad…
as a phone solicitor (approximately the world’s worst
job). i was no good at getting him leads so he decided
to take me out on the jobs instead and hired somebody
else to work the phone.
business dried up in thousand oaks, so ray decided
to move back to vegas and set up there for a while.
he’d done this dosie-doh before and knew a few people
there. anyhow, he invited me to come along.
which is how we became room-mates.
back to the cooking show. one of the first things
we did on moving in was go get several pounds of
hamburger. which he showed me how to patty up
and shove in the freezer. the idea was to always
have *something* on hand. if the patty stack
started getting low, why then, we’d go and get
some more meat.
but ray wasn’t *much* into cooking. and eating out
in vegas was *cheap*. hell, drinks were “free” if
you were gambling. fifty-cent buffet breakfasts
were common and we sampled quite a few.
so, besides the burgers, i can only remember one
cooking tip from living with ray young: fried potatoes.
the classic recipe: cut ’em up, fry ’em in fat, salt
to taste, serve. we had this several times to soak
up the beer we’d drink lots of almost every night.
it was great.
and now i do ’em all the time.
a couple months ago, i even made madeline
a breakfast of “fried potatoes three ways”.
french-fry cut, disks (the way ray showed me),
and hash-browns. fried in butter, oil,
and pigfat in some order (i forget).
i myself had “fried potatoes four ways”
that morning since i’d peeled at least one
potato (and won’t serve the peels unless
done right with onions & cheese).
i still love mashing ’em too.
here’s something you probably haven’t tried:
put in some cream cheese (and a little less
okay. starving. time for some hash-browns!