Male cookery: from hot dogs to cordon bleu

To read the trendy magazines, you'd think every woman nowadays marries a Knight in Shining Apron. Probably he's a 20th-century culinary specialist from whom Julia Child could learn. At least he's an Escoffier of the Radar Oven.

Somebody like Joe-across-the-street, as my wife balefully points out. Joe's forever whipping up delicious muffins or succulent spaghetti sauces, in between building porches and other ''manly'' tasks.

But we're not all Joes. Some of us culinary ''little guys'' are mostly expert at taking out the garbage. My own gastronomic piece de resistance is either hot dogs or oatmeal, whichever one you're not eating when you vote.

It's women's lib that put pressure on men to come through in the kitchen. It has given wives the ridiculous notion that they shouldn't have to work eight hours every day, then vacuum, scrub, wash, chauffeur, shop, and cook all meals - while we husbands read the paper and contemplate the family's official position on the national debt.

It's something for which our own fathers' examples never prepared us. But good help is available. One of the best places to find it is the supermarket. Next time you're shopping, look for some gray-haired lady who's pinching everything in sight, and ask for help. Once she realizes you're actually going to cook too, she'll probably repeat an old family recipe slowly and in words of one syllable, the way you'd speak to a preschooler, in hopes even you will understand.

But the best way to learn is, as usual, to read. Devour the food pages of newspapers and magazines. And peruse cookbooks - but only at night under the covers with a flashlight, after your wife is asleep. One glimpse of you reading a cookbook invites invidious comparison with her college roommate's husband. Inevitably he couldn't boil water three years ago, but made cordon bleu as his first-ever dinner and already has won four contests. Worse yet, his preteen sons cook even better.

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