Men cook, but real men cook chicken with Provençal sauce


The papers last week had some interesting demographic information about this nasty recession we’re in, and it wasn’t good news for men.

According to The New York Times, 82 percent of the people laid off or downsized — 2.6 million in 2008 alone — were men. Economists theorize that because men make up most of the workforce in troubled industries like construction and manufacturing, and women are more heavily represented in industries like education and health care that are not as sensitive to the recession, women haven’t felt the lash as hard as men.

The upshot of all this is that very soon, women will represent the majority of the American work force for the first time in history. I remember big thinkers in the women’s liberation movement pining for just such a day, so this ought to make them happy. But men are going to have to make some adjustments in their attitudes and lifestyles, and it ain’t gonna be pretty. Luckily, I have some advice.

For years, my wife was the field marshal of our household and we men “pitched in” from time to time. That meant we emptied the trash and mowed the lawn, but we seldom cooked a meal or ran a vacuum.

Then, a couple of years ago, the wife took a job in the city, which meant that she had to begin her commute early in the morning and wouldn’t be home in the evening until 7 p.m., or often later. Which meant that a larger share of the household duties would fall to me. I was OK with that, and made sure she had a hot meal waiting when she got off the bus. And it all worked, for about two weeks, and then she sat me down for a talk.

“Honey,” she said, “I appreciate what you’ve been doing, but I can’t live the rest of my life eating dishes you know how to make on a campfire. You’ve got to stretch your wings.”

“You don’t like steaks and hamburgers and chili?” I asked, dumbfounded.

I thought I was a pretty good cook, better than my father had been. On the rare occasion when he had to prepare dinner, we groaned because we knew the main course was going to be fried Spam, or if he was really feeling perky, Manwich sandwiches. I was certainly a better cook than my grandfather, who once served us bologna on sweet rolls because he didn’t know where Grandma kept the bread.

“Yes, I love those dishes, but I can’t eat them every night of the week,” she said. “And I know you. If you keep going like this, you’ll start to get frustrated and you’ll give up. Remember that time I went away for a week, and all you fed the boys was beef jerky and mac and cheese?”

“They loved it,” I said. “And beef jerky is highly nutriti … ”

“I’ll tell you what,” she said, laying a finger on my lips. “I’ll buy you some cookbooks.”

And she did, and I’ve used them. I’m not going to brag, but I’ve evolved to the point where I actually know how to make a delicious port wine reduction sauce, and have learned several uses for shallots and capers. I’ve found that as long as I just follow the recipe and don’t try to wing it, I can make anything except piecrust from scratch. Oh, and there was that one disaster with the exploding frozen chicken,

but who knew? So, my first piece of advice for men (I realize I’m painting with a broad brush here, since some men are already accomplished in this art): learn to cook. I’ve got a lot more advice concerning laundry, vacuuming, dusting and

going to the market, but I’ll save those for another column. I don’t want to give you guys too big a case of the fantods all at once.

• • •

Where I grew up, the word friend was one of the most powerful in the language.

A man might have a thousand acquaintances, but only a few true friends.

One of my friends explained that he limited the number of true friends he allowed himself to as many fingers as he had on his right hand. If he made a new friend, one of his old friends had to hit the road. He liked his life simple, but thankfully, he didn’t make new friends often.

That was all good until the day the jack slipped while he was trying to pop his pickup out of a rut while we were fishing, and it chopped off one of his fingers.

“Looks like one of you will have to go,” he said, showing us his bandaged hand. Thing is, he was only half joking and we were all a little nervous — especially the guy who had lost the finger on the way to the hospital, so there was nothing for the doctor to sew back on.

That unhappy fellow was me, but I’m happy to report he kept me on as a true friend in spite of the fact that I lost his finger, and in spite of the fact that I wouldn’t stop calling him “Stumpy” after the unfortunate accident.

These days, it seems, all he would have had to do to get rid of me was “unfriend” me from his MySpace or Facebook page.

I first heard of this unfriending thing a few weeks ago when a young man came to visit and mentioned that someone had unfriended him from her page. We had no idea what he was talking about, since neither my wife nor I has one of those pages, but it did pique my curiosity. And I have since learned — thanks to one of the ladies who writes modern etiquette columns, and a couple of newspaper stories — that there is a whole protocol for unfriending someone, and people actually agonize over how to do it right. And they take being “unfriended” seriously. Go figure.

As I said, I don’t have a Facebook or My- Space page, but I do get a lot of e-mail. And whenever I write about Shrub Bush or Lord Voldemort Cheney, I get a lot of vitriolic mail, as well as a lot from people who agree with me. I don’t mind people who disagree and want to have a rational discourse, but lots of readers go over the line.

So to the guy who questioned my patriotism (that stung), the lady who said I was an a@#$%&e, the people who called me pinhead, scumbag and @#$%wad, here’s my response: I officially unfriend you, one and all. I’d print your e-mail addresses, but you know who you are.

Gregory Bean is the former executive editor of Greater Media Newspapers. You can reach him at