Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

3 Adar I 5763 - February 5, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Home and Family

Elementary -- or Not -- My Dear

by Bayla Gimmel

Recently, a young woman who is relatively new to the culinary arts called to ask me for a recipe for meatloaf. I told her the basic ingredients. Then I told her a tip I had received many years ago from an experienced cook.

When a meatloaf bakes, the middle never gets done at the same time as the outside. Therefore, one is forced to make a choice; bake until the middle is completely cooked, which will render the outside dry and crusty, or bake until the outside is just right and have a very rare center.

But -- my expert chef friend had taught me -- there is one more choice. Place something that does not need cooking in the middle of the raw loaf and then you can bake until the outside is done to perfection without worrying about the center at all. Some of the things that can be placed in the center of the meatloaf are olives, cooked vegetables, or -- my favorite -- hard boiled eggs.

I explained all of the reasoning for placing eggs in the center of the meatloaf, gave instructions for how to put half of the meat mixture in the pan, how to carefully line up the cooked eggs, each one touching the next, right down the middle of the loaf, and how to cover the eggs with the other half of the meat mixture. I gave the temperature and time for baking the loaf. Then we said our good-byes and hung up.

It was at that point that I realized there was something I had neglected to explain. During the entire time that I had spent describing the process of using the eggs in the middle to eliminate the need to overcook the meat, I had never once mentioned that the eggs were going to be sliced and eaten as part of the loaf. More specifically, I had forgotten to tell my young friend to PEEL the eggs before putting them into the meatloaf!

If she thought that they were only going to serve the purpose of protecting the meat from overcooking, she might have reasoned that she should leave the eggs in the shells to make it easier to discard them after the cooking.

After all, when you use metal cooking nails to conduct heat into potatoes as they are baking, you don't plan to eat the nails. Your first thought is how you are going to extract them most efficiently and esthetically after the potatoes are baked.

I felt a little silly calling back to tell my young friend to peel the eggs before putting them into the loaf. Therefore, I gave some thought to the mechanics of how to bring it up and how to phrase it most tactfully without coming on as a know- it-all or making her appear as woefully ignorant.

And why? Because I realized that I had made the error of leaving out important information and that I might have caused her a problem because of MY oversight.

But how often, when we are speaking to those closest to us, i.e. the members of our own households, do we give instructions that are quite incomplete and then rationalize to ourselves that the information we left out is `obvious'? If we were asked to articulate our thoughts, we might start off with, "Naturally..." "Of course..." or maybe even that perennial onaas devorim classic, "As any fool can plainly see..."

Typical scenario. It is early morning on a school vacation Friday. Mom comes in and says to her daughter, "Sorele, I want you to help me get ready for Shabbos. Please make the beds." Sorele lies in bed and reads for the next two hours. Mom comes back to check on what is happening and she is furious. Why? What was going through Mom's mind when she made her early morning statement? She was thinking, "I want Sorele to make the beds and then peel the potatoes for the cholent and then bathe the baby and then take her and Moishie to the park..." On and on with a menu of commands that would have kept Sorele busy for the whole day.

What was Sorele thinking when Mom came into her room right after shacharis? "Oh, good! Mom appreciates the fact that I have a day off. She only needs me to make the beds. That will take me about 45 minutes. I will read my new library book this morning, go to the store and get some nosh, make a couple of phone calls and I'll have plenty of time to make all of the beds before I take my shower. In fact, I'll even have some time left over, so I'll ask Mom if she wants me to make the salad as I did last week."

If we want to communicate most effectively, we have to speak in whole sentences and say everything, not just a shorthand version, of what we are thinking.

Lest you may think, "Oh, come on, now. It was obvious that the mother wanted more help than just making the beds," try discussing this with your spouse and your children. You may find that you yourself have been misunderstood more times than you realize.

I was eating breakfast alone one morning and, with nothing handy to read but the cereal box on the table in front of me, I glanced at the very small letters printed under the attractive bowl of cereal, milk and berries that graced the carton. The legend under the bowl read, "Serving suggestion."

Sherlock Holmes might have said, "Obviously, one would think when opening a cereal box that the contents would be cereal. Elementary, my dear Watson."

However, suffice it to say that the cereal company deemed it necessary to inform us that the milk and the berries were things one could ADD to the cereal in the box. In other words, they wanted to clearly spell out the fact that no one should open the box expecting to find berries and milk [maybe dehydrated -- add water?] as well as cereal inside!

I know of a long-term family feud that began with the following: a newlywed was feeling a bit under the weather. Her new sister-in-law decided to visit her and bring along some supper. Sounds nice, so far, doesn't it?

The visitor called into the sickroom, "Hi. I brought you a casserole." The reply she received was, "Oh, great! Thanks!" End of conversation.

The sister-in-law decided to preheat the oven while she went in to see the patient, and to come back to insert the casserole a bit later. Their little chat was going just fine until the air was filled with a ghastly smell.

The newlywed, who had very limited storage space in her tiny kitchen, had been using her empty oven as a repository for the nice collection of expensive plastic housewares that she had received as shower gifts.

"Naturally, when I said I brought a casserole, she should have known I was going to turn on the oven," wailed the sister-in-law.

"Obviously, a person looks into an oven before turning it on," retorted the newlywed.

[Then there was the daughter-in-law who asked Mom how to make chicken-in-the-oven. Her mother-in-law gave her simple instructions. It was only a few weeks later that she realized that the reported failure was because of a simple misunderstanding in terminology -- roast chicken is NOT the same as grilled chicken!]

Elementary, or not, my dear?


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