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Berger’s Burg: I was a male ‘hausfrau’ — and loved it!

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Cooking, forever.... Housework, never!

I was brought up in an era when men were men and women.... well, you know the rest. I participated in “masculine” sports in my youth — stickball, football, basketball -— no sissy games like tennis or golf for me.

I was honed on such manly endeavors as beer-drinking with the boys, a four-year stint in the Air Force (during wartime), watching football games, shooting dice, amateur boxing, you get the idea. These activities shaped my inner macho-ness and to this day, I could never look a quiche in the eye without wrinkling my nose.

But I am going to let you in on my closely guarded secret: I enjoy being a “hausfrau.”

I discovered this about myself last year when I was convalescing at home after undergoing minor surgery. Gloria, my teacher-wife, started me off by dropping local newspapers across my favorite chair every Wednesday. My job was to IMMEDIATELY turn to the Food Sections, clip the money-saving coupons, and determine the best food buys of the week, then rush off to one or more of the neighborhood supermarkets to see what the other shopping mavens were buying. Easy enough, you say, but this undertaking takes intricate planning and pinpoint timing to do the job well. It wasn’t long before I became quite adept at out-foxing my competition, those other shoppers who may have grabbed the last sale item left on the shelf. (I never did like rainchecks).

“Madam,” I would say, “Don’t take that box. I happen to know that it was refrozen and by now it has lost all its vitamins.” The instant the customer returned the item and left, that box of goodies was soon bouncing happily in my shopping cart. All’s fair in love, war, and shopping, you know.

Another chore I enjoyed doing was preparing breakfast for Gloria, my working wife. The pleasant vibes generated when I stand over, and stir, a boiling pot of hot cereal are indescribable. When my wife compliments me on the cereal’s consistency, I melt. No one (and that includes Emeril Lagassi) makes a better bowl of hot cereal than your humble columnist, a regular Le Chef a la Whitestone.

Another major responsibility I had was ensuring that all muffins I purchased every morning were fresh and varied. Very important! One wouldn’t want one’s wife complaining that her breakfast muffins were stale and boring, would one?

And not only that. I make the creamiest malted milks this side of Mr. Hoch’s candy store when I lived on Manhattan's Lower East Side as a child. It began recently when Gloria and I were walking nonchalantly along restaurant-suppliers row on the Bowery. I looked in the window of one of these stores and spied an old malted- milk maker, not unlike the machine used by good old Mr. Hoch. Hmm, perhaps it actually was Mr. Hoch’s. Well, I bought it and then raced home to purchase the necessary ingredients — a jar of malt, a half-gallon of skim milk, U-Bet chocolate syrup, and a half-gallon of the richest ice cream I could find. My hand shook as I filled the cup of the malted-milk machine with the mixture. Gloria watched as I carefully turned the machine on and then, buzzing along, the thick potion whirred and spun wildly until it reached the magic consistency that I knew as a boy.

The outside of the cup was frosty as I lowered it out of its secure position. The proof of the pudding (in this case, the malted milk) was now at hand.

I filled the two large glasses that Gloria placed before me and filled both to the brim with the elixir. We toasted one another by clinking both glasses and drank.

Let me tell you, Heaven was never like this. “What about the clean-up of the kitchen?” you wisely inquire. Well, that is a sponge of another color. My philosophy has always been that a messy kitchen is a happy kitchen and my kitchen is delirious. Fortunately, Gloria had never complained about the mess I make because she is a lady. However, if she ever did, I would simply hang a few warning signs for her in every room of the house expressing my point of view: "Breakfast and malteds will not be served today. The cook has had it!” “Martha Stewart doesn’t live here.” “The cook is creative. You can’t expect him to be neat, too.” “Ring bell for Maid Service...If no answer, do it yourself!” “If you don’t like the cook’s mess, lower your standard.” “Help keep the kitchen clean — eat out” and “Our next house will have no kitchen — just vending machines.” I pray every day that I will never need to use such drastic measures on my Gloria.

I still haven’t tackled the other less attractive duties of a true hausfrau such as dinner preparation, mending and window-washing , and I guess I never will. A man must draw the line somewhere. Now, when it is time for me to retire, I have something to retire to.

However, cooking and shopping may not be for everyone. After all, would you dare let Sylvester Stallone or Rudy Giuliani make cereal and a malted for you? Well, perhaps Sly, but never, ever Rudy.

This July marks the 10th anniversary of the publication of this “Berger's Burg" column in the Times-Ledger newspapers. I want to thank Steve Blank, the editor and publisher for the opportunity he gave me. I also want to thank all my editors who molded and guided me: Dane Hamilton, Jack Ryan, and the present editors, Roz Liston, Amy Dunne, and David Glenn. Thanks, guys, for allowing me the freedom to joke and laugh, vent and cry, through the printed word.

And of course, a special thanks to you readers, to whom my columns are dedicated.

Reach columnist Alex Berger by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 139.

Posted 7:08 pm, October 10, 2011
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