• Joseph F. Berenato

On memory, making assumptions and culinary magic


courtesy photo

On November 3, I saw many of my friends post on social media heralding the fact that that day was National Men Make Dinner Day.


My initial reaction was one of confusion and anger. This is 2022; why on Earth do we still need some manner of secular holiday to have men do their part and get in the kitchen? How and why is this a thing? What kind of sexist, misogynistic nonsense is being celebrated here?


In other words, I formed an opinion about something I read on the internet without doing any kind of research whatsoever.


After looking a little further into it, though, I think that it’s a grand idea.


According to the event’s website—www.menmakedinnerday. com—the day, held annually on the first Thursday of November, was created to encourage men who do not cook to try their hand at it.


“Are you a guy who cooks on a regular basis? A man who is at home in the kitchen, and enjoys creating culinary delights for yourself, your family and friends? Fantastic! You are in the majority! But, if you are a guy who is completely lost in the kitchen, and thinks a chafing dish sounds like something painful, this day is for you,” the website states.


Just by visiting their website, my faith in humanity was somewhat restored; it’s comforting to know that the notion of the kitchen being a woman’s sole domain is no longer the dominant opinion. Additionally, the purpose of the day is to expose more men to the absolute joys of cooking—and, I have to tell you, I love cooking.


Because my wife works longer than I do, the job of making dinner traditionally falls to me.

(Disclaimer 1: This is not to say that Robyn doesn’t cook. She loves to do so and will cook when time allows; she’s quite adept at it, and always uses my favorite ingredient: I Didn’t Make It TM.)


I’ve got a regular arsenal of dishes I prepare—chili, meatloaf, linguini aglio e olio, roasted chicken, etc.—and a few more unconventional ones at which I try my hand when I have time to prepare.


I have dozens of cookbooks, but I never use any of them except the one that has recipes from my mom. Most of what I make comes from years of trial and error, trying something new and eating it no matter how terrible it tasted simply because I don’t like to waste food.

Occasionally I find a new recipe online, but I typically cook from memory.


(Disclaimer 2: This applies to cooking only. Baking is an entirely different story. Baking is an exact science, and any deviation from the proscribed amount of a given ingredient could result in an unmitigated disaster.)


This is especially true for the upcoming holidays—or, as Robyn calls it, “the eating season.”

Though I almost never make anything for Thanksgiving—this is purely Robyn’s domain if we eat at home, or she’ll bring macaroni and cheese and sweet potato pie if we go to my dad’s—I typically rule the roost when it comes to virtually every other holiday.


Like my father, and his father before him, I’ve started to make piscistoccu each Christmas. We still go to Dad’s on Christmas Eve and eat his, but I make mine Christmas Day (along with the ravioli and meatballs, natch) so that, when it’s my turn to take over the tradition, I’ll have years of experience under my belt.


For New Year’s Eve, I make sausage and pepper sandwiches, along with a heaping pot of black-eyed peas. St. Patrick’s Day brings with it corned beef, cabbage and potatoes, and Easter is when I make my great-grandmother’s frittata.


Each year, like clockwork, these meals are prepared from memory, never from a recipe. This comes from a lifetime of observing both of my parents—and both sets of grandparents—step into the kitchen and make culinary magic. I grew up around women and men who loved to cook, and so that love was passed to me.


Like so many things that might seem obvious to other people, it really never occurred to me that, in this day and age, there might still be men who are uncomfortable preparing meals for themselves and their loved ones. All too often, we assume that those around us have had similar experiences growing up and similar values instilled in them—such as the joy of cooking—and to discover just how wrong we are—or, in this case, I am—is rather humbling.


For that reason, I absolutely support and adore Men Make Dinner Day, and encourage anyone—not just men—who is intimidated by cooking not to wait until next November, and to just get in the kitchen and try it. It’s rewarding beyond measure.


Joseph F. Berenato holds a Master’s in Writing from Rowan University and has been writing for The Hammonton Gazette—to varying degrees—since 1997. He is a trustee with the Historical Society of Hammonton and a caretaker at Oak Grove Cemetery. You can email him at jberenato@hammontongazette.com or find him on social media at @JFBerenato.