What does that title tell you about my culinary talents?
In my mind I’m this creative, elegant cook who tries new recipes served with an artistic flourish, taste indescribably delicious, and leave my dinner guests craving more. They beg for invitations to dine at my house—filling my weekends from month to month and sending me new recipes to whip up for their delight.
In the actively imaginative place that is my mind, I am also 5’7”, weigh 120 pounds, have long flowing red tresses (instead of this out-of-control-at-any-length mess that is resolutely unmanageable and now multiple shades of au naturale from strawberry red to white to silver to black to—you get the idea), and dress in perfectly styled draping skirts and tank tops that show off my toned biceps and triceps.
Yes, I live a life of happy illusions.
Like my mother, I’m a better baker than a chef. Family lore always had it that dad had a cast-iron stomach from mom’s early marital attempts at cooking. Her mother had prepared her well in the area of desserts, but main courses? Not so much. It didn’t help that dad grew up on a farm, which means I never tasted a non-shoe-leather-crisp pork chop until college. Any dish including pig had to be cooked to sheer dryness before he considered it safe to eat. That must be why I still avoid swine-inclusive meals. Ah, but for mom’s ability to whip up the lightest coconut cream pie, dozens of varieties of cookies to be savored, and his treasured gobs, dad might have stayed bean-pole skinny throughout his life.
Cooking instructions puzzle me
When you give me instructions to do anything, be precise. I prefer 1, 2, 3 itemized steps and you want to pretend I’m in fifth grade when you write them out. This goes for learning software, building deck furniture, and even planting vegetable seeds. Directions have to be orderly and simple for me to get through them without my typical over-analyzing—always balanced by my speed-reading.
In baking you have to follow specific rules of alchemy or you end up with hockey-puck cinnamon rolls. Those were a rare failure as well as the time I tried to healthy-up mom’s cookie recipe (not a good idea) resulting in cannonball-consistent Snickerdoodles. Alex gave them the old college try before I dumped them in the garbage.
They’ll be found in a landfill in 2081. The precision of baking works for me like the new recipe for gluten free English Muffins from TheSpruce. You must raise the dough overnight, you must remember to add the baking soda right before baking, you must … you get the idea. The must-worded process works for me.My first problem with cooking is that there is leeway to be creative. #Cooking #humor Click To Tweet
Which means that my first problem with cooking is the unfortunate fact that there is leeway to be creative. Cooking instructions are not always specific. An early attempt at cooking a vegetarian dinner for a friend had me calling Seester Jackie: “What do they mean, ‘roughly chop the onion?’ Am I supposed to throw it around the kitchen a few times first?” If you want that onion minced, diced, or sliced, be definitive. Don’t leave it open to a writer’s interpretation.
And there’s the rub
Back to that creativity issue, in cooking you can adjust the amounts with a little of this, a little of that … a tad more of another herb. You have options of different olive oils or using sunflower oil or avocado oil or hey, toss some peanut oil in for a change. In baking, if you add too much baking powder or soda, very bad results are achieved.
With a new Instant Pot, I’ve found myself eager to yank it off the shelf, turn it to sauté (yes, buttons with names on them work wonders for me), toss in garlic and onion and oh, aren’t the smells wonderful?
Yes, yes they are. Until I get distracted.
Imagine that happening.
There I was, once upon a time making turkey meatballs for Alex in the Emeril skillet. I don’t eat them, but he likes them on a sandwich. I had the Ninochka DVD playing in the computer. Billed as, “[Greta] Garbo laughs,” it’s one of my favorite vintage films and a delightful story about people finding their right lives—a lesson I love relearning. If you don’t understand the importance of the blurb, Ms. Garbo was known for her serious, dramatic roles. When she finally laughed in a film, it changed everything.
Laughing usually does that for all of us, doesn’t it?
Even though I enjoy the inventive aspect of a little of this and a tad of that, cooking refuses to come naturally to me. Writing comes naturally. Poking fun at myself comes naturally. Weeding a garden into submission comes naturally. Cooking is definitely a learned skill, talent, necessity, and one I didn’t start experimenting with until the late 1990s. I’m not sure what I lived on prior to that, but somehow I survived. At my home in Red Lodge, Montana, it was great fun to throw together a potluck or simple dinner party for a handful of friends and try my prowess with a new recipe—always with the caveat: If it’s inedible, we’ll order pizza.
Then I spent those six months living (Going off the deep end on purpose) with Seester and Jeremiah and I had to earn my keep somehow, didn’t I?
Those wintertime meals of 2009 were often a case of me prepping things for Jeremiah, aka Griller-Man, to then assume responsibility for cooking. But now and then I was the cook start-to-finish. I think I mostly fared well. Which would make you think that in my new home with Alex, I’d be making amazing meals in this roomy kitchen, right?
Uh huh. Not so much.
Smoke detectors don’t always go off soon enough
Especially when there came the turkey-meatball-episode. I was enjoying listening to the movie, relishing the deep tones of Garbo’s lovely voice, my eyes on the stove. The olive oil was sizzling in the skillet, the meatballs were turning brown. One by one I’d flip them around and over and then remove them onto a paper towel. It was all going well. Or so I thought.
Until Garbo laughed and I spun around to re-play that scene and realized the entire kitchen, dining, and living rooms were full of smoke just as, you got it, the detector went off.
It was not pretty.
What to do first? I wanted to kill the alarm before Alex dashed in from washing his car or the neighbors heard it and called the fire department and why hadn’t I opened the windows before I started this effort? It was a beautiful summer’s day, after all.
Keep in mind that the house is full of original paintings by Alex’s mother.
I removed the pan from the stove, shut off the burner, and spun around to see Alex standing there in a haze of smoke, laughing so hard he could barely contain the shaking of his broad shoulders. Dubbing me the Cooking-by-Smoke-Detector-Queen, he killed the whining blare of the alarm, opened the windows, turned on the a/c fan … and kindly sampled one of the meatballs, commenting that it was delicious.
What a kind soul.
For a while, things went well in the kitchen. Then there was the Pad Thai episode. I tried a new way of heating the sesame oil and it splattered everywhere, blowing up the entire kitchen.. The Pad Thai was quite good, but after dinner not only did I have to clean the pots and pans, I had to wash the floor, wipe down the stove, use Pledge to clean the wooden cupboards.
There are time—like with Jackie growing up—that I don’t question why Alex “lets” me live here, I question why he lets me live.
I’m starting to get the idea that maybe I should stick to baking and let Alex do the inventive cooking, which he is flawlessly good at. But like the notion that I’m that lithe, tall, beautifully coiffed red-head, some ideas are hard to let go of.
And besides, now there’s the Instant Pot…