|Le cuisinier et le chat |
de Théodule Ribot
At one time I fancied that I could cook.
I had a cookbook (well, it was the property of The Missus Herself but, rather bemused by the whole thing, she allowed me to use it), I had the tools and I had a kitchen.
With all that, what could possibly go wrong? Just follow the instructions.
It was during my non-traditional undergraduate college days. Non-traditional because when I started my sophomore year in 1983, it had been 11 years since my freshman year.
Along the way I had picked up a wife, two kids and a career in the Air Force.
With that being said...*
It was our first Thanksgiving in our new apartment, in our new location. We had yet to do a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner. The Missus Herself was still a neophyte at American cuisine and was nervous about tackling that meal. So, based on what I told you above, I endeavored to prepare the meal myself.
First things first, I had seen the following at my local grocery store (behind which, once removed, was our apartment building).
So that would cover the turkey, the most difficult part of the feast. What to do for the rest?
Stuffing, gotta have stuffing. While at the store I checked out the Stove Top stuffing mixes. Read the box, looks easy-peasy. So I bought two boxes.
Hhmm, ah yes! Cranberry sauce! That comes in cans, I can open a can without causing serious injury to myself or others. I can do this!
But there has to be more...
Mashed potatoes. How hard can those be? I can so do this.
The first year, it came off without a hitch. The Naviguesser and The Nuke were both impressed. (Which means neither of them got sick or exhibited any ill effects from the meal.) The Missus Herself grudgingly accepted that I could, in a pinch, follow a recipe and
The next year, with the new wee thing one day to be known as The WSO now gracing the premises, but far too young to eat solid food, I did Thanksgiving again. Only this time, I got adventurous. Can you say "pumpkin bread"?
I knew you could.
Betty Crocker provided the instructions, the children provided morale support ("Mom, does Dad know what he's doing?") and with the local King Soopers providing all of the key ingredients, I actually made pumpkin bread.
Not from a mix.
Not from scratch (not having grown my own wheat and not having ground same).
But from flour and butter and sugar and nuts and raisins and, and...
It was very exciting for me. I decided there and then, that someday I would become a famous pastry chef!
I know, I know, pumpkin bread is not a pastry. More of a cake, I guess. Even though it's called "bread," it's more of a cake-like substance. Humor me, who (other than Peter Falk in Castle Keep) wants to be a baker someday?
Okay, lots of people I would guess. People like bread. Especially home made bread. Bakers know how to do that. One thing I miss about Germany is the local bakery, sure we have them around here, usually Portuguese, and Portuguese sweet bread is to die for but...
|Pão doce WuCamera Photo CC|
Sorry, digression, I know. But our neighbor brought us some of that on Monday. Oh my word, that stuff is AWESOME. (Sorry, I have to wipe some drool off my keyboard.)
The pumpkin bread came out really well. Most delicious and it has become a family tradition since 1984 (or 1985, I forget, it was a looooonnnnngggg time ago).
The meal was excellent. I was really full of myself and...
What's that? What other days of the year did I cook? Me?
Just Thanksgiving though I did branch out and do Christmas as well. I was a specialist. Though to be honest I did, from time to time, whip up cookies or brownies as the mood struck me. (Always from a mix mind you. Cookies and brownies are way too important to be left to the likes of my not-so-tender ministrations in the kitchen. I just know I would screw them up!)
So, it's my senior year, and I'm feeling pretty cocky going into the Thanksgiving season. It's almost like I'm on this winning streak, nothing can stop me now. I'm a kitchen master. No recipe too complex, no culinary delight beyond my capabilities.
Can you see what was about to happen?
Yup, I got over-confident. Way too cocky and (dare I say?) arrogant.
The preparation started out as it always did but that year, there was a difference.
You see, The WSO was now three. She had developed a personality which all found cute and endearing. But, she also was a bit of an attention hog (sorry honey, but there it is).
So rather than attend to my duties in the kitchen, I may have been paying far too much attention to the youngest of our clan. There may have been a burning odor coming from the stove. My carefully orchestrated and meticulously planned repast was about to be undone.
Mashed potatoes are pretty easy to make.
Peel the 'taters, wash 'em up, throw 'em in a pot o' water and bring to a medium boil. When they're tender, you drain 'em.
Then I like to mix it a bit o' milk then one
I prefer an Irish potato masher, as opposed to a German potato masher. The cognoscenti will know why.
|German Potato Masher (Public Domain)|
Now I had just checked the 'taters, they were tender and ready to be mashed. So I added the milk and began to mash them, keeping them over a low heat by the way. Like I had always done.
Now somewhere in this process The WSO (of course, she will deny all knowledge of this and her siblings support her for the comedic effect of harassing Your Humble Scribe) began to make a fuss, demand something, make lots of noise or some other three-year old type behavior. I forget the exact circumstances. The trauma of that day haunts me still...
So I turned to the littlest one of the tribe to
Whilst in the midst of performing my parental duties (The Missus Herself being unavailable, she might have been doing laundry) I neglected to check the mashed potatoes.
Given enough time, even over a low heat, the moisture in those potatoes was bound to boil off, leaving nothing between the heat source and those lovely mashed potatoes but a thin skin of metal actually designed to transfer heat evenly to the contents of the pot.
Yes, Dear Reader, the 'taters were burned. Not badly mind you, just a bit of crispiness and brownish coloring to the lowest layer of the potatoes. It would have been alright had not the love of my life come into the room, smelled something amiss and immediately proclaimed...
"The mashed potatoes are burned. You burned them. How could you?
Thanksgiving is ruined. Ruined I tell you!"
There was much gnashing of teeth, wailing and rending of garments that day, I can tell you. Well, except for The Nuke, she found (and still finds) the entire incident to be très amusant.
To this day, when all could have possibly been forgotten or overlooked by now, the traditional greeting in our household, and the homes of our children, has been and (I believe) will always be...
"Hey, remember that Thanksgiving when Dad burned the mashed potatoes? Hahahahaha!"
Much to my chagrin.
Truth be told, I haven't cooked since that day.
Not one potato.
Not one breast of turkey.
Not one box of Stove Top.
The entire thing left me a broken man.
Broken I tell you.
Now my contribution to the holiday meals is limited to opening the cans of Ocean Spray and cleaning the dishes afterwards.
Damn, I could have been Emeril Lagasse.
|Emeril Lagasse book signing, Ft Lewis|
(US Army Photo - Spc. Leah R. Burton)