Confession: I can’t cook… I have no culinary talent. Mama was never fond of cooking, and since Blondie was always the more domestic sister, she was preparing meals for us by seven years old. Of course, we mostly survived on grilled cheese, pizza, and Hamburger Helper (you don’t need hamburger, but it helps). She “cooked” until the day she dropped a kitchen towel into the oven, and nearbout burned the house down. After that, we were restricted to microwave food prep.
I found myself in a bit of a panic when my son presented me with his “New and Revised” Christmas list. It was loaded with all the usual kidcentric toys and electronics. Along about number three he wrote “Eat at home”. I kinda decided it must be one of those “assurance” requests along the same lines as “baby sister”, “pony”, or “pet pig”. In other words, I figured he was just slanting toward an impossibility, ensuring his other wishes would materialize by default. But the more I thought about it, the more mommy guilt settled in.
Since I don’t/can’t generally eat, I have made no effort to cook. My son has a fantastic memory- he knows by heart every menu within a 150 mile radius. I should be embarrassed. He’s growing like kudzu, and he eats all the time. I’m told it will only get worse. I want him to be healthy, and since I can’t figure out just how to go about keeping him healthy by eating fast food every day, I promised to honor his request.
We created a menu of foods he loves, and that I feel I can manage. I’ve vowed to genuinely try and learn. I am obviously ill-equipped to just begin cooking, like normal people do, so I made a list of all the various accouterments I “need” to actually put an edible meal on the table.
I now possess every kitchen gadget, and spice (no pepper) known to man. I have cutting boards, new knives, and measuring cups. The fridge and pantry are organized. We’ve been putting together a binder filled with simple recipes, to rotate menus, mixing and matching for variety. I’ve meticulously studied each ingredient. I feel much more like a chemist than a cook.
But– and there’s always a “but”, I have legitimate fears of failure. History dictates the odds. No good Southern girl would willingly admit to a complete putz in the kitchen, yet here I do declare.
I attempted exactly twice in the past two decades to prepare comfort food. The first time it was chicken and dumplings. Now, please know that my Meir made the best dumplings. She rolled them out so thin you could see through them. When I asked her for a recipe, she laughed. Flour, water, salt. Sounded simple enough.
I set to making a big pot. I mixed, shaped, and pinched the dough. I rolled it out. And rolled. And rolled. Those dumplings just refused to be thin. I kept on. Cut them into strips, and plunked the whole concoction down into the pot with a boiled chicken. They smelled fantastic.
I was so excited; I set the table and everything. When we got ready to eat supper, I took one bite, and realized something had gone horribly wrong. My dumplings were so thick they had to be CUT before taking a bite. I’d worked most all day trying to get it right, and my stubborn self refused to admit defeat. We choked them down.
I put the spoils in Sadie’s dish. Sadie was ninety pounds, responded only to Deutsch, and never missed a meal. Sadie loved chicken; she’d rescue my pride. She skidded across the floor to get to her bowl, and started to scarf up her portion. It was right about that time my husband started to laugh.
I looked down at (poor, poor) Sadie, who stood awkwardly by her dish, refusing to make eye contact. She had half a dumpling hanging out of her mouth, and was trying to chew it. She chewed it like it was rawhide, and with all her might spit it right back out. She didn’t even try again, she just licked all the chicken broth off her dry food, and then slunk off toward the back door. My husband was laughing, Sadie was choking, and I was bawling.
I called Meir the following day, and related the entire saga. I expected sympathy. I’d followed her instructions exactly. She laughed hardest of all. I forgot one very important detail… I’d made my dumplings with self rising flour.
It took me a year to get over the great dumpling failure.
The next meal I attempted was beef stew, in my pretty new Crockpot. The Crockpot had been my Christmas gift from Meir. She assumed I couldn’t possibly screw up with a Crockpot. It was packaged with a little recipe booklet. The beef stew seemed doable. Supper was going to be good! I added a little more than the recommended pinch of black pepper. A big pinch of black pepper… the entire shaker. The top wasn’t screwed on well, and when I went to sprinkle, the top fell into my stew. I grabbed a big spoon and skimmed all the excess pepper off the top, thinking I managed to save the stew.
I was (not so) pleasantly surprised when my husband invited a friend for supper. I didn’t object, his friend was a single airman, far from home, and we had enough stew to go around. The two of them loaded up their bowls, and we ate.
At the first bite, our guest started to sweat. Two more bites and he refilled his water glass. Five more bites, and he asked for loaf bread. Bless his heart, he never said a word about the extra fire in my stew. He thanked me, left, and likely suffered heartburn for days.
I decided I would keep my butt out of the kitchen. I clearly didn’t belong there.
I never owned up to the self rising flour or sudden shortage of pepper in the shaker. On the bright side, I’ve never had another uninvited supper guest, and I’ve managed to steer clear of the kitchen until now. Here’s to history not repeating itself.
Be blessed, Y’all.