I was not always as good a cook as I am now. Don’t believe me? Here are a few examples from my past:
· Shortly after my divorce I decided to be creative on my son’s birthday. At a local restaurant I’d eaten what they called a “mud pie,” which I think featured chocolate pudding, or maybe ice cream, along with some exotic ingredients. So I decided to make Jeff a mud pie. I had no idea how to do it, but I thought a trip to the grocery store would give me some inspiration. It didn’t. We had not yet been blessed by google, so I approached a competent-looking woman near the ice cream and asked her, “Do you know how to make a mud pie? I want to make one for my son’s birthday, but I don’t know how.” After a long pause, she shook her head and said, “You get some dirt, and you get some water . . ..” I thanked her and quickly walked away.
· When my sons visited me at my apartment, on non-pizza nights I would cook. Most of the time I prepared what we came to describe as “The Yellow Meal”: mac and cheese (courtesy of Kraft) corn and applesauce. Sometimes I’d substitute Rice-a-Roni for the mac. And sometimes, to vary the color scheme, I’d fix carrot sticks. The meal was generally a success, largely because I told them that if they didn’t like it, they’d get The Green Meal. They never asked what it was.
· I decided to use my cooking skills to aid my courtship of Kim. When we first started dating I decided to prepare trout almandine. This time I had a recipe, but it was not detailed enough. I looked up “saute” in the dictionary, so I was OK there. I’d purchased the almonds, but closer inspection of the recipe indicated that they had to be sliced. Slicing them turned out to be a slow and painful process with my not very sharp kitchen knife. I later explained to Kim that the unusual taste was probably blood from my fingers. She explained that stores sell blanched slivered almonds. Blanched?
· I had a similar experience when I chose to prepare beef stew for Kim. She gave me some tips about browning the meat before dumping it into the pot, but then she retired to the living room to see what I’d come up with. The recipe mentioned something about adding “a clove of garlic,” but I did not know what a “clove” was, so just to be sure, I dumped in the lemon-sized thing I’d purchased. About 45 minutes later Kim wandered into the kitchen, perhaps drawn there by the smell. She was able to scoop out the pulpy mass before my garlic stew was totally inedible.
· After a few of my cooking adventures, I learned to add a step at the beginning of some of the few recipes I used: “Turn off smoke alarm.”
Kim is convinced that my kitchen struggles are deliberate – that my dangerous incompetence is designed to get me out of kitchen work. Not so! My incompetence is real! It was Kim who encouraged me to work as a Starbucks barista, explaining to my manager that I am “kitchen challenged,” and barista work might help with the problem. It has, for I am now in charge of making coffee and, when I can get the espresso machine to work, cappuccino.
But that’s not all! I can peel carrots and potatoes, and I can shave cabbage to make coleslaw. I fill glasses with water when I set the table, and I’m a whiz on the toaster. When Kim is having sore back days (sorer than usual, that is – her back is always sore), I will remove heavy items from the oven. On occasion I am asked to use my most impressive kitchen skill – reaching things on high shelves. And when Kim is working on a particularly complex meal and I ask if I can help, she often answers, “Yes, by staying out of my way.” We do what we can.
Meanwhile, Kim is trying to train me to cook in the event that she dies before I do. She suggests that I learn to cook five easy meals (perhaps a nod to Jack Nicholson in “Five Easy Pieces”). Five seems a bit unrealistic at this point, but I think I can do it if Kim is standing next to me.