Thursday, August 24, 2006
On Cooking, Myopia and Mom's Dieting Myths
I loved Jude’s hilarious story, Life's Most Embarrassing Moments, about the perils of cooking for a date...I guess you could say it inspired me to unload here, too...
I’ll always remember when I knew for sure I was a lousy cook. Also nearsighted.
The suburban ranch house where I grew up had a utility room which contained the washer, dryer, power tools, building supplies and also the food pantry. One day (I was about 13) I decided to bake a birthday cake for my father. Congratulating myself on remembering all the incredients and not burning the cake -- this had been an issue in the past -- I went in to get the confectioner’s sugar for the frosting. I brought the yellow bag back to the kitchen, measured it out, and mixed it up. The first odd thing I noticed was that the batter got very heavy and grainy. But I was in a hurry, so I laboriously plowed my way through it, added some bright blue food coloring, and frosted the cake, putting it in the fridge. The second thing I noticed was that there was a LOT of icing left over. But again, because dinner was starting, I just stashed the bowl, with the spatula still in it, in the fridge.
After dinner, I went in to get out the cake and was disconcerted, to say the least, to find that I could barely lift it. Hauling it over to the kitchen counter, I subsequently discovered that the birthday candles wouldn’t go in it -- nor, I found out, would a knife or anything else. I called everybody in there to look at it. My dad, trying to keep a straight face, asked to see the confectioner’s sugar bag. It was, of course, not confectioner’s sugar at all but Sakrete (powdered cement). After we stopped laughing, my dad took the bowl of excess icing, added a little water, carried it outside and, giggling, started plugging cracks in the sidewalk. For years, until the house was finally torn down (to build a hideous McMansion complete with aluminum siding, lawn jockeys and a golf weathervane), I could see those bright blue specks every time I entered or left the house. And the cake? Well, let’s just say that we had a bright blue doorstop for a long time after.
Lord knows I wanted to learn to cook. But frankly, when you live alone, you aren’t very motivated -- Lean Cuisine is your best friend. Every time I actually tried to make something, I’d make four times too much, end up eating more of it than I should, and throw out the leftover science experiment in the back of the fridge a month later. Or I’d "cook" dinner for friends, they’d gingerly sample it, smile brightly, and ask to see a takeout menu.
Hope springs eternal -- I did once insist on cooking Beef Stroganoff for a date; nobody told me that you aren’t supposed to use ground beef, and unfortunately, the noodles ended up in one large, solid lump at the bottom of the pan. Somewhere that guy is still laughing.
My mom was a reasonably good cook, except when it came to recipes that called for liquor -- she would invariably end up knocking back most of it while she was cooking, so the alcohol would seldom make it into whatever dish she was making. You haven’t lived until you’ve had Beef Burgundy without the burgundy. And it’s tough to flambe something using only water.
She did have some interesting rules about food, though...she claimed that a) if nobody actually sees you eat it, it has no calories (ideal for those who snack in front of the fridge at 3 in the morning), b) if you eat only the broken cookies, the calories leak out the broken end, and c) diet soda and fattening foods cancel each other out. I think she was kidding.
Posted by Pink Armchair at 9:20 PM