May 15, 2010
My mom’s a great cook, so I wasn’t prepared to be a klutz in the kitchen. It all started when I poured oatmeal and sugar in the bathtub to make oatmeal cookies back when I was four. Good thing I couldn’t lift the bag of flour.
By the time I was an adult, I was under the impression cooking was a breeze. But then I burnt boiled eggs, which I had previously thought impossible. Just a newlywed, I fell asleep on the couch and forgot them until I heard an explosion and smelled sulfur. The eggs had splattered the ceiling, as well as everything else.
Next I tried baking bread on my own. The recipe said to dissolve the yeast in water that was the temperature of bath water. I didn’t realize yeast was so sensitive. After all, the water I prepared was exactly the temperature of my showers. But when the dough didn’t rise, I put it down the garbage disposal. Its burned out motor was one of my more costly disasters, but I never killed the yeast again.
For my brother-in-law’s birthday, I made a chocolate cake, but it stuck to the pan. To salvage the cake, I mounded the chunks on a plate, poured thin frosting over it, covered it with shredded coconut, and added little Fisher Price trees and people for skiers. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law thought it was planned, but from then on, I greased and floured the cake pans.
Not only did I wreck my own offerings, but I destroyed a blackberry pie my mother-in-law had set on the stove to cool. I turned on the wrong burner to heat the tea kettle. The pie tin—berries and all—got melded to the burner, but fortunately, she was a gracious hostess and had a backup pie. She knew me better than I thought.
Once when we were living in Africa, I served fried chicken that was so tough that we named it Rubber Ducky. The chickens ran from one end of the village to the other, truly “free-range” before we’d ever heard the term. Ever afterwards, I pressure-cooked them.
Back when we got our first microwave, someone told us we could make S’mores without the campfire, so I nuked a marshmallow on a Corel saucer. When the marshmallow expanded, it just kept going until it was the size of a tennis ball, and then the plate flew apart. Fortunately, no one got hurt.
We’ve had lots of company over the years. Once when a family of six came to visit all the way from California, I wanted them to taste our wonderful Pacific NW seafood. So I put some salmon on the grill. When it was done to perfection, I carried the platter to the house where I bumped the sides of the doorway. The salmon slid off the platter and was strewn across the carpet, but our guests insisted we dust off the fish and eat it anyway. What troupers!
Another time when we had about twelve people coming for dinner, I decided to make a variety of quiches. I got so distracted inventing my own Chili Relleno Quiche with roasted poblano peppers that I forgot to pour the egg/milk mixture over the top. It wasn’t until I was cutting the quiches, with everyone sitting at the table, that I realized there wasn’t much to them. Again, our company was understanding. I’ve concluded conversation is the most important part of a meal anyway.
I burnt boiled eggs for the second time after our kids were grown. I put the eggs on to boil and went downstairs to practice my horn in the family room. This time, not only did the eggs explode, but also the aluminum from the base of Farberware sauce pan oozed out and melted onto the burner. Since then, someone taught me to boil eggs a better way: Put them in a saucepan, cover with cold water, bring them to a boil, remove the pan from the heat, cover with a lid, and let them sit for 5 minutes. For creamy yolks, let them sit for 4 to 4.5 minutes.
My new rule for all my cooking is—if I leave the kitchen, I have to take the timer with me. That doesn’t prevent me from forgetting ingredients, but at least I don’t burn things as often anymore.