In a recent column about cooking incompetence, I compared myself to Linda, an old friend who’s currently ahead of me in our Worst Cook competition. Our kitchen stories would make a great screenplay. If “Julie & Julia” was a lighthearted, feel-good comedy, “Jean & Linda” would be a heart-burned, feel-sick horror.
Since that column, both of our husbands had birthdays. Not surprisingly, neither of us prepared their favorite home-cooked dinner. That’s because there is no favorite. Instead, our meals are filed under “What’s this?”; “I hope this tastes better than it looks/smells”; and “Do we have any cereal?”
The last birthday dinner Linda cooked for her husband was her signature dish: tuna casserole. Oddly enough, my go-to meal was also tuna casserole ... until I kept forgetting to put in tuna. By the way, cream of mushroom egg noodle soup didn’t even make “What’s this?”
It was about 10 years ago when Linda served tuna casserole on the evening of her husband’s birthday. He looked at it and muttered, “Not again,” complaining that she was making it twice a week. (Pride and shock from putting together an edible one-dish wonder had caused her to be overenthusiastic.) She hasn’t made it since, which was noted by industry analysts after the sudden drop in Starkist sales.
Although I don’t cook dinner on my husband’s birthday, I’m thoughtful enough to make an annual empty gesture.
Me: “What do you want me to make for your birthday?”
Husband: “You mean like a card?”
Me: “No, like food.”
Husband: “Nothing. I don’t want to use up my sick time.”
I bluff until he finally confesses, “I’m not comfortable with you in there.” (It’s not a “kitchen” when I’m associated with it.) “I’d keep thinking about what’s going to happen.”
I knew he was referring to the Potholder Incidents.
In the spring of 2002, my husband, the family cook, was out of town. I decided to make breakfast for dinner for my children and a few of their friends. Because I was making a large quantity, I had to triple my usual recipe, so I read the instructions carefully: “Place frozen waffles on cookie sheet.”
When the timer went off, I reached in to remove the cookie sheet and somehow the potholder got burned ... singed ... it was flaming. Somehow it happened again two years later with the toaster oven. I’ve prepared more hot potholders than hot meals.
While my most infamous kitchen disasters involve potholders, Linda’s culinary weapon of choice is the crockpot. Just last week she managed to make a three-ingredient beef stew that her son (a brave Marine) and husband (a hardy tobacco chewer) wouldn’t touch. Instead, they sealed the mess into a Ziploc bag and carried it to the trash as though it were hazardous waste. Her husband “wouldn’t even call the neighbors and ask if their dogs would want it” – a decision that spared the dogs a visit to the vet and Linda a visit from PETA.
By far, however, the meal by which all botched meals are compared is Linda’s Grape Jelly Meatballs. Ironically, the recipe is called, “No Fail Meatballs.” According to Linda, “it calls for grape jelly, meatballs, barbecue sauce and something else.” It’s the “something else” that makes Linda’s cooking so special, not unlike the “somehow” that seared my potholders.
She “dumped” the ingredients in the crockpot one morning and by the time she got home, “the house smelled great.” After she ladled it out to her family, they “looked at their plates in horror as gobs of purple jelly sat congealed on the meatballs.” Her husband eventually suggested covering their eyes while eating. That did the trick – the neighbor’s dogs loved it.
[January 5, 2010]
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