Poor, Freddy. That’s my fiancé’s name. I tell you that despite my no-name policy for no other reason than this: He’s marrying me and will probably need some sympathy along the way – this way you can sympathize with him more directly.
You might think that I am being too critical, but I’m sure of it.
Particularly when it comes to the kitchen.
Freddy, as some of you may well know, is one of those people who is naturally gifted in about every activity he considers, maybe, of someday thinking about tackling. It’s fantastic! His gift, not surprisingly, carries into the preparation of meals. And in this case, it should; that’s sort of his industry.
Regardless, his skill sets are not so easily transferable. Or maybe I’m just a slow learner.
The first time I tried to cook him a meal, we were still dating. I made valpo for my college roommates at the time and invited him over. (I do realize this dish sounds a lot like “Alpo” which may get you thinking about dog food, but I assure you that it tastes more like goulash!). My mom had given me her recipe with strict directions to follow them as they were written. And I did.
The dish is a casserole and calls for Campbell’s condensed tomato soup. I, a stickler for the rules so as to avoid making a catastrophe out of a casserole, followed the instructions to the letter. When I picked up the can of condensed soup, I even followed those instructions to the letter! I joyfully filled up the emptied soup can with water and poured it in. I’m no fool.
Several minutes past the time that I was directed to remove the pan from the oven and after at least 10 repetitions of opening and closing the oven door to confirm what I had seen during the previous peeks, I realized what I had done. (For those of you gifted chefs – or even mediocre cooks – out there shaking your heads at my soggy casserole, I know that I should not have added water to the casserole now!).
I was devastated. I spent the entire meal with tears pouring down my face into my goulash stew. Not even the cheers of “It’s good this way!” and “I’m having seconds!” could pull me out of my despair.
It wasn’t until much later that I attempted a meal again. This time, I was calmed by the opportunity to cook alone in my apartment and simply dish out a plate when Freddy arrived after work. If tears came, I could whisk them away before anyone was the wiser.
I decided to cook chicken marsala. I can’t say that I remember ever eating chicken marsala prior to this meal, but my iPhone app made it seem pretty easy. So, after several times reading and rereading the directions, I made my decision to try it.
I should warn you that the saddest part of this meal is not that I added too much of this or not enough of that, but that I had prepared my own meal beforehand while waiting until it was late enough to start cooking his meal.
It should have stood out as a warning sign to me that I was not eating the food I was making.
I turned on the burners. I had several things going on at once but they all seemed to come together. I stirred the pans with ease and even decided to bake asparagus with some seasoning in the oven. It resulted in a mess of dishes and spills, but I thought this time I had captured the art of cooking.
Freddy got out of work later than expected and I kept the burners on low to keep the food warm. When he arrived, I hurried to make him a plate and set it down before him.
He took the first bite of chicken and his teeth stuck and unstuck as he chewed. That, however, could not have been my fault. If it was dry, it was certainly because I had to keep it over the heat for so long!
He picked up a limp, charred, and olive-oil-drenched asparagus and down the hatch it went.
We carried on small talk as he ate but before the meal was done, his stomach was doing most of the talking. He brushed it off and told me he was fine while continuing to swallow bite after bite. When he was finished, I cleared his plate and we both ventured to the couch to relax. He tried to sit just right so his stomach would stop grumbling but couldn’t get situated.
After several minutes of telling me not to worry, he jumped to his feet and explained that he would call me later. Out the door and up the stairs he ran, apologizing the entire way.
Two up. Two down.
Yesterday, he wanted to teach me how to grill. While the brats ended up tasting delicious (and without adverse side effects), the truth of the matter is that I asked him what to do the entire time. When I wasn’t asking him, I was asking his roommate. I should not be left unattended.
And though I have realized that I am not the best cook under pressure, I thought that maybe I would recognize some hidden talent if I cooked only for myself.
So, tonight I made a homemade pizza. Only I used “Just Add Water!” pizza dough from a bag. I thought it would be bland, so I peppered it with, well, pepper. And a touch of salt. And red pepper flakes. And a lot of oregano.
When I continued reading the instructions, I realized I didn’t have Crisco cooking oil to brush the dough; I decided to use olive oil and paint it with a spatula. I didn’t have a pizza pan either so I put some vegetable oil on a napkin and smeared down a cookie sheet. I chopped up tomatoes, mushrooms, green peppers, banana peppers, and added mozzarella, pepperoni, and black olives.
And then I set it to bake.
It didn’t burn. But it didn’t rise either. In fact, I am left with a bland, cracker-like crust that succeeds in tearing up a person’s stomach but carries zero flavor of any kind.
I wanted it to be healthier, so I added a layer of fresh tomatoes under the cheese, but it only made the toppings slide around on the pizza and mush in my mouth.
A total flop.
I have to believe that I’m destined to take after my mother, whose first meal as a married woman was homemade macaroni and cheese. It wasn’t until my father sat down and began cheerfully crunching through his plated glob of cheesy cement paste that she realized she had forgotten to cook the noodles.
What if I never learn to cook?