Today’s Music: Fountains of Wayne
So after I left the restaurant business, I was a burnt out husk of a man, in dire need of a haircut. And a shave.
And I hated cooking.
If I couldn’t boil it, nuke it, or eat it out of the bag, I wasn’t making it for myself.
When people would ask me cooking questions, I would violently refuse to answer them.
I took a 10 month vocational program, collected unemployment and learned how to maintain computers.
And I didn’t cook.
Four months later, I met the most wonderful girl in the universe, who would later agree to be my wife.
But first I had to hook her.
We went out on a few dates – nights out for dinner, as well as day trips. Then one day, I asked her to come over for dinner. She said yes.
Excellent! But now I would have to cook for her.
We’d talked a bunch about food (I managed to be calmer than I had been, since I didn’t want to scare her off – hey, save the exciting demons to spice up the relationship later on, I say), and I knew what she liked and didn’t, and some foods she just wouldn’t eat.
I settled on the basic chili recipe I had used, and modified it to be neither too hot, nor have beans. She hates beans.
Ground beef, crushed tomatoes, peeled tomatoes, mushrooms, carrots, cumin and some other seasonings (probably salt and sage, among others). Saute the vegetables, add the meat, season and cook that, drain off the fat, add the tomatoes, bring it all up to a nice simmer for a little while, and throw it all over some rice.
But even the act of making that simple dish, one I could make in my sleep (even the vegetable chopping), was elevated to me. Here I was, doing something that I had run screaming from, but I was doing it for someone I really really liked, and I had a skill that I could use to demonstrate that affection.
Plus what girl doesn’t like a guy who cooks?
She came over. I may have done something silly with candles. I probably gave my roommate beer money so he would head out. And we enjoyed our meal.
It wasn’t intricate or gourmet. It was two people having a lovely evening over food one of them had prepared for both of their enjoyment.
And I loved it.
And ten years later I married that girl.
She said that me being able to cook wasn’t the reason. But it was a spiffy side benefit..
But not all the dishes we’ve made since then were keepers.
One of the worst:
I had a block of Tofu. And a wok. And some vegetables and rice.
What could possibly go wrong?
SQUEEZE THE TOFU. Put it under a weight and let the water ooze out of it. That’s what all the recipes say. But I cooked for a living. I know what I’m doing. Yea, right.
So basically I ended up with a big wok full of…well…glop, really. The tofu didn’t brown, the rice kept steaming into a blob of starch from all the extra water, and the vegetables (also steamed to hell) were limp and uninteresting.
And there’s only so much damage that can be covered by throwing in Chines 5 Spice.
But there was about $6 dollars worth of food int that pot, and I didn’t want to throw it all away.
So I ate it. For the next 2 days.
Made my wife a delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead.
Because I love her and don’t use food as punishment.
We had a fondue pot. It was a gift. the difference between ours and everyone elses though, was that we were using ours.
The pot wasn’t the problem. The recipe was.
We followed the recipe. I swear.
Now, I’m notorious for glancing through a recipe, then doing whatever I want. But this time, we followed the recipe.
Used the right measurements. The right techniques. I even measured the wine for goodness sakes. Before I drank some of it.
But the recipe didn’t work.
The fondue wouldn’t thicken.
We added a bit more cheese. Then more flour. Tried some cornstarch.
So, my wife and I, looking at each other over the pot, thought it was ruined.
“Not totally ruined” I said. “Maybe we can turn it into a nice cheese soup”.
I went to the closet, gathered some other ingredients and spices, and went back to the kitchen.
“This should fix it”, I said confidently.
I took lids off everything, started adding various things, adjusting the heat, stirring, whisking..
The soup started to take shape. I tasted it. Needed something. So I popped the lid off the Cajun Spice, and went to do a hard shake – not to overpower it, just to get enough spice to come through the shaker top.
Which it didn’t have.
So half the jar came out.
My wife and I looked at the pot, then at each other, with the same expression of surprise and dismay that I think would happen if I parked my car, got out, then turned to see it rolling off a cliff.
We looked at the pot then back at each other.
“Ok”, I said. “Now it’s ruined.”
For dinner that night, the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were delicious.
It was the recipe. We’ve since regathered our courage and tried fondue again. It has come out excellently.
And now, whenever we have a cooking debacle, the standard for edibility we use is “Better or Worse than Cajun Cheese Soup”.