I absolutely love to cook. I adore cookbooks and my spice rack rivals Emerils (sorry JohnnyMac there is no remaning space in that pantry for anything you might want.) Dinner parties are one of my favorite things to host and the number of people attending never makes me flinch.
And this past weekend, as I simultaneously made a three layer cake, frosting for said cake, strawberry-mascarpone pizza, and piped filling into deviled eggs (according to my little brother, the hors d'ouvres that is making a comeback) I thought not only how great it was my Mom is such an awesome sous chef as I was in the "please sift this..." and "please simmer this..." frame of mind, but also that I have come a long, long way in the kitchen.
Once in high school, I attempted French Toast. I emulated steps I had many times witnessed in our kitchen. Egg, milk, mix, dip. Place bread in the pan. Except I left it in the pan. For apparently about 10 minutes too long. Smoking pan not a signal? Non. And once I removed the single piece of French toast or French Soot as it was in this case, there remained a perfect black outline of the bread. A permanent scar and the reason my Mom told me to take a long vacation from her domain.
The summer after my freshman year of college, I lived in our house in Seattle. Alone. My parents had moved to Alaska but kept our house in Seattle. Orphaned for the summer, I survived on fruit and cereal for three months. A male friend called one night and offered to come over for dinner. How tricky, you rogue. It is called inviting yourself.
I assured him I had no culinary skills and doubted he had a palate for Cream of Wheat. He laughed and tried to coax me in his foxy voice saying I could just make whatever I knew how. A good listener? No because clearly I just told him. So when he arrived I gave him red Kool Aid and a bowl of popcorn. Did it matter? No. Because had I realized at the time his primary objective I could have just stood at the door in a nurse’s uniform holding a 12 pack. Silly boy. Going hungry is just what you get.
I attempted only minor nibbles for a long span of years ahead. Apparently I thought healthy living included hundreds of scrambled egg whites (microwave version), chips and salsa which I ate religiously, protein shakes, and vitamins. Oh, and the occasional splash of alcohol which was likely Keystone Light and Vodka Lemonade back then.
One day in grad school, I flipped through a food mag at the grocery. I saw the most amazing recipe that reminded me of this incredible dish my Mom makes. I bought the mag and crafted a plan. I would make dinner for this boy I was fraternizing with at the time. Cracked Pepper Linguine? That can make any man’s mouth dance.
The recipe was simple and straightforward. Upon his arrival to my abode, he commented that it smelled fantastic. I appreciate that this is now a cautionary tale. For the neophyte cook, the recipe has a definitive function which is why it is called THE RECIPE and not “Notes from the Theater of Improv.” I didn’t realize that “cracked pepper” and “ground pepper” are not to be used in lieu of one another in the same quantities. Uh oh. And since I didn’t know, how could I have warned my dinner guest?
One bite in and his face turned quite red. Being as courteous as possible, he said, “Wow, that is very peppery.” And then I tasted it. Spitting it on the plate was a serious temptation. One pound of pepper for one pound of pasta? I will pass but it was too late. Since the food had to be thrown out, I offered to at least serve the herbed bread I made. I placed it under the broiler…and just a wee bit too close so the bread was almost touching the broiler element. Which heated it up alright. And then caught it on fire. Fire extinguisher and garlic flavored coal do not a dinner make. The muppetized Swedish Chef wouldn't have blundered as much.
Take out? Certainly. My inner Giada de Laurentiis could slumber for another day. And when I finally did start cooking and really learning about cooking, I can only look back on these mistakes and laugh. And I have never caught food on fire since. At least not unintentionally.