I am not a good cook. I suppose that’s not really something to be boastful about or even suggest I feel grateful for this lacking of mine. But here’s the thing: every now and then I am a good cook, a bit of a flash in the pan, but a good cook nonetheless. I can often prepare a meal that is somewhat tasty and reasonably edible, but every now and then, such as every blue moon or leap year, I prepare a meal and absolutely knock it out of the park. And I am extremely grateful for that. It keeps hope alive for those who gather at my table.
Last Christmas was just one of those events. I know it’s a bit of past tense thing, but Christmas is approaching and the pressure to repeat is building. I walked around for several months with a proud smile on my face and an upright posture, wanting to stop traffic to announce to anyone who will listen, “I did it!”, and I must say I’m a bit fearful of having set the bar too high. But I am grateful for that fabulous meal.
I know I run the risk of sounding vain, but I ask you to consider Nelson Mandela’s 1994 Inaugural Address (that everyone from Snoopy to Oprah has referenced and I’ve also read it wasn’t Mandela at all who said this but actually Marianne Williamson, an American spiritual activist and author, but I think it has more clout coming from Mandela).
Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you … As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
Undoubtedly, this is good advice and a message we should all heed. So I am going to bask in that moment of success for having not sent my guests home with botulism or dysentery. And I think you other mediocre cooks can be chuffed-up by that triumph despite its not being recent.
Growing up, I often felt and demonstrated a rather smug confidence that I got to feed hay and fork manure while my dear sister was stuck in the house cooking. I may have verbally expressed my great fortune with a na-na-na-na-na. Everyone please take note: the above approach is never a good one, especially if you run out the back door laughing like a chimp with your arms waving over your head. Take it from me. My sister got me in the end; she is an incredible cook, can prepare a banquet in the blink of an eye and every meal is astoundingly delicious while all the while appearing effortless. There isn’t a lot of demand for inviting friends over to demonstrate my hay-throwing and manure-forking skills; it just doesn’t measure up in the end. Who knew?
When I cook, I have to plan as though I am invading another country: research, lists, timing, using every dish in the house, a dictionary of culinary terms, and a constant expressing of what on earth spice is that. And when I am done, the kitchen is unrecognizable. I have washed every dish about four times and a biohazard sign should be posted on my back door. I’ve thought the mess would warrant a kitchen-sized backhoe and even considered inventing one. I’ve also wondered if a kitchen design wouldn’t be more suitable where everything is covered in ceramic tile, with air-tight cupboards, and I could just pressure wash the whole place while wearing an astronaut suit. I think that would be easier than what I am usually faced with.
Back to the meal. I brined the turkey for fifteen hours in a five-gallon pail with some lovely fragrant ingredients and what seemed like an excessive amount of coarse salt. The result: fabulously moist meat. All the vegetables, including the pumpkin pie, came from our garden. I cooked half of them the night before and only had to heat them up for the big moment. I followed some tips like placing the empty pie shell in the oven on the pulled out rack and filling it to the brim there so as not to have to try to carry it across the kitchen with my rather unsteady hands. Worked like a charm.
The problem is when I experience a culinary masterpiece, I don’t want to cook again for several weeks. I walk around as though I’ve earned a stay of execution and someone should feed me like I’m somebody important. There are no willing takers. I liken it to a marathon runner having just finished the 26.2 miles (I mean 42.1 kilometers) being asked to walk the dog: Are you crazy?
The compliments regarding my meal eventually fade away and I’m left with what’s for dinner, to which I usually shrug and suggest pancakes. Whenever my father was left in charge of a meal, it was invariably pancakes and often too many. If it was good enough for him …