Gordon Ramsay would be ashamed of me if he ever stumbled across me in a kitchen.
(I am convinced that Gordon Ramsay would be great friends in other environments, but I would have to go to extraordinary lengths to avoid being around him in any sort of dining venue. Even ordering dinner when someone else is cooking would be stressful, because he seems like one of those people who firmly believes that chicken tenders belong on the children’s menu.)
I have never experienced “The Joy of Cooking.” I am also a notorious kitchen rule-breaker. I start improvising, and things start going wrong.
Here are just of the few of the stories I whip out at family gatherings when my grandmother asks why I’m not helping with dinner:
When I was seven, I decided I wanted to surprise my mom with some homemade dessert. Probably sparked by a movie or a Mother’s Day commercial, I decided it would be nice to whip up a bowl of butterscotch pudding and leave it in the fridge for her – a little congealed reminder of my love for her!
I had never tasted butterscotch pudding. I’d barely experienced chocolate or vanilla. But for some reason, I was confident in my pudding-making abilities. I waited in my room until I knew my parents were asleep, then snuck down to the kitchen.
It took me ten minutes to sloooowly extract a mixing bowl. (I had been successfully completing midnight snack raids since preschool, so I had a good understanding of my limitations when it came to late-night kitchen noise.) Then I scaled the pantry shelves with expert precision to reach the butterscotch chips hidden behind the marshmallows.
I floated half the bag of butterscotch chips in a big splash of milk, tossed in a caramel candy or two for good measure, gave it a stir, and put the bowl in the refrigerator.
The next morning, my mother discovered her “surprise.” Unfortunately, the pudding had not magically formed overnight as I had hoped. Nor did my mom weep tears of joy and gratitude at my selfless act, as I hoped. Instead, she made me fish out all the butterscotch chips with a spoon and dry them off so they could be used later.
Lesson Learned: No good deed goes unpunished. No butterscotch chips go uneaten.
I loathe smoothies. Why haven’t we, as a species, evolved past eating cold, pureed fruit?
However, in a very long phase of weight consciousness and a very short phase of middle school optimism, I had designed a meal plan based almost entirely around smoothies and salad. I arrived in the kitchen on Day One prepared for smoothie bliss, only to find that we didn’t have fresh blueberries or frozen mango chunks. No matter. Fruit is fruit, right?
I sliced an apple in half, carved out the seeds, and threw both halves into the blender. I found a forgotten pear in the crisper drawer and scooped out the soft spots, then sprinkled a handful of grapes on top.
Crap – out of yogurt, too. No big deal, it’ll just be a light smoothie! (My go-with-the-flow attitude definitely plays a heavy hand in my inability to correctly prepare food.) I sloshed some milk over the chunks of fruit and blended my masterpiece together.
Now that I am older and wiser, I realize that absolutely none of my ingredients are typically used in smoothies. In fact, what I made probably can’t even be classified as a smoothie. It was more of a deconstructed fruit salad soup.
Chunks of apple and pear bobbed in the milk. Loose grape skins stuck to the inside of my glass. I chewed on a stem that hadn’t been properly removed.
My mom made me drink the whole thing.
Lessons Learned: Don’t compare apples to oranges. Neither of them belong in a smoothie.
In a move that says more about my priorities than possibly anything else I have ever done, one of the first trips I made using my brand new driver’s license was to the grocery store. It was an exercise of freedom – I was now able to go and get whatever snack my mom refused to buy.
Beaten down from all of my previous failures in the kitchen, I was wandering the aisles looking for Doritos when something caught my eye. Finally – something that is literally impossible to mess up! Jell-O is easy; just read the side of the box. “Add water and chill.” Those are two things I am really good at doing!
I triumphantly drove the 0.25 miles back to my house, Jell-O in hand.
Here’s the thing, though. I don’t like overly concentrated flavors. Every fruit juice I drink gets watered down. Sweet tea makes me gag. I water down flavored water. So I thought I’d water my Jell-o down a little bit. Jell-o Lite!
Except that’s not how gelatin works.
I ended up with oozy green Jell-o sludge. It was almost a science experiment – “Is it liquid or solid?” It was like Flubber, but if you melted him halfway and left him for dead. If you dragged a spoon through the soupy mixture, it clumped up and then slid off when you tried to bring it to your mouth.
And – you guessed it – my mom made me eat the whole thing.
Lessons Learned: Just marry a man who can cook.
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