Earlier this year, I noticed that I was lacking in the arena of culinary prowess. I could reliably concoct such delicacies as cut up vegetables with ranch dressing, cheese and pickle sandwiches, pizza pockets, and microwave popcorn – but those dishes lacked panache, even if served on the nice plates. I decided that since I have oodles of time, I might as well do something productive with it and learn to cook.
The problem with being single and trying to learn to cook is that you always wind up with tons of extra goodies. It’s tough to eat one splurge meal and then go back to a heathy diet of chicken chunks, roasted broccoli and quinoa when there’s a five layer chocolate cake and 4 pounds of lasagna sitting in your fridge. Also, I’ve been taught my entire life that wasting food is the moral equivalent of hitting a starving person in the face with a baseball bat. Even if I can’t exactly tell you where the starving children are, I know they’re somewhere and they’re very angry that I fed the extra pasta to the dog.
My inelegant solution to the Leftover Conundrum is to invite my parents and friends over to eat, and then load them down with all the extra stuff. The problem with feeding the Rev and the G.P. is that Dad is a finicky eater. He passionately despises every white condiment and sauce; mayonnaise being the prime offender. However, the G.P. loves pie the way Scrooge McDuck loves gold, and the promise of the dessert greatly increases the probability that Dad will show. I’m pretty sure he’d swim in pie given appropriate amounts and a little privacy. Mom is much easier. I called her last Tuesday and told her I was craving coconut shrimp and invited them over for a Friday night pig out. The Rev didn’t hesitate. “We’re IN!” she exulted, not even bothering to check with Dad.
I decided the menu would consist of coconut shrimp, French fries, fried breaded cod, a cucumber salad with a simple vinaigrette, homemade bread, and strawberry rhubarb pie. My friend Tamara offered to bring ingredients for fresh mango margaritas.
On Friday, I got up early to start cooking. My bread had to proof for a couple of hours before I could pop it in the oven, so I opened my new cookbook to the page that read: “Foolproof Pie Crust.” I started gathering ingredients …until I got to the line that read “1/4 cup of vodka.” Um…what? I read the text again, and then the entire recipe which said that the vodka helps make the crust moist enough to roll out easily, but evaporates so that the result is a “flaky and soft.” That sounded a little like dandruff to me, but I had vowed to actually do all the steps of the recipe, rather than just the ones that seemed sane. I had, however, recently consumed my emergency medicinal vodka because it was critical that I watch a Lifetime Television for Women movie of the week, and I needed to turn off 83% of my brain to enjoy it.
I rode my bike to the booze palace, taking Stadler (who thinks cheese sandwiches are the culinary equivalent of dinner service at the Ritz) along. It was only 8:30 in the morning. The lights were on, but the doors were locked. We peeped through the windows, Stadler’s black nose leaving a delicate snot print, but no one was there. Store hours weren’t posted, but morning exercise makes me insufferably positive, so I cheerily thought I’d try again later, and rode home.
At 10:30, we returned to the now bustling store. I blithely asked the clerk for her cheapest bottle of vodka. Still wearing my dog jogging outfit (which is basically a ragtag assemblage of holey clothes worn in optimistic layers to prevent slips of nips and nether cheeks), I looked pretty messy and sweaty. The look the clerk gave me resembled the frigid glare of a librarian who has just caught a tontine of teenagers gleefully defacing a rack of public health pamphlets celebrating “The Wonders of the Human Prostate.”
“It’s for baking!” I cried, defensively. “I only need 2 ounces.”
“Oh, well how about these small bottles of Absolut. They’re $2 each,” she sailed smoothly from suspicion into sales mode.
“What’s that one over there for $1.78,” I responded, eyeing a pint on the lowest shelf.
“That’s more than you need,” she said, misgivings restored.
“Just the alcohol content is important.” I insisted.
“Okay,” she tersely replied, ringing up the small bottle with exaggerated irritation.
I was still riding high on endorphins, and so didn’t immediately grasp that my ratty apparel and sweaty dishevelment caused the saleslady to think that I was one bandana on a stick away from being an alcoholic hobo whom she’d ultimately have to evict from her parking lot for publically swilling rot gut hooch while arguing with vodka induced Valkyries. It’s also possible that she witnessed my curious Labrador and myself peeping (creepily) through her store windows. Plus, Stadler did leave a snot print. That tends to irritate some people. I made a mental note to wear a hat and extra-large sunglasses next time. Incognito is often the only way to go.
Dinner went very well. My Dad was satisfied with the fare, going so far as to say that the coconut shrimp was “delicious” and that it was amazing how you could make much better meals at home than you can get at restaurants, for less money – completely dismissing the fact that it took me 8 hours to prepare the meal and two to clean it all up. As I was packing up leftovers in my Hillbilly Tupperware (cottage cheese tubs I save for leftover dispersal, since anyone born after 1985 is categorically unable to wash and return borrowed dishes) the G.P. allowed that although my strawberry rhubarb pie was “perfect,” I was a flawed chef.
“I’ll bet you have mayonnaise in your refrigerator!” he accused.
“Sure do,” I replied.
“Gross!” he snorted, disgusted.
“Be sure to bring my pie home,” he ordered the Rev, and walked out my front door.
The Rev took a genteel sip of her margarita, and said (with a sly grin), “Someday, I’m going to tell that son of a bitch what’s in his beloved deviled eggs.”
She did bring him his pie, though. Love endures.