LAST DECEMBER A FRIEND OF MINE handed me a wrapped bottle of seasonal soap and said, “Merry Christmas. I do everything in my power to avoid baking anything for others.”
Ditto, sister. Last year I gave loved ones cellophane bags of oranges, cranberries, and cinnamon sticks to boil on the stove as Christmas potpourri. I didn’t, however, warm my own pot of stove-top potpourri because there was an excellent chance I’d boil it dry and start my house on fire.
I am the kitchen idiot. My mama told me if I could read a recipe, I could cook. But somewhere between the words on the page and my brain, things get complicated. I hate buying random spices like coriander (so small but so expensive), so I leave them out. I never read through the entire recipe, so I fail to reserve one-fourth cup of sugar for topping and add it all to the batter itself. And on it goes.
It doesn’t help that my sister is the kitchen goddess. Dressed in ruffled apron, she makes cupcakes topped with chocolate-dipped strawberries or whips up rich and indulgent Crème Anglaise to dress a bowl of blueberries—but I’d eat that stuff on top of anything, even a hotdog. She swears by something called a Silpat, weighs ingredients for French macarons (don’t pronounce it wrong!) using a scale, and has bakeware and cupcake liners bursting from her cupboards. I have cute cereal bowls and don’t put anything in them except cereal. Now that’s a meal I can make, and my kids love it.
Last week I tried to take a pan from the oven with one of my beloved polka-dotted towels and burned a hole right through it. No kidding, two days later my grandma told me never to remove anything from the oven with a towel. Too little, too late, Granny.
And then when I got crazy and decided to tackle a turkey last Thanksgiving, I cut the onions, celery, and carrots for the vegetable bed before I took a good look at the bird and realized it was still frozen solid in the center. When I started trying to thaw it in the kitchen sink right before bedtime, my husband said, “Why don’t you just wait and cook it another day? You’re going to be up all night.” Too logical, that’s why I didn’t come up with the solution myself. I won’t even mention the time I cooked a turkey with those nasty bags of leftover parts still inside the bird’s cavities.
The kitchen goddess told me not to complain about my lack of abilities because she only got where she is by practice. Well, I make dinner every night, and my fare is still lackluster. How much cooking is required before I improve?
So my short-term goals won’t include anything lofty like, “Perfect the airy soufflé” or “Make a moist turkey”—you know, the kinds of goals for real home cooks that, for me, are pipe dreams. Instead, I’ll be aiming low, and here are my goals: Master five dinner recipes and two desserts. That way, at least if I take the same dessert to every potluck, it’ll taste good and look good on a cake stand. Because if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s collecting good-looking cake stands. Take that, kitchen goddess. ♣