About Me

I have been cooking my way through life for over 50 years, beginning with mud pies as a child. I've turned a corner now and feel a Renaissance in my life. Recipes and Random Thoughts is my personal spin in a blog about how to prepare good food and how it prepares you for life. I want to share with you, honest to goodness food punctuated with perspective from the special memories and moments that have marked my journey.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Belly Flops

I just dropped a poached egg on the floor while removing it from the pan.  I broke another in the water.  Fortunately, my dogs took care of most of the mess on the floor and benefited from my latest cooking mishap. That's sort of a 'win-win'. I guess, I'm really not that great a cook either; I just like to cook.  Overall, my successes out score my errors but I've had some memorable "belly flops" that are just as significant in my cooking journey.  I call them belly flops because they're just like that mighty leap off the diving board that's slightly miscalculated and WHOP! Smacked, stinging and red, you slowly crawl to the edge with the wind knocked out of you.  Sometimes,  I have those great cooking aspirations but the execution is lacking; that's a culinary belly flop .

Certain belly flops are worthy of recognition, most are minor like the poached egg mess this morning.  Hubby claims burned broccoli is one of my signature dishes. I've unwittingly served things that have picked up the flavor of silver polish or lighter fluid soaked briquettes. It happens when you have a busy life, just as long as you don't burn the house down or give someone food poisoning.  Here are a few memorable culinary episodes that I don't mind sharing even though I thought I'd die at the time. I suppose they've taught me to be organized, conscientious and more forgiving of myself in the kitchen.  Those perfect dinner parties only happen on the Food Network.

P.V. Rice - The first official belly flop occurred a few months after I married and my new husband invited P. V. Rice to dinner.  He was a bit country so don't ask me why I thought chicken baked in sour cream and red wine would be an elegant meal for him.  It looked like blueberry yogurt on the plate and tasted ghastly.  The rice baked in stock was a crunchy, soupy mess.  I was red faced but the gentleman politely said, "That's OK, I likes my rice crunchy."  Bless his heart.  He gave us one of my favorite wedding presents of the many we received.  An ice cream churn.  A wooden tub with a tin cylinder that required ice and salt to freeze the ice cream mixture. I wish I still had it instead of the modern plastic version I have now.

Divorce at 8 - We moved to Denver in 1981. I was a new mother and spent my days caring for baby and cooking my way through Bon Appetite each month.  Anxious to make friends, we invited two couples for dinner. I decided to serve Chicken Country Captain; a good reliable 'company for dinner' dish.  Now, packaged grocery store chicken in the Mile High City comes frozen completely solid and you had to factor in extra thaw time at that altitude.  So I thawed, browned and baked the chicken as the recipe required, not realizing the bones would stay frozen much longer than the meat. 

The couples arrived and the evening progressed pleasantly enough until we poised our forks over the chicken.  The first cut revealed still pink chicken with streaks of blood.  There was no microwave back then to zap the dish into order and frankly I was panicked until one of the men suddenly slammed his fork down, stood up and announced he had to go to the office (at 8:30 on Saturday night?).  What followed looked like the scene out of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?" where George and Martha tear each other to pieces.   Instead of dinner at 8, this was divorce at 8.  I began to hope he'd throw his plate so I wouldn't have to deal with the chicken. The husband eventually stomped out abandoning his distressed wife and leaving the rest of us slack jawed. Somehow, the undercooked chicken pulled the trigger on their marriage?  The party broke up quickly and it all went in the garbage.  Biggest Belly Flop.  He was having an affair and they did divorce.  Funny thing is, that guy's a marriage counselor now.

You'll Know Dinner's Ready When the Smoke Alarm Goes Off - We moved back home and had another baby.  The children slept together in a bedroom adjacent to the kitchen and we prudently installed a smoke detector just outside their room.  I had a self cleaning oven but running it ran up the electric bill so I never used it and was not about to clean the oven myself.  So the recipe for trouble involved a sleeping 3 year old and toddler, a tenderloin, a dirty oven and 8 dinner guests. Those alarms will wake the dead much less two small children. The blaring alarm, the shrieking children, the scramble to find a ladder and unhook the alarm, the smokey kitchen when the oven door opened, ah, just another perfect dinner party with an unruffled hostess.  We ate, eventually, with children in our lap and later we all had to sleep in the same bed because they where too scared to go to their room.  I run my oven cleaner routinely now.

Chicken Pot Food Poison and The Lord Works In Strange Ways.-  My dearest friend had lost a son in 2001.  After months of grieving, I thought a change of scene might be helpful and invited her to my mountain home for the weekend with my parents coming along too.  Where ever we where, my mother always took charge of the kitchen even when it was my kitchen.  Daddy was really the better cook but they were at their best as a team.  It was a good idea to let them manage the meals while my friend and I went off for the day and did other things. 

They had made chicken pot pie for Saturday evening.  My mother's version began with a large hen stewed the day before. I noticed the uncovered stock pot with the broth sitting on the stove just before bed and assumed it would be refrigerated before she retired.  On Saturday, they stayed home cooking and we spent the day otherwise, returning home to a beautiful pie with other cooked fresh vegetable side dishes.  It looked wonderful until my friend poked the pie crust first.  Instead of the rich aroma of chicken, the foulest odor emerged.  I wasn't quite sure what I was smelling. A dead animal, perhaps.

It was still warm in September so we ate on the screened porch and the smell seemed to go away until I took a bite.  It was difficult to swallow and my taste buds were confused.  What had they put in this, Limburger Cheese?  I was debating a second bite until my mother said, "Does the pie taste strange to anyone?"  Well, yes!!  I thought, "we'll all be sick as dogs; the hospital is miles away; the septic tank will never handle this!" Daddy kept sampling until I begged him to stop. Back in the kitchen, the stench had permeated the whole house.  I began to connect the dots between the stock pot and spoiled pie as I opened windows.

Somehow, we all escaped food poison, perhaps because the cooked pie killed most of the bacteria or we didn't eat much.  It was also an early signal things where changing in my parents but one thing never has changed about my mother.  She never admits she's wrong about anything and the spoiled broth was no exception.  She was certain the grocery must have sold her a bad chicken. She chewed out the poor butcher who gave her another for free.

As for my friend, I hadn't seen her laugh like that in a very long time, in fact, I wasn't sure she ever would again.  She began to giggle at the table with her napkin over her mouth just like when we where silly kids and we knew we weren't suppose to do that at the table in front of our parents. The more we tried to stifle the worse it got.  My parents started to laugh and eventually, we laughed bent over until we cried and every time we tell the story we laugh until we cry.  At least, that pie provoked her laughter missing for too long.  The Lord certainly can work in strange ways.

Belly flops are painful when you hit the water but I always managed to crawl back on the diving board.

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