My wife and I shouldn’t try to be nice in the kitchen. We’re well-intentioned people in general, but the kitchen is tricky. There’s so much that can go wrong. We should stick to being well-intentioned in simple places, like hallways. As far as I know, neither of us has a disastrous story about a hallway plan backfiring. (Yet. Stay tuned.) Kitchens are another matter altogether; our stories about kitchen disasters start early.
Almost immediately, in fact. We’d been going out for about two months when my wife decided to bake some cookies for me. It was the sort of plan that seemed like it couldn’t fail; who doesn’t like cookies? Who wouldn’t enjoy the gift of cookies?
Even more, my wife usually knows her way around a kitchen. The other night she made cookies that were so delicious that I literally woke up several times in the night to sneak more. They were just regular cookies too. The first cookies she baked for me were my favorite type, the type about which I secretly dream and plot.
Actually, to be honest, I’ve never been very secretive with my plots. When I was a younger version of my foolish self for example, I pledged that I would marry the first woman who baked them for me. (It only sounds like I’m joking.) At the time it seemed like a good litmus test. Besides, I wanted to make sure that I secured a lifetime supply. I really like my favorite cookies.
I was characteristically subtle and suave about it too, in the manner of grizzly bear falling out of a tree onto a pile of tubas. I’m pretty sure I told every woman I met about my little pledge. Oddly, none of them baked anything for me.
I guess they were playing it safe. It all worked out in the end; my wife baked my favorite cookies on her first try. They looked perfect too. In that way her cookies were much more subtle than I am, because they were hiding something rather important.
When she baked them, my wife decided to go the extra mile to make me happy. She doubled the recipe so that I would have more of a good thing. Unfortunately she forgot to double the amount of butter she used.
She didn’t realize it until later, and I didn’t know it when I got them. I just opened the box and saw my favorite cookies. Naturally I was ecstatic. Not only had I found the woman I was going to marry (because I thought I lived in a cartoon), but I had cookies. I grabbed one; I took a bite.
That bite took about five minutes, and hurt.
She had sent me a box of beautifully formed little cinnamon bricks. With some icing for mortar, I could have made the world’s most delicious-looking masonry. People might have come for miles to marvel at it. Then, if they had tried to take a bite, they could have stopped at the dentist office I would have had in place of a gift shop.
I ate every last one, however, because I’m stubborn. Not necessarily clever, but stubborn. Also they were weirdly addictive. Whenever I ate one, I felt like I had accomplished something significant. Each one was both a cookie and triumph. In fact, we should turn the mistake into money and market them as triumph cookies. We could sell them in grocery stores next to energy drinks and body-building protein shakes. They could have one of those bizarre / insulting slogans that are supposed to encourage physical fitness: “Don’t be a whiny loser! Winners don’t need to keep their real teeth!”
To this day my teeth are fragile and sensitive. That has nothing to do with the cookies, though. This just seemed like a dramatic place to include the fact.
Either way, I naturally proposed to my wife as soon as my jaw was out of traction…. Well, not exactly. But we did eventually get married. Then one day I tried to make my wife some chicken while she was out mowing our lawn. (She likes mowing the lawn. Honest. This is an example of me being a good husband. Except that, as a good husband, I might have instead gotten take out food from somewhere.)
I can cook, but only in a very loose sense. As long as I have a recipe and no one minds the process taking an unnecessarily long time, I can cook. When I don’t have a recipe, my efforts quickly devolve into elementary school science fair projects, the sort that never make it to the fair because they smell funny or look as though they were created by chimpanzees with anger issues.
You see, I’m not demanding when it comes to food. I could eat hamburgers, cereal and cheese pizza for the rest of my life and feel pretty good about it. Consequently, I don’t know how most foods taste, and I certainly can’t guess what flavors might combine well. I do know that my wife likes diversity in her meals, though, and that I like to make her happy. On the day of the tragic chicken incident, the longer she was outside mowing, the more I wanted her dinner to be special.
At first I was satisfied making it “savory.” I don’t really understand what the word “savory” means, but it translates in my mind as requiring a certain number of selections from our spice rack. I always have to chose arbitrarily, of course.
It might have been a disaster, but I like to think that everything was going well at first though. Unfortunately, mowing took longer than my wife anticipated. The problems began to snowball.
Soon I wanted to be able to serve chicken that was “gourmet,” but the longer the chicken cooked the more it tended toward “shriveled burnt mess.” I know now that I could have stopped cooking it at some point, but that didn’t occur to me at the time. I’m not the fastest horse in the stable.
Instead I figured that I should keep adding things. My understanding of “gourmet” usually involves an unreasonable level of complexity, so adding things furthered that goal. Also I figured that, if I added moist things, I might keep the chicken from catching fire. (Fire prevention is really not my skill set; I’ll share some of those stories another time.)
I think I started by adding water. It seemed like a straightforward option, but then I worried that I had washed away all of the “savory” elements. Sure, that might have been a blessing, but it felt like backing away from gourmet, rather than approaching it. That made me pretty desperate. I didn’t want to add anything more from the spice rack though, because I didn’t really remember what I had added already. I didn’t want to accidentally make something that didn’t taste good. (I hadn’t yet reached my crescendo of self awareness.)
Instead I started adding things from our refrigerator. I remember adding ketchup and lemon juice, but there might also have been some vague sauce in a brown bottle. Teriyaki, perhaps. The real pièce de résistance was the black cherry jelly. Or maybe it was blackberry jelly. Either way I thought that Black_erry Chicken sounded gourmet-ish.
Clearly our lawn took too long to mow. When my wife came in, I served her dinner with beaming pride, the sort that small children express when they tell their parents that a multicolor scribble is a picture of the family on a submarine. I suppose that crayon on paper might actually have been more edible.
But my wife is merciful: she ate the whole thing and didn’t even complain. It was only a year later, when I excitedly offered to make her my one gourmet meal again, that she told me she would rather eat soap.
If I try to be too nice in the kitchen, I might accidentally add that to something.