Thursday, November 30, 2006
I just now finished stripping the Thanksgiving turkey. What a magnificent bird! Even after almost a week’s worth of dinners, I was still able to fill a plate with close to two pounds of choice meat. Yum!
Having done that, and having received the following comment from Ericka concerning yesterday's entry...
“I have, in the past, flipped the d*mn bird onto the floor trying to get it off the rack and onto a serving platter. Stupid bird."
... I am reminded of a few stories concerning food that, unlike this year’s blessed bird, did NOT bring a smile to my face. I suppose since we’re already talking turkey, I can relate a few of the less savory stories concerning those I’ve cooked and then go on from there.
Like Ericka, I once put my bird on the kitchen floor. And, as I told her in reply to her comment from yesterday, I’m not going to say when – just in case anyone who ate that bird is reading this. Hey, if it didn’t taste like linoleum, then why worry? Are you alive? I’m assuming you are, since you’re reading this, so whichever bird it was, even if it was one you ate, you were none the wiser until this very moment, so don’t grouse about it.
(Grouse. Heh-heh. That's a fowl joke. If I were to string a few of those together here, I bet you'd want to knock the stuffing out of me. I won’t, though – I’m too chicken. I’m game, you understand. I could give you a literary goosing. I mean, some puns I can be as proud as a peacock about. However, that type appears to be as scarce as hen’s teeth in this paragraph, so please forgive my digressing and owl me to go on as if nothing happened.)
(OWL ME TO GO ON? Oh, Jim, you’ve sunk to a new low.)
I am also reminded of the time I cooked a turkey without first removing a bag full of giblets from the neck cavity. I correctly did everything that was supposed to be done with the other end of the bird. Surprisingly, the turkey itself tasted just fine, but it was a shock to find them there.
Of course, I’ve had my share of burned meals; things left too long in frying pans or in pots on the stove. There isn’t a cook alive who hasn’t burned something at some time or another. One instance stands out in my memory because it was so stupid, even I have trouble believing I did it and I was there.
I was perhaps 17 years old and had just come home from a night of doing benign drugs with my buddies in Dorchester. That is, we had been smoking pot. I was having a severe attack of the munchies. What I wanted more than anything in the world was a couple of grilled cheese sandwiches. What I wanted less than anything in the world was to drag a frying pan out of the kitchen cabinet and work at preparing them.
(Yes, I know, it’s not like preparing grilled cheese sandwiches is all that strenuous an undertaking. Hey, I said this was a stupid story.)
What I did was take four slices of bread and a couple of slices of American cheese. I put a slice of cheese between two slices of bread. I did it again. I then pressed as hard as I could on these cold sandwiches, compressing them. Then, I did the stupid thing. I put them into the toaster and went into the living room to watch TV until they popped up.
Well, do I really have to tell you how it turned out? Yuck! Ruined the toaster, of course. The kitchen was full of smoke and smelled exactly like you might imagine – of burned cheese and burned bread and bad electricity. The smoke was so thick and so foul that it woke my father from a sound sleep, one floor up, and he came downstairs and gave me holy hell. And, boy, did I deserve it. What a maroon!
(That’s why they call it... Oh, shut up.)
Another time I let a pan full of macaroni cook dry in a beautiful piece of Revereware. Well, it was beautiful before that, anyway. Just totally forgot that I had it on the stove and took a nap on the couch. This time, the fumes woke me up instead of my Dad. From that night on, we had only three pieces of Revereware instead of four. It was utterly unsalvageable. The macaroni was black and stuck to the bottom of the pan as though nature had intended it that way from the beginning of time.
Now, having told you these tales of catastrophic cuisine, I want it to be known that I’m actually quite a good cook. Not a chef, mind you; I’m not that full of myself. However, I have no doubt whatsoever that the folks who eat my meals on a regular or semi-regular basis will gladly tell you that I serve good food, prepared well.
I learned how to cook from both my Mom and my Dad, but mostly from my Dad. The men on that side of the family were almost all good cooks and some of them, going back a generation or two, were even professional chefs. An ancestor of mine on the Sullivan side of the family was the chef who, while working at The Parker House in Boston, invented the Parker House Roll.
I have to relate all of this good stuff about my lineage and abilities so that the story I’m about to tell you won’t just leave you with a picture of me as a psychotic idiot who shouldn’t be let within thirty feet of a kitchen without someone standing by with a tranquilizer gun. Probably won’t make a difference, but I had to try anyway.
About twelve years ago, on some special occasion or other, I decided to make a grand dinner and also bake a cake. I think it may have been Canada Day. We’re not Canadian, but MY WIFE and I like excuses to eat. Anyway, the dinner would be a roast of beef; horseradish mashed potatoes; homemade gravy; julienne green beans; and pureed turnip (or rutabaga – yellow turnip, that is, which goes so well with a roast.) The cake would be a chocolate layer cake with vanilla cream frosting, served with freshly ground and brewed coffee when we retired to the living room. There, while soft romantic music played and candles provided the light, we’d say kind words about our neighbors to the north and maybe exchange a few smooches.
Sounds beautiful, doesn’t it? Well, as you ladies know (and probably a few of you men, too, but you’re too macho to admit it) beauty requires a lot of hard work. I won’t bore you with a lot of details, but the prep work – cleaning the house to make it lovely, sous chef stuff, arranging the table, setting the candles, etc. – took a while and left me with little time to spare between when I had to make the cake (NOW!) and then start preparing the main courses.
I’ll make this a bit more compact of a story by telling you that the layers of the cake had come out of the oven looking lovely. I prepared my confectioner’s sugar and vanilla butter frosting while the cake cooled enough to be removed from the pans. Everything was on schedule and looking great.
Finally, the cake had cooled enough and I removed the layers from their pans, placing one - the bottom layer, of course - on a plate. I ladled out some of the frosting onto this layer and spread it evenly. I then placed another layer over it, spread more frosting, then the final layer on top of that. I proceeded to frost the outside of the cake, artistically putting little peaks and swirls onto the top surface while smoothing the sides.
I was just about done with the cake when I noticed a tiny little bare patch on the side. I lifted the plate with my left hand and regarded this little bit of cake nudity. Easy enough to fix - just a small dollop of frosting needed. I counterbalanced the plate for a few seconds with my right hand while positioning it on the splayed fingers of my left hand – somewhat like how a waiter carries a tray of food with one hand, you know, and I held the cake that way at eye level. I then turned to get a small spatula full of frosting from the bowl on the counter.
The plate tilted. The cake fell onto the kitchen floor. SPLAT.
It fell top down. I still had the plate, but the plate had no cake.
What happened next was pure unthinking reaction. I was seeing red, fairly much blind with rage. I growled a polysyllabic swear word and then did the one ridiculous thing that could have made matters worse.
I KICKED THE CAKE.
Honestly, I did. I reared back and did an Adam Vinatieri on it. And now there was freaking chocolate cake and gooey frosting everywhere; on the floor, on the walls, on the tablecloth, on the stove, on the kitchen door, on the counter and on my heretofore white canvas sneaker.
The double-jointed expletive that flew out of my mouth would have rivaled the best that a convention of Tourette’s sufferers could have come up with given a week to work on it.
Thankfully, I had enough presence of mind not to throw the plate that was still in my hand. I laid it down on the counter and surveyed the damage. And then, God help me, I started to laugh; just a little at first, but then it burst from me like a loon. What else was there to do? It was either that or cry. I slumped down onto the cake-covered floor and laughed until I was gasping. It was just too hideous a scene to do anything else.
Long story short, I cleaned everything up – it took a good hour at least and I can assure you I didn't keep laughing the whole time – made another less elaborate cake, cooked the dinner and then, because I couldn’t keep a straight face over dessert, told MY WIFE all about it. It has become legend between us as perhaps the stupidest thing I’ve ever done in the kitchen, if not life overall, and that covers a lot of ground, believe me.
Tomorrow with more better stuff, on the occasion of my Grandma’s 101st birthday. I will not be baking her a cake, so she has a good chance to make it to 102.