Friday, November 4, 2011

Chapter 3 I'll Make Dinner - From: Grumblings of a Chronically Single Woman

I’ll Make Dinner

 “I’ll make dinner.” What the hell was I thinking? A dating death-wish only equaled by premature parent introduction. I had really done it this time. I am, admittedly, the worst cook in the free world. Sure, offering to prepare a meal for a person whom I cared about was a lovely gesture, but once again my mouth took on a life of it’s own by proposing to do something the rest of my body could not deliver.

In the past, I made many attempts to prepare foods only for them to end up in the trash or on fire. Frankly, if the food doesn’t come in a microwavable dish, covered with a peel-back plastic film and takes more than eight minutes to heat, it is beyond my realm of expertise. But, I offered.

As my mother always said, “If you can read, you can cook.” I had a cookbook. I can read. Full speed ahead.

I pulled out the 1963 Betty Crocker cookbook that was being used to prop up my computer and began leafing through it. I was amazed by the large variety of exotic dishes could be prepared by using cream of mushroom soup as the main ingredient. I flipped through the faded index tabs; Poultry, produce, legumes. Legumes? 

Chicken, I thought, I could do chicken. It must be impossible to ruin chicken. 

My menu was set: a chicken dish, vegetables, rice, salad, and dessert. Simple enough. I wrote my shopping list and off I went to the grocery store.

When I arrived at the store, I headed over to the cart corral to commandeer a shopping cart. They were stacked together so tightly that it required an unusual amount of upper body strength and a good foot hold to separate one from another. After sustaining a dislocated shoulder and a nasty shin bruise, I was on my way down isle one. As I started on my shopping adventure, I had a distinct, yet paranoid feeling that there must have been someone crouching behind the Nabisco end-cap with a remote control. He was guiding the right front wheel of the cart in any direction, other than the one I intended to go.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered the grocery store was not arranged in alphabetical order, or, for that matter, any logical order at all! It was just endless miles of canned goods, rectangular boxes, and linoleum. After zigzagging through the food maze for what seemed to be an eternity, I gathered almost all of the items I had on my list. Then I came to the corner of the muffin tin end-cap and condiment row.  Condiment row ... the isle of ten thousand names. According to my recipe I needed garlic powder, dried parsley, and cumin. Cumin? What the hell is that?  Cumin, I discovered, is four dollars and fifty cents.  It’s a mini can of a mystery spice of which I was only going to use a quarter of a teaspoon. I’m a logical, well-educated, cost conscious woman. I weighed the importance of the spice, and tried to recall the flavor of Cumin. I factored in the price, four dollars and fifty cents, and the recipe requirement of one-quarter teaspoon. Tough call, I thought. Can it be substituted? 

Cumin is brownish in color, I contemplated. Cinnamon is brown and far less expensive.  At the very least, I recognized the name. “A spice is a spice,” I figured.  I decided on the cinnamon and later realized that similar colors do not necessarily mean similar flavors. So much for the purple equals grape, green equals lime theory.

As I approached the check-out stand, a nervous little blue-haired woman, wearing a checkerboard apron handed me a coupon worth one dollar off the price of the chicken that was in my cart. Imagine the thrill.

I have developed a talent for choosing to cue up in the slowest moving line. Sure, it may appear shorter. But, it’s an optical illusion. I now believe the simple act of joining the end of a short line is, in fact, the signal for everyone else to move as if they require special medical attention. I find it amazing that my mere presence motivates even the most capable people to desperately require special assistance. As I stood behind a “coupon shopper,” I could feel myself age.  By the time I reached the front of the line, the dairy products were sour and the child whose face appeared on the milk carton had been found and graduated from college.

When it appeared to be my turn to “check-out,” I approached the cashier. Her name tag said- Peggy. Enthusiastically, yet prematurely, I thrust my chicken coupon in front of her. It quickly became apparent that I was not privy to proper coupon etiquette when Peggy shot me a “you’re-a-dumb-ass” look. I recoiled pulling my coupon back and quietly awaited her go-ahead nod to indicate the appropriate timing for coupon presentation. She seemed pleased. Peggy rang up a total that seemed unfair considering the items were raw and I had to put forth all of the effort to cook them. 

When I finished signing over the pink slip to my car to pay for the groceries, she surprised me with a question I had overheard others talk about. “Paper or plastic?”

Hmm. Decisions, decisions. Paper is more environmentally sound, yet, plastic is easier to carry. I looked into Peggy’s eyes for the answer. Blank. I was on my own. She actually seemed annoyed by my hesitation. “Plastic!?” I blurted. Peggy exhaled through her nose, jutted out her lower jaw and crammed $119.32 worth of groceries into two thirty-pound packages.

Upon arrival home, I unpacked the groceries, opened the cookbook, and preheated the oven to six hundred degrees Fahrenheit. I was ready to commence cooking activity.

To this day, I’m not quite sure how lettuce got stuck to the kitchen ceiling or how rice ended up in the bathroom, but I was determined to be successful.

Though my cooking techniques sparked a grease fire and caused several non-melt pot handles to become molten, it all seemed to be a small price to pay for that personal touch. Okay, so everything was slightly overdone ... charred… burnt beyond recognition.  I was thankful that chickens do not have dental records. I figured I could tell my dinner guest that it was Cajun cuisine. Blackened chicken? It’s a possibility. Blackened green beans? Perhaps. Blackened rice? It’s a stretch. Blackened cake?  Baked Alaska!

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