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My Cranky Kitchen

“Everything King Midas touched
Turned to gold, the lucky fellow.
Every single thing I touch
Turns to raspberry Jell-O.”
–Shel Silverstein, “Squishy Touch,” from A Light in The Attic.

I am beginning to think my kitchen is holding a grudge against me for some unknown crime I’ve committed. Perhaps it is angry that the fridge is contaminated with neglected leftovers past their due dates. Maybe it’s unhappy I left the full compost bucket on the island for too long on a hot day, or it could just be disappointed at my inability to create a decent meal at a decent hour on soccer/gymnastics nights. Whatever my transgression, the kitchen must be conspiring with the recipe books, because it’s been a bad, baaaaad week of cooking.

Scott’s birthday was last week. I originally wanted to buy him a knife skills class as a gift, but unfortunately, all classes including knives also involve some form of animal protein. So I thought, if we can’t take a knife class, perhaps I could hire someone to come to the house. That idea died quickly with the words, “$159 per person for two hours.” Sigh. We can’t afford that kind of cash. Plus, why pay that much money when I could easily surf YouTube for a B-rated, knife skills home video and set up a “class” for free? I ditched the knives idea and surfed Yelp for high-end vegetarian restaurants instead. Scott had mentioned wanting to try Ubuntu in Napa, but after much discussion, we decided a meal costing over $100 wasn’t in the budget either. SIGH!

Since we couldn’t afford an in-home chef or an expensive meal out, I naively thought, “Hey! I will bring Ubuntu to us! I, mother of two young, active children, will make the meal of a trained chef in my spare time! I can do it!” Yeah, I so could not do it. But that didn’t stop my attempt.

To celebrate Scott’s day, we invited a couple of friends over for an elaborate “adult” meal. My original menu included:

  • Tomato bisque using a recipe adapted from The Conscious Cook
  • Vegan Caesar salad with homemade croutons
  • Spanikopeta with caramelized onions, mushrooms, spinach, and a tofu “ricotta” using a recipe adapted from How to Cook Vegetarian Everything
  • Banana rum cheesecake with a spiced rum sauce from The Conscious Cook

The real menu:

  • Tomato bisque
  • Rice pilaf
  • Sauteed spinach with mushrooms and caramelized onions
  • Baked tofu
  • Twice-baked (not on purpose!), leftover, oatmeal raisin cookies

First of all, I misfired on the amount of time it takes to prepare and create a banana rum cheesecake, and by the time I was ready to start, I was four hours too late. Mistake number one. At 5:30 pm, I realized I was supposed to thaw phyllo over night before using. A bit of quick research warned that phyllo is temperamental and thawing should never be rushed–nuking it would not work either. Mistake number two. Mistake three was for ditching the salad because at that point, we were running out of time to make homemade croutons. Mistake four came from flaking on banana fosters for an alternative dessert. Mistake five came from “re-baking” the oatmeal raisin cookies I made for Lennon’s soccer team into crunchy little hockey pucks. I had stashed the cookies away from the cats and then accidentally reheated them while I was preheating the oven for the cheesecake that never happened. Sadly, Scott could see me flailing and ended up making the entire meal by himself.

One would think that after such a bad run of luck, I would have redeemed myself a few days later when I finally attempted to make the banana rum cheesecake, but the kitchen sensed my presence and my recipes turned on me. They were like the directions in the potions book from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince–only I didn’t have Harry’s book with the notes in the margins that said things like, squeeze the jumpy, beany thing with the back of your knife instead of stabbing it.

The rum sauce for the cheesecake never thickened and turned into a pot of separated, crystallized liquid. And contrary to what the directions say for how to make nut flour, frozen nuts definitely turn into nut butter in the food processor. And while graham cracker crusts are lovely for many desserts, it wasn’t a good substitution in this instance. After all the prep, I was still off on my timing and had to choose between going to bed at 1:00 am or assembling and baking the cheesecake while getting the kids ready for school the next morning. I chose the latter, but 6:00 am mental dullness prevented me from finding the corn starch, and I substituted agar powder. Bad idea. The cheesecake came out so firm, I could have stood upon it. When I finally cut into the cheesecake, the texture was tough and oozed moisture like a slowly squeezed sponge. The final insult? Lennon absolutely loved it.

Really, I just wanted to make Scott a nice meal for his birthday, and I could have done that if I had stayed within the realms of my cooking capabilities and remained realistic with my limited time. I should have known better than to experiment with new recipes and techniques on a day filled with kid birthday parties and soccer games. Perhaps, the kitchen was just trying to remind me that I am no Ubuntu chef. Indeed, everything I touched turned to Jell-O. Good thing I didn’t try to lead us in a home-schooled knife skills class.

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