Oh, the trial and tribulations of cooking.
I am in my 7th decade and found the secret to crisping the perfect bacon… just last week. My husband even cooked it better than I ever did. I guess I wasn’t paying attention to Mama in the kitchen when she was frying some for breakfast but now, finally, I have a method that works for me.
Teri Hatcher, the actress from “Lois and Clark – the New Adventures of Superman” and “Desperate Housewives” TV shows, once said in her book, “[Women will say] ‘…You take the good piece and I’ll just take what’s left.’” In fact, the title of her new book, "Burnt Toast: And Other Philosophies of Life," is a metaphor for women who too often take the burnt or the leftovers for themselves.
But in my case, not to be wasteful, somebody had to eat burnt food or my other missteps.
My mother was a fantastic cook, and I bet several of you could say the same about your mothers. But I never watched her magic in the kitchen. The only cooking I did was to read the directions off a Chef Boyardee pizza box in the 1960s. Instructions on the Chef Boyardee Pizza Kit said, “gives you a chance to make your own homemade 12-inch pizza just the way you like it.” It’s not really all that hard to make a homemade pizza, but 50 years ago we also had to make our own dough.
Here were the dough directions:
“Spray the cookie sheet or round pizza pan with a non-stick cooking spray. Pour the dry dough mix in a bowl. Add 2/3 cups of warm water.”
That was the easy party. You had to knead the dough and then TRY to spread it out across the pre-sprayed pizza pain. Gooey! Sticky! In my case the dough never stretched all the way to the end of the pan. I tried different shapes: round, square, and rectangle. It never rolled out far enough even with a bit more flour sprinkled on the dough and continually pushing it to the sides of the pizza pan, which caused holes in your dough no matter how careful you were. It kept sticking to your fingers during this exercise. What took 30 minutes should have taken five.
The rest was easy. It tasted nasty, but we didn’t know any better.
When I lived in my first apartment in Atlanta, I was having guests for dinner and wanted to do something fancy, impressing my guests. I was 22 years old and following a marinated chicken recipe to serve my company. I was keeping it simple as a beginning cook since it was my first real foray.
Reading the directions from a cookbook – a Christmas gift from Mother, it was the most elementary recipe. I don’t remember everything it said, but I do remember it called for the old 1970s standby - Italian dressing. After reading the instructions to marinate the meat overnight, I did just that… ON THE COUNTER. It never said to marinate it in the refrigerator! I don’t remember anything after that but crying and calling my mother who suggested I throw it out, of course.
I do remember asking her once early on, “How can you just pull a meal together like you do without a recipe?”
She answered, “When you’ve done it as long as I have, you just don’t need instructions any longer.”
But I am becoming absent-minded and wonder if I should write this bacon strategy down because isn’t that life for you: once you learn to master something, then comes the age where you forget what you did.
Lee St. John, a retired Coweta County high school English teacher, is the author of five humorous books and two audio books.