When I was in elementary school, my mom enrolled me in a cooking class. Even though my banana bread was mostly black and the granola chewed like gravel, I was excited about my new skills.
One night, Mom let me make family dinner from a beginner’s cookbook. I constructed little fruit salads that were supposed to look like Snoopy from the Peanuts cartoons. Canned pear halves made up the heads, raisins were eyes and maraschino cherries stood in for noses. For the main course I prepared pork chops. Why my mother thought it was okay to let a fourth grader play Russian roulette with trichinosis is beyond me.
I’m what southern folks call a “bless your heart” kind of cook. As in, “She tries so hard, but everything she touches turns to carcinogens. Bless her heart.” Despite frequent failures, I continue to experiment, and even when my concoctions flop, I come back the next day and try again (except for the barf tuna, which was quickly taken out of rotation).
One day, I turned the oven on and suddenly found myself enveloped in a massive fireball. After making sure I was still in more or less one piece, I dashed across the street and begged my neighbor to turn off the gas in my kitchen. Why we didn’t think to call the fire department is a mystery.
Later, when I told my husband, Bill, he thought I was exaggerating. You’d think my missing eyebrows would’ve tipped him off, but no. After my brief cooking strike, the oven blew with Bill at the helm, and all of a sudden, buying a new oven became a priority. I didn’t need to say “I told you so.” He knew exactly what I was thinking as I stared into his brow-less eyes and smirked. It wasn’t my finest hour, but it was satisfying.
That I’ve been involved in more than one explosion is worth noting, as is the fact that the second time it happened I was a guest in someone else’s home. I was staying with a friend in Connecticut one summer and wanted to thank her for her hospitality, so I went to the market and picked up some fresh ingredients for a nice dinner. When I returned to the apartment and investigated the kitchen, I realized I didn’t know how to work the oven, and no one else was home. I learned a valuable lesson that night: A pilot light doesn’t need to be preheated. In fact, that steady stream of natural gas you’re letting into the room is rather unstable, so when you strike a match, an amazing thing happens: BOOM! And that’s how I got my facial hair problem under control.
The key to cooking, I’ve found, is to have or feign confidence. The first time I tried making lasagna, I forgot to include the noodles, but did that stop me from making lasagna again? No. And the second time I tried making lasagna, I forgot to include the cheese, but did that stop me? (Actually, it did. I haven’t made lasagna in over 20 years.)
Pasta blunders notwithstanding, I try to stay positive. Just the other day I accidentally roasted a measuring spoon along with some broccoli, but I’m not going to stop roasting things or measuring stuff. The tabouli soup was a bomb, and people are still recovering from my salt cookies, yet I keep trying. I have to believe my next meal will be a complete success. Or maybe the one after that.
Bless her heart.
Ilene Haddad is a graphic designer, cartoonist and writer. She was a winner in the WOW! Women on Writing creative nonfiction essay contest and a finalist in the Writers’ League of Texas’ annual manuscript contest for essays from her current project, a humorous illustrated memoir about her mixed/mixed up marriage. Her work has been published in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine and with the National Headache Foundation. Ilene lives in Austin with her eccentric husband and two useless lapdogs, all of whom inspire her work and feature prominently in her cartoons and book-in-progress.