When it comes to cooking, my reach has ever exceeded my grasp. Like, hey, if I can roast a chicken I can do anything! The disasters this wild-child enthusiasm have engendered are too numerous to remember, far less talk about. Years of living have tempered my inclination to fly off the planet, but oh, those early years . . .
Like the time I invited my friend Dot to dinner. She had just floated me a loan so I could buy my house, and I wanted to express my appreciation by cooking something fab for her.
Steak Diane. It involved flambe'ing, how hard could that be? Dot is in the other room, telling me some involved story, and I'm there in my dinky little weekends-only-cabin kitchen, only I was living there fulltime, doing the Diane in an electric skillet. Listening to her tale and reading the directions and they said to pour in the brandy and ignite, so I did and FWOOMP! flames up to the ceiling. Panic, skillet and contents upside down in the sink, faucet on high, Dot going, "Everything okay in there?" "Absolutely, go on with what you were saying!" Sounds like aplomb, grace under fire, pun intended, but I was actually too terrorized to talk.
The main attraction gone down the drain; egg noodles and gummy Hungry Jack biscuits for dinner . . .
Or the time, actually not that long ago, when I was roasting a turkey and the oven coil broke bad. It was explained to me later by the fire personnel that the coil had merely shorted out, but when the thing first happened, the coil made this snapping noise and spitted and hissed and blackened in an evil way, and there was this fireball traversing the length of the coil and nothing I did stopped the fireball. Turned off the oven, nothing. Flipped the breaker, nothing, the fireball kept going and going. Last resort, I blasted the fireball with the fire extinguisher, and when the powder cleared, the fireball had progressed four more inches, burning its way toward the rear oven wall where it would burn through and ignite all that insulation and whatnot back there and burn the house down. It was like Stephen King Does Thanksgiving. So I called the fire department. I specifically told the dispatcher that it wasn't an emergency, no need for a big response, so four minutes later there's three vehicles including the Big One in my yard, lights and siren, eleven large firemen in my little house, stoically expressionless as the one guy explained to me about the coil burnout and that it wasn't a problem. Could you die? After they left I took some paper towels and wiped the fire extinguisher goo off the turkey, and in the following days I ate it as planned. The turkey, not the goo. I was spectacularly broke in those days, and the turkey -- real meat -- had been on sale, 39 cents a pound, and I was billy-be-blued if I was gonna deep-six it because of a few stupid chemicals.
And, as you see, I lived.
But the one incident that has always stayed with me was back long days ago, when I was a young thing first learning my way around the kitchen. I'd gotten like two successful dinners under my belt, and so was ready for a dinner party. I'd decided on cheese fondue. (Is there any wedding couple in this land who hasn't received a fondue pot as a present?) I knew as much about fondue as I did the rings of Saturn, but why should that stop me? Again the mantra: How hard can it be? Hot cheese, bread cubes. Duh! I broke out my newly-acquired Joy of Cooking and it said Emmenthaler was the preferred choice for fondue. So okay, I got the handle now, off I go in search of Emmenthaler. Not in the grocery stores. Hm, must be something exotic. Yellow Pages. I find a little ta-ta wine and cheese shop in the upscale part of town, wait in line forever, I get to the counter and ask for a pound of Emmenthaler cheese, please, and the guy plunks down a big honk of Swiss cheese and I'm like NO, my good man, that is not what I asked for . . .
Okay, that was embarrassing, but I get the ta-ta cheese and the other stuff home timely and put everything together. Guests arrive, beer and wine flowing, me and my little fondue pot, Emmenthaler -- excuse me, Swiss -- cheese and wine and whatnot all set up, ready to go. Except the stuff in the pot isn't thickening. I stir and I stir, nothing. I throw in more cheese. Zip. I add some Cheddar. Still nothing, watery slurry, not fit to consume. Guests getting hungrier, and drunker. I raid the fridge and throw in every scrap of cheese I can find, including American processed and cream cheese. Nada. I finally give up and we all have salad and bread.
If that happened today, I'd laugh it off and call Domino's. But then, a tender 23-year-old . . . OH, the humiliation!
The very next day I went into deep research mode, had to find out what I did wrong. I go to the library and peruse like 40 cookbooks before I find the answer, to wit, and I quote: NEVER USE A METAL FONDUE POT FOR CHEESE FONDUE!
Turns out nobody cared that much. Everybody had a good time. Lesson: It's the people, not the fondue.
Boy, this got long.