Kitchen Disasters

25 Nov

I was watching an old episode of Masterchef, the one in which the fish cakes didn’t turn out, the starter was fifteen minutes late and the chocolate mousse was lumpy, and I started thinking about some of my own disastrous experiences in the kitchen.

My mother is an excellent cook, the kind that can make anything, from a tasty sandwich, to a savory roast and a lemon meringue pie with homemade crust. Unfortunately I wasn’t interested in the kitchen when I was growing up, so it wasn’t until I had left home and I was in my twenties that I learned to cook.

My poor husband was subjected to my first attempts, and our first home-cooked meals consisted of turkey sandwiches, cold cereal and pre-cut frozen potatoes.

One of my first dishes was fettuccine Alfredo, from a recipe that came in the back of the pasta box. All I remember is that it was made with eggs, and it was a stringy, gooey and sticky mess that I wouldn’t dream of serving to anyone now. My now-husband ate it, and ate it with kindness, not uttering one disparaging word that would deflate me.

I learned to cook by cooking, and little by little my confidence grew as I practiced and tried new things, from the basic to the fancy. It helped, too, that I had my own kitchen, where I could have everything as I liked and where there was no one to witness my many failures.

A few years ago I had to cook for unexpected guests. I didn’t like these people, and cooking for them in a hurry was a chore that I resented. It showed, because nothing worked. I overlooked a stone in the lentils, which thankfully I was the one to chew on, and I almost burned the rice. My husband took care of the meat, which he cooked on the grill so that saved the day.

One day I was making my favorite butter cake in the presence of an elderly friend who would come to visit us for the day, from early morning until late in the evening. I love this friend, but her visits were always hard work. She was talking non-stop while I whipped and sifted, and I was so flustered listening to her voice that I forgot to melt the butter and threw it in without thinking. The result was more cookie than cake and it was fit only for the bin.

And then there was that recipe given to me by the mother of a friend from Uruguay. It was a delicious cake that they called Torta Alemana, although it was not a torte and I doubt it was German. I must have made a mistake when copying the recipe, because it doesn’t come out right.

Nowadays, living in Pakistan, my disasters stem from the lack of good-quality ingredients and the unavailability of others, and as a result I sometimes have to make substitutions that don’t work quite right, but I’ve learned to follow a recipe, to prepare ahead of time, to set out all my ingredients before I start, and to never curdle a cream sauce.

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