Feel the Knead

Up until fairly recently in North America, cooking was, for the most part, something people did to put food on the table. Oh sure, you had a few creative types out there, but mostly, you did plain food in large quantities, especially if you were a woman cooking for a large family. Exotic fare was fish caught from a river 30 miles away.

That was before supermarkets. Magazines devoted entirely to food. Fancy time-saving appliances in the kitchen. And that strange Japanese television show, The Iron Chef.

Now both men and women cook, and the kitchen is no longer just a utilitarian room. It's a creative lab. Potlucks and dinner invitations have this fierce, just-below-the-surface, competitive edge to them. Recipes aren't traded anymore, they're slapped down on the table with an “Oh yeah? Can you do THIS one?” attitude.

If you're like me, it can all be a bit overwhelming. I always knew you had to be a bit of a sadist to cook — after all, you have to beat the eggs and whip the cream — but now cooking is an exercise in masochism as well.

For instance, I recently tried to make eclairs — I thought that for sheer impressive value, they were a choux thing. But the pastry got short with me, they were a disaster, and now the choux is on the other foot.

I gave up on baking and decided to try main courses instead. I tried to make a chicken gougere, but it sprang a leek, and gougered everywhere. I attempted a completely vegetarian dish after that, but it burnt and I got really annoyed and lost my coulis.

You know what they say though: the beet goes on. So, I decided that my problem must be that I was trying the wrong type of cuisine. French food is complicated stuff; Italian food is supposed to be simpler but just as flavorful. I don't know what I did wrong. My lasagna was al dented, my macaroni was penalized for elbowing, and everyone politely but firmly advised me to dial back the salt a gnocchi or two. I found their comments about the amount of cheese really grating as well. After that, it was pasta la vista.

I thought about Asian food. For my first dish it was a close race between Korean and Vietnamese, but it ended in a Thai. The pad siew, sadly, ended up being pad ewww; and the seua rong hai turned out so wrong eh?

Not even my son can put up with my Far East creations. He's not talking yet, but I distinctly heard him call yesterday's meal 'teriyuki.' And I'm not sure what the name of the Chinese dish was that I made for him today, but after he got done dumping it on the floor, it was definitely mop suey.

I can't even curry favor with Indian food. I mistakenly made buttered chicken, which everyone thought was weird. My Bombay curry was a bomb (not a bombe) — my neighbor would have naan of it. The Middle Eastern and Mediterranean fare was no better — the hummus was just falafel; I finally took pita on my family and ordered in pizza.

I'm not sure which is worse, frankly — the fact that everything I tried failed, or the fact that I ended up with a lot of injuries. Apart from the usual burns, cuts, and scrapes one gets in the kitchen, I got vinegar in my ear, and now I have pickled hearing.

Oh well. As my husband wisely said, while comforting me, “Sometimes, life's a bisque.” So I concede the field in competitive cooking, and instead will get into competitive donating. After all, there's a lot of people out there for whom plain food in large quantities would be a big improvement.

To read more of Chandra's work, visit www.ChandraKClarke.com.

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