It is not uncommon these days for a friend to remark that they are embarrassed to bring a dish to a pot luck I’m attending, or have me to dinner because I am a “food expert.” I’ll give you that I’m a pretty good cook, and that I spend a lot of time reading about food, watching foodie TV and listening to podcasts about food, but there are gaping holes in my knowledge and experience sufficient to make me something of a dilettante rather than an “expert.” Maybe if I confess a few “home truths,” those near and dear to me will stop worrying, and start sharing in the confidence that I will not rush home and write about the dry noodles sticking out of the edges of their lasagna, or the fact that they grill their steak until it could be used to re-sole Doc Martens. I won’t.
Confession #1: I burn stuff all the time. There is a little gavotte that takes place in Forest Street Kitchen on a regular basis. I start cooking something at a prudent temperature, get impatient and turn it up, get distracted by another dish, or facebook, or a phone call, and Rob notices the food on the Edge of Incineration and turns it down. If he turns it down, I get annoyed and tell him I was too paying attention, and stand fixedly in front of the stove until it’s cooked. If Rob doesn’t notice it, or if he’s too late, it burns. I burn rice, soup, sauces, vegetables…I am an equal opportunity burner.
Confession #2: I have never had any real truffle. Truffle oil, yes, truffle butter, yes, but I have never even seen a “live” truffle. I just thought you should know.
Confession #3: There are, at this moment, Doritos, Iced Animal Cookies, American Cheese and (forgive me, Lord) Kraft Parmesan Cheese in this house. (At least the latter is the kind that’s shreds of cheese instead of the powdery stuff that looks like dandruff). I think there may also be a box of Kraft Mac & Cheese in the pantry.
Confession #4: I know absolutely nothing about wine. I like it, some is red and some is white, and it comes from different countries including (surprisingly) Australia. I know that I am not supposed to like it if it’s sweet, even if it tastes good, and that I am supposed to let the waiter or sommelier uncork it and pour me a bit in a fancy restaurant so that I can smell and taste it and say whether it’s okay. Let’s just say that Meryl Street has nothing, nothing on me when it comes to pretending to know how to put on that kind of performance. I hear and read snippets about wine so that I can say, with a certain panache, “I’d like the Shiraz,” and I know that I am to nod sagely when others delve into notes and varietals. That’s it.
Confession #5: I don’t know much about beer, either. Guinness is dark and heavy (and I like it) and people stare at you if you order Blue Moon in December. Other than that, I order whatever the most astute beer drinker at the table is having.
Confession #6: I like Mac Donald’s cheeseburgers. Not every day, but there is some magical alchemy that takes place when white bun meets patty, cheese food, pickle and condiments, and I find it sublime when I’m in the right mood.
Confession #7: Until recently I told people that I loved sushi, but I had never actually eaten anything other than a California Roll. I am now in the clear, having eaten “real” sushi (with sashimi in it) on a number of occasions, but I did lie so that I would appear more sophisticated.
Confession #8: I once ordered Feijoada, the speciality dish of the Portuguese in a restaurant in Boston (in order to appear sophisticated, natch), and was so embarrassed that I didn’t know what to do with all the parts (and there are a lot of parts) that, rather than asking, I spent the whole meal trying to hide the condiments by blending them into the stew. Until I found what was clearly a pig foot in the stew, at which point I told my dining companions that I was feeling sick and I went home. It has been 16 years, and they are still laughing at me.
Confession #9: I panic when asked to “bring a dish to pass” because I have made such a big deal out of my Culinary Mastery-hood that I think I’ll look ridiculous if I show up with hummus and pita, chips and salsa, or a dish of homemade macaroni. I will often spend hours looking through recipes to dazzle people (more than half of whom are under the age of 12) with my prowess, and often end up so exhausted and demoralized that I end up making…hummus and pita or a dish of homemade macaroni and cheese. Every time this happens I tell myself that my contribution is eaten up, and that people really appreciate something humble made well (and leave things like the tuna-mango mousse with Quinoa crackers to desiccate on the buffet table), but then my amnesia kicks in again.
Confession #10: I never believe anything I cook is going to turn out. Never. It usually does, but I anxiously wait to see if bread will rise, cakes will be moist, sauce will be balanced, every single time no matter how many times I have successfully made the same dish. When things turn out well, I tell myself it’s no big deal because I should be able to cook anything, at this point. When the rice is crunchy, the Buche de Noel falls apart as it’s rolled, the fried chicken remains uncooked in the middle or the long-cooked casserole is bland and uninviting, I feel justified in my eternal vigilance. This is why I am not likely to be a candidate on “The Next Food Network Star” any time soon.