When it comes to cooking, I wish I could say that I’m cool, calm, collected and in control like Julia Child in her famous TV show. Instead, more often than not, I’m more like Bridget Jones and her ‘Blue String Soup” or Julie (in Julie and Julia) in her lobster execution scene – and today is a good testimony.
True to everything in life, when you are out of practice, your skills become rusty (and the fact that your mind wanders does not help the matter, either). It’s been almost six months that I haven’t really made an effort to learn how to make new dishes. And when your skills are rusty, believe me, it shows!!!
Today, I developed major cravings for pasta as I went on a cheese shopping spree yesterday.
Thought I’d make Barefoot Contessa’s grown-up Mac and Cheese
with Gruyère, but it seemed too much work for Sunday brunch, so I decided to stick with the easy and classic Alfredo sauce.
As it turned out, the only pasta I had left in the pantry was elbow macaroni. Il signor Alfredo Di Lelio
would probably cringe at my bastardization of his famed Fettuccini Alfredo, but hey! Il Mac is the new ‘haute cuisine
’ in America; so, why not? Right?
Meanwhile, I also got a big bundle of Japanese eggplant with which I wanted to make the famous northern-Thai-style dip (Tum Ma Kua) – and they needed grilling – So I thought with agile multitasking, I’d have the pasta for brunch, and then the dip for my light dinner.
“Sounds like a great plan.” I thought while imagining sitting down on my sunny deck with the scrumptious bowl of macaroni Alfredo, then cleaning the palate with my yummy home-made lemongrass ice cream and aromatic coffee.
“Hmmmm. That would be a perfect way to start my Sunday”, I grinned as the imaginary light bulb blinking brightly over my head.
I turned on the oven, heated the skillet on the stove, popped the eggplant in the oven, and turned to the sink to start deveining my plump tiger prawns. I must have taken too long, or had on too much heat, but when I tossed a big cube of butter into the skillet, it was too late… “Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!! ” I groaned while tossing the prawns in quickly and the skillet sent out a very loud, pleasing hiss and buttery aroma, but then…
The smoke alarm blasted out the ear-shattering siren and I was frantically running around opening the door and windows and waved anything I could find to disperse the smoke.
I have a love-hate relationship with smoke alarm. On the one hand, I’m happy that it is working, but on the other, it’s like a “siren of shame” that is set on a time-bomb and ready to blast out for everybody in your neighborhood to know that,
“You mess up!”
So, after much commotion to subdue the alarm, I turned back to my now lackluster prawns in brown butter and turned back the heat, poured some milk instead of heavy cream, scooped in the freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (calling it by the Italian name really makes me feel like a big chef – it just has much more panache than “parmesan cheese” – seriously).
All of a sudden, I heard a big “Poof” from behind the stove, followed by a long hissing sound.
“Great! Now my gas pipe broke and I will die from gas explosion.” I feared the worst.
“Or maybe somebody climbed on my roof and fell off.” — equally horrendous but less of a calamity and it involves other people. Man! What a good Buddhist I am.
“I’d better go check.” I turned off the stove, sprint out the door before my now-demented mind could come up with something more unfortunate.
Nothing! Everything seemed normal. “Hmmmm.”
Then it dawned on me, “Of course! The eggplant!!!!!”
Sure enough, I opened the oven door and one of the eggplants had exploded – Not a pretty sight, but much better than gas explosion, I’m telling you – it’s better to be the eggplant and not my head, that is certain.
But all’s well that ends well (I really never get this expression. Seriously! What does it even mean, Maestro Shakespeare? But when you look at the translation “If the end result is good, then everything is good.”, then it does make sense. Anyway, I digress).
In the end, I regained my equanimity, did enjoy the beautiful fruits of my labor and felt truly blessed. How can you feel anything but gratefulness? I’m living in the ‘Land of Gold’**.
** Note: California was the name given to a mythical island populated only by beautiful Amazon warriors using gold tools and weapons in the popular early 16th-century romance novel Las Sergas de Esplandián (The Adventures of Esplandián) by Spanish author Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo. This popular Spanish novel was printed in several editions with the earliest surviving edition published about 1510. The novel described the Island of California as being east of the Asian mainland, “very close to the side of the Terrestrial Paradise; and it is peopled by women, without any man among them, for they live in the manner of Amazons.” The Island was ruled by Queen Calafia. When the Spanish started exploring the Pacific coast they applied this name on their maps to what is now called the Baja California Peninsula they originally thought was an island. Once the name was on the maps it stuck. –