I was staring mindlessly down the hardware aisle. It was my third time to Home Depot. That day. This time, I had made a list of five things I needed. I even alliterated the list in my head so that I would be able to remember. Yet here I was, down to the final two items, and all I could remember was that they both started with “D.” I walked up and down hoping that something would trigger my memory and I would be able to complete my third Hope Depot trip of the day without the defeat of an inevitable fourth trip.
It was not to be. I finally checked out with my three items and headed out to the parking lot.
I hate when I do dumb, inefficient things. Mindless characters make for great kids’ stories, but they are not so much fun when the main character is you. Nevertheless, I am not Amelia Bedelia.
We all know Amelia Bedelia. The kind lady with the IQ of a jack rabbit who can cook like the child of Rachel Ray and the Cake Boss.
I am not Amelia Bedelia. I can prove it. I don’t say that because I have never “spotted a dress” by taking a can of paint and adding spots to a white gown. I say that because all of her books have happy endings and all of those happy endings involve food.
My experiences with making food seldom have happy endings.
Just recently, my parents came to Charleston. We went out to dinner, but I was convinced that I could at least make breakfast the next morning. I had oatmeal for my mom, but my dad is a refrigerator biscuit guy. He loves those canned refrigerator biscuits, scrambled eggs, and bacon. I figured I could handle oatmeal, refrigerator biscuits, scrambled eggs, and bacon. Most anybody could.
So I put water on to boil and I turned the oven on to preheat while I got some other things in order. It wasn’t long at all before I began to smell a strange smell. I ignored it at first, but when I opened my oven to look for a baking sheet—I found the source.
Yes, as I expected, the stack of baking sheets was sitting on the top rack. This would have been no big deal. Except that some of them were new. This also would have been no big deal except that they had been wrapped in plastic. I say “had been” because the plastic was now gluing the sheets together and creating stalactites and stalagmites between the top rack and the bottom of the oven.
It had been so long since I opened my oven that I forgot that when I put those there I thought to myself—now I need to remember to take these out before I turn the oven on…
But the sad part is this story doesn’t really stand out in my series of food misadventures. There are many, many more—most that involve me and some distraction that kept me from focusing on what otherwise might have been a successful meal—but some are just completely random.
Like the time I set a Pyrex dish of brownies on top of the stove to cool while I ate lunch with some friends. Halfway through the meal, we heard what sounded like a gun shot inside my house. It was not a gunshot; just a deadly pan of exploding brownies. Unbeknowst to me, I had set the Pyrex pan on a hot burner. I never did get all the burn marks off my floor.
Then there was the time that I thought I set the microwave timer for 20 minutes, but I actually turned the microwave on—empty—for 20 minutes. It had a major meltdown sometime before the alarm went off. For several days, I thought it was toast. When she came to, the words flashing across the tiny screen were all in Spanish. I’m not sure I wanted to know what they said.
Oh, I’m just getting started—one time (another brownies story) I don’t know what I did wrong. I thought I followed the box: egg, water, oil, what is hard about that? But about the time the brownies should have been finished, I opened the oven to find a hard dark brick which had pulled away from the edges of the pan and appeared to be frying in its own fat. I considered opening a booth at the fair for deep fried brownies but the liability insurance quote came back too high when I said I’d be cooking.
But that isn’t my worst cooking story. The worst would go something like this:
It was taco night at church. I was asked to bring two pounds of taco meat. No problem.
I was coming from work and so tried to arrive a few minutes early and cook the meat in the fellowship hall.
I thought I was there plenty early—but either I wasn’t or everyone else was early too. The fellowship hall was quickly filling with people as I attempted to inconspicuously fry ground beef on the stove. Everyone seemed to feel the need to come over and ask me what I was doing. It was taco night. Did they think I was scrambling eggs?
Something must have been on the burner because almost immediately a burned smell permeated around the room and it wasn’t the meat. In fact, it seemed to be the world’s slowest cooking meat. Ever.
Meanwhile, the fellowship hall started filling with smoke. People began to cough and choke. At first it was a little teasing and a lot of drama. But pretty soon it was just a lot of smoke. It looked less like a church fellowship dinner and more like an Indian peace conference. More people came over to the stove to ask me what I was doing.
Someone tried to prop open the fellowship hall doors, but it was not a warm evening. So—picture a fellowship hall full of people, coughing, choking, shivering, and squinting to see through the haze. Meanwhile, I was begging God to let the crazy meat cook! It was like the burning bush.
Finally, someone came up to me and when I turned around, I was so rattled that I swung the pan around with me. Some of the meat flew across the counter and in my haste to over correct, I dumped the contents.
It might have all fallen on the floor, but for one thing.
That one thing was my purse, which sat open on the floor by my feet.
That’s right. I dumped two pounds of ground beef into my purse.
After all the smoke. All the haze. All the smells. All the shivers. I dumped the two pounds of ground beef into my purse.
How I wanted to leave it there and go home. But my keys were somewhere inside. Under the two pounds of hot, greasy ground beef.
It was months before I would eat tacos again. And it has been eight years and I’ve still never been asked to bring taco meet again. In fact, the food coordinator apologized to me afterwards for asking me to bring something “hard” like taco meat.
I now get asked to bring sour cream. Occasionally, they branch out and ask me to bring shredded cheese. But they do not ask me to bring “hard” things like taco meat.
So now you understand why I say I’m no Amelia Bedelia.
My happy endings include things like walking into my house to switch on the light and realizing the cracked double light switch plate had had been on my list to replace. Then shutting the sliding glass door and remembering that I needed a dowel to complete my Ft. Knox-like security system. My happy endings look an awful like the beginning of a list for a fourth trip to Home Depot.
And the lesson in all of this: I should stay away from trying to cook “hard” things like taco meat, box brownies, and refrigerator biscuits.