Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Everything's Easy When You Know How

I take it as a given that the thing humans do least well is communicate. Nowhere is this more evident than when one person who knows how to do something but is not an expert wants to explain, without props, to someone who is a complete novice how to do it.

My first piece of advice to the novice is if the teacher says - nay, insists - "It's easy," then you must say immediately that your mother is dying, your manslaughter trial begins in twenty minutes, or that you have recently contracted a loathsome social disease. Say anything that will allow you to make your escape.

Throughout my adult life, the topic regarding which I have been most frequently - that is to say, always - victimized is cooking. Not one peson has ever tried to explain to me how to make a particular dish without saying "It's easy."

Unhappily, they clandestinely share a dictionary with uncommon definitions for common words, and once they begin their cooking explanations it becomes obvious that their version of "easy" means "So complex that several days into the preparation of this dish you will eat the raw ingredients with your bare hands in order to stave off starvation."

One evening each week, or as close to that schedule as we can manage, I visit my old junk mail friend, Bobby, previously mentioned in this blog. Our arrangement is that we alternate cooking responsibilities. Bobby can cook. I, on the other hand, . . . .

Given my limitations, the variety of meals that I cook for us is limited, and it recently occurred to me that it *is* the twenty-first century after all and perhaps Google really is my friend. I began a search for "easy meals."

This is the absolute truth: I clicked on the first results link and at that site I clicked on a "100 Easy Dinners" link. I then clicked on the link to the first dinner title that caught my interest: Chicken Marsala.

Keep in mind that to me, "easy" means "Start a stove burner and dump everything on top of it." I'd even include putting the food into a pot or a pan first. OK? Now, forget the process, just look at the list of ingredients:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon Essence, recipe follows
2 (6 to 8-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in halves and pounded thin
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
3 cups sliced mushrooms (cremini, oyster, shiitake)
3/4 cup Marsala
1 cup chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chopped chives, for garnish

Recipe for "Essence" (required above)

2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried leaf oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme

Now here is a list of the above ingredients which I do *not* have on hand:

all-purpose flour
boneless, skinless chicken breasts
olive oil
sliced mushrooms
chicken stock
freshly ground black pepper
chopped chives
garlic powder
onion powder
dried leaf oregano
dried thyme

And a list of the ingredients that I *do* have on hand is:

black pepper
cayenne pepper

Now one *expects* to have to buy the chicken, and perhaps one or two ingredients, but you see what I mean, right?

Perhaps I should mention that I *do* have a tablespoon too. No, don't be so cynical. I also have a measuring cup.

Which of you will volunteer to contact the usage panels of the various Webster's dictionaries, the American Heritage dictionaries, the Oxford English Dictionary, and numerous others, in order to inform them that they omitted a definition of the word "easy?"

I threw the word "bachelors" into my search and things look more promising. One conclusion reached in short order, however, is that if credit is given for a recipe and that credit goes to a woman, I'll just move along, thank you very much, 'preciate it, my mother is dying, I gotta go. When it comes to "easy" we don't speak the same language.

As an aside, the *best* single instruction regarding a recipe that I ever heard was at a back yard party in Maryland. The hostess and another woman, both thirtyish, were talking about the recipe for something the hostess had prepared. The latter was reciting ingredients and when she got to vanilla extract, the guest asked "How much?"

"Oh, 'bout a mouthful."


Just Another Wannabe said...

Ha ha! Hey - you're way ahead of me. I have all those items in the recipe on hand and I still can't cook! Let me give you a tip. This is easy. STOP! Don't go bolting for the door! I have a foolproof way of serving a great meal for friends or guests. Buy your meal items from a good restaurant and pick them up about 30 minutes before you're ready to serve dinner (keeping the items separate), bring them home, put each in a casserole dish and stick them covered in the oven on low heat. Set your table and serve. While this may be defeating the purpose of learning how to cook, well ... who cares? I've been getting away with this little fiasco for years! Sheesh! Hope nobody who comes for dinner at my place reads your blog or I'll be learning how to how to get all cheffy pretty quickly - my goose will be cooked!

BrokenDownProgrammer said...

Yes, I can see you now. "Oh, the Flaming Filet of Yak, Peking Style? Just something I knocked off between saving the world and doing my nails."

I must say, that you have all those ingredients on hand is mighty suspicious.

Just Another Wannabe said...

Well, I try. God knows I try. I've wasted more money than anyone I know on failed attempts at cooking. The catastrophes I've had in my kitchen rival the great Chicago fire, I'm sure. I've been known to throw away entire sets of pots and pans that have been burnt beyond recognition. I even manage to muck up my oven keeping bought meals warm. My kitchen has two fire extinguishers and one good smoke alarm which I had to move because my cooking sent it wailing too many times.

The one thing I make from scratch - hamburger sloppy Joes - is lovingly referred to by friends and family as swill, and they really are being kind. It turns out so badly that my one friend always walks in flaunting a straw in front of me. Yeah, ok - it gets a little runny sometimes. But I keep them guessing. It never turns out the same way twice! Funny, though, there never seems to be any leftovers. Hmmm ...

I have, however, learned to use the microwave pretty well. The microwave is my friend. It can be yours too. But beware! You can mess that up too. Trust me on this. The stories I could tell ya!

BrokenDownProgrammer said...

Oh yes, my microwave and I are on first name terms. Unprintable names on occasion, but still . . . .

I do have a smoke alarm safely around the corner from the stove, and a fire extinguisher. It is my fondest hope that if an occasion arises when I need the latter, I will have time to read the instructions.

Just Another Wannabe said...

OMG - you are so funny! Your writing is a joy to read. Please don't ever stop. It would be a talent wasted if you did.

If you ever decide to write fiction, I believe you'd quickly become a best-selling author. I mean that sincerely.

Looking forward to your next blog post!

Just Another Wannabe said...

Forgot to mention, I can bake - anything, from the most difficult cheesecakes to fully decorated cakes (I used to have a home bakery until recently). Unfortunately baking is much, much different than cooking. I actually love to cook - well, try, that is. It's just that most everything turns out very dry or very undercooked. And yes, sometimes very burnt.

You got me thinking about what I actually have in the apartment. So, just out of curiosity, I counted the number of herb containers I have in my kitchen cabinet. 38! Probably should toss them.

So, if you ever want to try your hand at baking - I think I could talk you through that! That's eas ... er, I mean easier than cooking.

Or you could just stop in at a local bakery. :-)

Catch you later in cyberspace!

Dramlin said...

"Cooking"? What is this "cooking" of which you speak?

BrokenDownProgrammer said...

Gone are the breakfast restaurant, your Mexican skirt steak place next to Cadillac Ranch, Spring Garden, and others.

Desparate times call for desparate measures.

Oklahoma City Divorce Attorney said...

A can-do attitude and a little bit of know how and whoila! Sounds yummy :)