Monday, September 7, 2015

Iron Chef: Incompetent

Greetings, WYMOP fans!
This evening I'm giving you a little taste of home. A home with a son who loves video games and little else, but still, a boy's got to eat . . .

I stuck my head through the doorway, into my son’s room. “What would you like for dinner?”
“Pork chops,” said the boy.
“With potatoes and corn?” I added.
“Then you’re making the potatoes,” I said.
His thumbs hesitated a moment on the game controller, but he didn’t actually look away from the TV screen. “Never mind. I don’t want potatoes.”
“Yeah,” I said, “but I do. Give it about ten minutes, then come out and make them, please.”
“Awww . . .”
And that was how my son wound up slaving over the hot stove, measuring, heating, and stirring. And grumbling. But to be fair, there was more a lot more cooking than grumbling. He was making instant potatoes, and the directions were printed right on the back of the box, so I went off to work in the other room and let him get on with the business of food preparation without having to feel watched.
My mistake.
“I think we’re going to have a lot of potatoes,” he called through the door.
“Well, the directions said to put in a cup of water, so I put in the whole cup.”
I could feel my forehead puckering as my brows drew together in confusion. “And that’s a bad thing . . . why, exactly?”
A hand thrust into view around the doorframe, holding our measuring cup, a plastic tumbler with markings on the side clearly indicating each of twenty-four ounces—as well as the quarter, half, and full cups making up those two cups—that actually holds two and a half cups when you fill it to the rim.
“Because I put in the whole cup.”
“Oh,” I said. “Right. Well. That would be more than the directions were asking for, wouldn’t it.” I shrugged. “Okay, so we’ll have lots of potatoes.”
“But the box said to add a quarter cup of milk.”
A second hand joined the first, one finger pointing, not toward the eight-ounce marking, one-fourth of the way up the side of the cup, as I expected, but much closer to the bottom. At the two-ounce marking. An actual quarter of a cup. I thought for a moment I was getting a headache. Then I realized that my brows, having decided my forehead wasn’t big enough for the two of them (a foolish conclusion—my forehead goes all the way back to my ass), were actually wrestling for dominance.
“So,” I said, slowly, for just speaking it aloud seemed to spur my eyebrows on, “you used the cup wrong, without thinking, and then, a minute later, used it right without thinking?”
The hands disappeared, along with their evidentiary cup, as my unseen son cried “Dude, I don’t know!”
There was a beat of silence, during which I attempted to separate my eyebrows and send them off to neutral corners. I hadn’t succeeded yet when:
“And I may have added too many flakes.”
Okay, now I think I did have a headache. “Too many for the milk?” I said. “Or the water?”
Yup, that was a headache all right. “How much did you put in?”
“I dunno,” he said, though I could barely hear him. “I didn’t measure.”
I was actually airborne for a moment, my sigh propelling me from my chair as neatly as any super-spy’s ejection seat. “You mean to tell me”—twin thuds from my feet as I landed—“that after measuring wrong once, then measuring right once—which, in essence, made the right measurement wrong—you just gave up on the whole measuring thing and decided to wing it? What is that?”
That last came as I entered the kitchen behind him and saw the empty butter container next to the potato-flake-covered stove. I was pointing.
“That was new. We hadn’t even opened that.”
“The box said to add some butter, so—”
Some,” I said. “That was a pound.”
“Well,” he said, turning to face me. “I was trying to compensate for the milk. I mean, they both . . . come from . . . cows . . . and . . . what’s wrong with your head?”
His wide, blue eyes were focused on the spot just above my own, and I realized the rhythmic sensation I had assumed was my pulse pounding in my head was actually my eyebrows. I’d been so distracted I had failed to notice them passing through the wrestling phase and into the making up phase . . . and then beyond, into something far more passionate and adult than anyone had expected. I snatched the pot of potatoes from the stove and turned my throbbing, pulsing, amorous brows away from the gaping twelve-year-old, giving the spuds a quick stir and taste with the mixing spoon still thrust into the mass.
“Hey,” I said, keeping my back to my son as the pumping on my forehead grew more passionate and frenzied. “These aren’t that bad.” Another stir. Another taste. “They’re actually pretty good.” Another stir. Another . . . wait a minute. “What’s this?”
I held out the wooden spoon, a glob of potatoes stuck to the end like some sort of spudcicle. Right on the tip of the yellow (and oh, so buttery) ball of goo was a chunk of black gunk. He stared at the gunk, studiously avoiding casting his eyes toward my distracting eyebrow action. “I dunno,” he said. “Did something fall in the pot?”
I stirred some more, turning up more little bits of black. I dug deep, gouging the spoon across the bottom of the pot, and a thin strip of black surfaced through the churning mess, like a diver’s bubble trail rising through deep water. I considered the pot in my hand, trying to remember the last time I’d seen this particular bit of cookware in service. When the memory hit, it was my stomach’s turn to leap into action, with a rather large flip-flop.
“Hey,” I said. “Do you remember last week when I made that mostaccioli with white sauce? And I used this pot for the sauce? And the pot wound up in the sink when it was all done? The next time you filled the dishwasher . . . what did you do with the pot?”
“You washed it in the sink,” said the boy. “I let it dry on the rack, then put it away.”
“No,” I said. “I put it to soak in the sink, to loosen the layer of milk, flour, and butter that had cooked onto the bottom of the pot. I never actually washed it.” I looked at the black flecks now scattered all over the surface of the spuds. “You didn’t look in the pot when you put it away?”
“I guess no—”
“And you didn’t look in the pot just now, when you put it on the stove and started pouring in way too much water?”
“I guess no—”
“What’s up?” said a new voice. The boy’s mother had come into the kitchen, three small dogs crowding about her feet. I turned to her wielding the pot and spoon, and I think steam was actually coming out of my ears—though, now that I think about it, it may just have been my eyebrows, sharing a post-passion cigarette.
“The boy’s trying to poison me!” I said, and proceeded to tell her the whole story, starting with the strange, inconsistent use of the measuring cup, and ending with the week-old, festering cheese I was now scraping from the bottom of the pot. “ . . . and I’ve never seen anything done so completely wrong in my entire life!” I finished.
She didn’t even look at me (it may have had something to do with my eyebrows at the time), but rounded on our son. “You make potatoes all the time. I’ve been having you make them for months. What the hell are you doing?”
“I—I—but—” was all he managed, blue eyes round and huge, while making little shuffling foot motions, as if, had he not already been in a corner, he would have been backpedaling furiously.
“Wait,” I said.
“One,” I added.
“Minute,” I finished.
I’d taken a step with each word, and now stood quite close to him, a wooden spoon smeared with seven day’s worth of bacterial growth pointed at his chest. His eyes had gotten larger and rounder, though his feet had stilled. “You didn’t want to stop playing your game and make these potatoes, did you.” It was worded as a question, though there was no query in my tone. I continued in the same manner. “You screwed up this badly on purpose, hoping I’d throw in the towel and never ask you to make the potatoes again, didn’t you.”
“Would I do tha—”
“Apparently, yes.”
“Do you want me to—” he began, but I finished it with him, three words spoken in two voices, neither of them asking a question.
“—make them again.”
He got to work at the stove once more, while I turned to the three small dogs that had come in with his mother; six soulful brown eyes that followed the motions of the gloop-covered spoon without missing a twitch.
“Oh, what the hell.”
I shared some of the pot’s contents with the family pets, and they loved me all the more for my generosity. They didn’t need to know I was using them as the gastric equivalent of a canary in a coal mine. You’ll be happy to hear that the potatoes we eventually had with the pork chops and corn were excellent. And the dogs and I were just fine, no trips to the veterinarian or emergency room required—though the dogs did wind up being quite gassy after dinner.

Yup. It was the dogs.

Talk to you later!

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