Sunday, August 17, 2008

Evolution of a cook

Monkey Momma/SewWhat can sometimes cook a decent meal. I've got to admit that I'm woefully lacking in practice lately. I have a summer menu, cooked on the grill, and a winter menu, cooked in the oven. This is what I fix for company, but for myself, nothing much exciting gets cooked.

I tried to pass on my culinary skills to my children. Each in their own way, they learned. Two learned through trial and error. Somehow the youngest one seemed to know what to do after watching me for a minute or two. She never wanted to work next to me, she would just watch for a minute and then shove me aside to finish the cooking project. She definitely would be chosen for the preferred cook during our family get togethers, because very little of what she makes is an utter failure. It is very tasty indeed.

Child number 2, middle child, a male child, began his gourmet experience perfecting brownie mix. We ate some hockey pucks and hard bricks before he got the hang of WATCHING THE CLOCK, and taking them out of the oven in time. But he can cook today, and does so ofen. I think he still makes the brownies at their house.

Oldest, Monkey Girl, tried and tried. She was the subject of more failures to get it right than anyone ought to have to endure. When she was just about 11, the local newspaper had a Junior Gourmet Club article in the paper on a weekly basis. The Junior Gourmets were supposed to try out the recipes and then either they or their parents would write in to tell how well the project went. Monkey Girl decided to give it a whirl, after a little prodding from her parents.

Now, this editor of the paper had a mean streak in her, and did she give them simple stuff to make like pigs in a blanket or ants on a log? (Never heard of either of those, then you weren't in Girl Scouts!) Any way, those would have been a cinch. Nooooooo, she had to start them out by making CARROT CAKE FROM SCRATCH!

Now, how many adult cooks ever make carrot cake from scratch? This was a time before food processors, so Monkey Girl began her project by shredding a pound of carrots the hard way, by using the knuckle-scraping hand shredder. After that was done, she had to chop the nuts and then assemble the other ingredients.

One of the caveats of the Junior Gourmet club was that the child was to do this on his or her own without help from an adult. We could be in the next room with the bandaids if blood started to flow, or the vacuum or mop for massive spills, but it was supposed to be the kid's gig from start to finish. Including cleanup.

She wasn't born yesterday, so she could find the basic ingredients in the kitchen. Flour, sugar, baking powder, milk, oil.......

She worked so hard on her cake, and after hours of labor, it was finally finished. It looked OK, but it had a peculiar smell. Sort of like fish! EWWWW, what happened? I asked her to show me the stuff she put into the cake, and she showed me the bottle of oil--uh-uh! Now I know why the cake smelled like that! She used the nasty oil I had saved from frying fish, she didn't know the difference, and since no one else in my family EVER tried to use the kitchen except to eat, I didn't mark the bottle. It never dawned on me that she would use it for her creation.

Well, dad and mom choked down as much of the FISH CARROT CAKE as we could, and apologized to her profusely for having contaminated ingredients in the kitchen where children/Junior Gourmets could reach them. Poor girl, this experience definitely dampened her ardour for cooking, and she promptly quit the Junior Gourmet Club!

She tried but things didn't work out so well as she attempted to learn how to fix other things. The meat on the grill was a sacrifice to the gods, totally immolated with smoke pouring heavenward. A simple Lenten meal of macaroni and cheese with tuna became a entire Lenten penance, that is for the college roommates who choked it down week after week, with one or two missteps along the way to make it less than pallatable. (When checking with Mom to see what happened, the answer was "Oh, was I supposed to drain the Macaroni after I cooked it in the water?" "Yes Dear, it tastes better without a quart of pasty water in it!") On Good Friday, they were all very thankful for the end of Lent, but by that time, it passed as a reasonable version of tuna casserole!

She has moved on, and has a husband who likes to cook, so that is good. They get to eat good stuff, which she sometimes fixes herself!

When Monkey Girl's Grandma passed away, Monkey Girl took posession of Grandma's recipes. I scoffed to myself, thinking, when will they be used? But she took it upon herself to perfect Grandma's chocolate cake, the one with the secret ingredient. Every body just loves this cake, and Monkey Girl is a whiz at making it. It is a scratch cake, something the rest of us never make! We love for the Chocolate Lovers in the family to celebrate a birthday, because she will make this extra fudgy, extra creamy, extra chocolaty cake and we can admire her prowess in the kitchen.

I could go on and one, but I'm sure she will share some of her newest adventures in Gourmet Living, we will all be anxious to test the product. Luckily, Mr. M got to try the first bite of the latest adventure, and saved the rest of the world from a cruel fate. Go to for more details.

Keep it up Monkey Girl, you'll make the cover of Gourmet Magazine yet!


MonkeyGirl said...

Now you all know why I hate cooking! When Monkey Mamma asked me about this earlier today I recalled making a carrot cake but didn't recall the whole story. Now all of the painful memories have come flooding back and Mr. M will never convince me to step foot in the kitchen again!

sewwhat? said...

In the memorable words of Bela Karoli, "you can do it, you can do it!" (1996 Olympic gymnastics team victory, sealed by the pain of a girl competing on a broken foot!) Don't give up MonkeyGirl, when you perfect your creations, they are awesome. Did I mention that cherries are my favorite fruit? And my birthday is coming up soon? And cherry cakelets would be very nice for a birthday cake? And what are you going to do with all that nasty Kirsch?