Sometimes I feel like Lucy Ricardo when I cook - one catastrophe following another, a slapstick comedy unfolding in my little kitchen the size of a walk-in closet. Tuesday night and that means I cook for my father. My mother was a tough act to follow, and she truly shone in the kitchen. She had done more cooking and baking than her sisters back in the old farmhouse in Cascade, Iowa and not only did she have a flair for it, she brought love and passion to her craft. She enjoyed it.
Now my father is a challenge for even the best of chefs and I refused to cook for him when I was growing up. And my mother would not let me cook - I was delegated to the position of family baker and I won blue ribbons every summer for my sour cream chocolate cookies at the county fair. Only Mom was allowed to cook for the Master who could give out criticism with the best of them. One night I remember him taking a forkful of the casserole and commenting, "tastes like you scraped it off the basement floor." Not missing a beat my mother said, "as a matter of fact that's exactly what happened. I dropped the casserole when I took it out of the downstairs freezer." And it did not taste like that at all, but Dad was, well, Dad.
When I was 16 Mom had to be somewhere over the lunch hour and she asked me to prepare a BLT for my father returning from work. The bacon was not crisp enough, the tomatoes sliced too thickly, not enough lettuce and there was something wrong with the toast. I remember muttering something under my breath about, you know where McDonald's is, but I didn't, I was just eager to get out of the kitchen and be with my friends.
When I married the first time I called my mother from my home a hundred miles away and said, I don't know how to cook. She directed me to buy my first cook book, the Betty Crocker edition. And that's how I learned to boil an egg and make cherry sauce for ham slices.
At one time I had wished in my heart that Dad would go first. Mom and I would sell our townhouses and live in a one-floor condo. She would have her own bedroom and sitting room and would only need to be in the kitchen when she wanted to be, which would probably be a lot. I was worried about keeping Dad content tempered by almost sixty years of trying.
I have difficulty cooking since my mother died. It requires organization and consistency and these are qualities that seem impossible right now. I am good at simple, quick chores such as straightening up the books and magazines on my coffee table or ironing a shirt.
Dad likes chicken pot pie and I know there is a big container of chicken gravy dated 6-27 in my freezer. I made this for my parents on that date using homemade chicken stock, rotisserie chicken (such a great invention) and vegetables. Topped with Bisquick dumplings it is a tasty dish. Mom and Dad continue to love pot roast and casseroles and lasagna far into the summer when everybody is grilling. Anyway, I decide to cook this for my father. I thaw the gravy, buy and debone the chicken (I am too tired to recycle the containers and make new stock using the carcasses - I have many shortcuts since Mom has left) and cook the vegetables. The first indication of trouble came from the frozen bread dough.
I thaw the bread on a dish towel, all my loaf pans have mysteriously disappeared, and finally put the doughy lump in a casserole dish. I always forget when I put things in the oven and it's difficult to tell when the bread is done because it's whole wheat and already brown. When I slice it later the innards are soft and doughy and uncooked so I just slice off the edges all the way around and everybody gets the heel.
I come home late in the day and find the gravy separating as frozen products often will do. I throw the whole concoction: meat, gravy, onions, potatoes in a strainer and let all that icky water drain away. 45 minutes until Dad time. I take the gloppy mess and put it in a cake pan and into the oven. I can hear Mom saying, make sure it's hot enough before you put the Bisquick on or it will take forever for the biscuits to bake. Egads, it's not heating up fast enough! I scoop everything out of the pan, into a bowl, and into the microwave. I get out a new cake pan and throw it in the oven to preheat. After about 10 minutes it's boiling and so back in the pan in the stove. I realize I have let too much fluid drain away and the stuff is looking dry and lifeless. Alas, must make do. The final insult comes as I get out my 38-year-old coffee percolator given to me by my great-uncle at my first wedding (I do not drink coffee, thus, the absence of a more contemporary coffee maker. ) Dad MUST have coffee with dessert. I jerk it under the faucet and when I look inside I see its electrical cord curled on the bottom. Don't have time to dry the damn thing. I need to risk electrocution to make certain my father has his coffee with the carrot cake I have purchased from the local mart.
Thank God for Fincel's sweet corn. Something went right. And Dad, God love him, didn't say a word. Mom, are you laughing wherever you are?