I recently came across a pair of references to Julia Child. The famous chef was mentioned in the latest post on The Task at Hand at roughly the same time that a story about her popped up on my news feed. And while my thoughts immediately turned to the old, blood-soaked Saturday Night Live bit with Dan Aykroyd, they also caused me to reflect on my contentious relationship with my kitchen.
I don’t think there was a definitive moment when everything went south, nothing I can point to as a single, searing epiphany. Rather I just never learned to appreciate a good meal, mainly because I can’t recall any that made even the slightest impression on me (at least not in a positive way) as I was growing up. Dinnertime was something to be endured, often little more than a battle of wills between me and my gag reflex.
Mom did her best, but as a working parent she rarely had the time to put a “loving” meal on the table. That meant lots of one-pot concoctions plopped on the plate, accompanied by canned green beans, corn, or the dreaded, evil Brussels sprouts. Many a dinner was spent trying to devise a plan for getting those heinous balls of poison past my epiglottis before it had a chance to reject them, violently. I finally settled on smuggling them by, whole, with a gulp of milk, so as not to disturb the rancid, deadly toxins lurking within.
And my step-father cooked only one dish – rouladens. A culinary abomination that would have sent Julia screaming into the night. Bacon and peppers entombed in a cheap cut of beef that had been beaten like a rented mule by way of “tenderizing” it, the whole mess pinned together with toothpicks and baked to the consistency of shoe leather. It was the incessant pounding of the meat that signaled our doom, every thwack another reminder of the wretched meal we would soon have to face. More than simply indigestible, the fist-sized lumps defied the mastication process. Most nights it was all I could do to gnaw through half of one, knowing full well the rest would be waiting for me, as cold as a corpse, the following morning for breakfast.
So it should come as no surprise that, despite Julia’s best efforts, I detest cooking. And that holds for the entire process – from pushing past the disheveled masses in their sweat pants and bed head hair stumbling through the grocery store aisles on a Sunday morning to cleaning all those pots and pans. Screw a flying car – I want one of those food replicators like they have on the starship Enterprise. Where all I have to do is say what I want and it magically appears (sort of like a restaurant, but without having to tip). Then I could have the kitchen torn out and the space turned into a sauna or an arcade or any of a thousand more useful options. With all the cabinets and utensils tossed into a pile in the backyard and set ablaze that I might dance naked around the flames.
The only reason I ever picked up a spatula in the first place was so that Child Protective Services didn’t come and take my kids away (although some days I was hard-pressed to see how that would have been a bad thing). There is no doubt that Rachael Ray is the Devil, greasing the road to Hell with EVOO.
To the Food Network I would say, stop already. Enough with the endless parade of shiny, happy people cooking their asses off, serving up spreads fit for the cover of Better Homes and Gardens. By comparison, my Ragu-drenched lasagna looks like it should come with a hazmat warning. And all I can think of while Giada dirties every pan in her perfect kitchen as she whips up a batch of Chicken and Honey Mustard Pinwheels is, “Who’s cleaning up that fucking mess?”
If nothing else, how about a little balance. Maybe a show for those of us standing in front of our refrigerators in a mild state of panic as we realize tonight’s Beef Stroganoff may be compromised because the sour cream we thought was still viable could, in fact, star in its own Hair Club for Men commercial. While I haven’t worked out all the particulars, segments might include choosing the proper power tools for chiseling burnt brownies from ‘non-stick’ baking pans, or how to reassemble a leftover bratwurst after it goes ‘supernova’ in the microwave. Working show titles include Shut Up and Eat It, Gruel – It’s What’s For Dinner, and The Ketchup King.