I have a long and quite poorly illustrated* history of completely failing to make edible food. It runs the gamut from no-bake cheesecake that was indeed not baked, and also failed to be anything like cheesecake; to a quite unappetizing stew that was born from a fried rice recipe; to more than a few sets of ingredients that came out of a bread machine almost the same way they went into it. I have learned from these experiments that the human body is basically a garbage disposal and will use as fuel almost anything you put into it.
A friend and I once made a lime-and-chocolate-chip sheet cake that was burnt on the edges and soup in the middle. It took us upwards of four hours. We eventually gave up and scooped off the parts that most closely resembled cake, but in the morning, we found they’d crumbled under their own weight. (I still brought a couple of spoonfuls to lunch that Monday. A high schooler would have done worse for the excuse to eat chocolate in the middle of the day.)
I once decided that I would make something kind of like beef stroganoff, except with chicken instead of beef and rice instead of noodles and a genuinely massive quantity of garlic instead of mushrooms** and so nothing like beef stroganoff at all. The first step to all of this, as you might expect, was to boil chicken bones for about six hours. While that was happening, I started to saute the rice with the onions and garlic. This traditionally takes about five minutes. The broth had about four hours to go. I looked at the rice. The rice looked worried. I looked at the pot of bones and water; it looked smug. I quickly heated up a reasonable amount of water in an electric kettle, thinking the rice, at least, could be salvaged. And it was! I went for a victorious lie-down.
After a reasonable amount of time, I added the freshly-made broth and all the (cooked) chicken in to the rice. It turned into soup. I hate soup. I turned the fire back up and started adding little bits of flour, trying to thicken it. The rice was pretty confused by this. The chicken was also not thrilled. I turned up the heat, whistling nervously. The soup began to boil. (It still looked smug.) I stirred and stirred and stirred, the way you do, I thought, with gravy. My arm got tired. I gave up and ate it. It tasted like regret. It also tasted of lime, lime being what I add to things when I am just kind of hoping something will help. To this day I have not had scurvy even once.
In one of my early adventures in vegetarianism, I tried to make red beans and rice out of whatever I had in the house and no meat. Luckily, this included, to begin with, a can of red beans.
Now, if you are reading this as a person who has never been to Louisiana or the southern states and so has never had red beans and rice, you may think that sounds like pretty much all you need. There is little I can do to dissuade you. I can only explain to my geographical compatriots that when I say a can of red beans, I do not mean Blue Runner. I mean a $0.97 can of dark red kidney beans from something like a Wal*Mart or a Matherne’s. I mean that I to this day don’t totally know how to make beans and rice so it’s not mostly just rice with texture. I mean, essentially, that I tried to stretch a can of kidney beans to cover probably three cups of cooked rice, that I have just remembered it was not even rice but was in fact grits, good lord! – and the only other food I had in the house was a half a jar of salsa. I offered some of this no-matter-what-else 100% edible food to my roommate. She kindly abstained.
I don’t know if it will help or not to tell you, gentle reader, that I cook only when I am inspired to, that I have been lucky enough to maintain steady employment or school-related funding and relatively low rent since I officially moved out of my mother’s house at 19, and, by dint of living in what passes for an urban environment, that I have rarely been too far from a drive-through to, well, drive through it. In general, I find the combination of time and attention to detail that is cooking pretty boring. What I am getting at is that for the first (mumbles) years of learning how to feed myself on something other than takeout, I was usually two or three glasses of wine in by the time the food was no longer dangerous to put in my mouth, at which point I would promptly eat it. A certain amount of tipsy creativity and tipsier impatience frequently combined for a delightfully experimental style that one could say shows a certain amount of vision. One should, perhaps, not say that, or should say that the kind of vision it shows is the kind you get by looking through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars. But I am someone and I am going to say it. I have vision.
Don’t be fooled by whatever kind of false modesty it is where you baldly confess your utter inadequacy – I, sober, am not a terrible cook (and I am more frequently sober than in days past). If I have a recipe, I can certainly follow it. I would even serve what happens at the end to a relative. Maybe not a friend, because those don’t have to see you at whatever religious holidays the collective has agreed to celebrate. But definitely to someone whose shared DNA means they can’t leave me behind on a desert island when rescue finally comes.
You’re all invited. Who wants dinner?
*One does not put one’s failures on Instagram.
**Mushrooms are one of several of my nemeses.