I’ll Make Dinner Tonight…Just Hand Me My Phone

Reprinted with permission from Layin’ Down Roots


I’m going to try to bake chicken tonight…again.  My last four attempts all took a direct route from the oven to the trash, with a short layover on a fork for a taste test and a (now familiar) reaction of “What the….?!”  I tell ya, I have half a mind to give up on my attempt to cook an edible main course made of poultry. But I have kids and all, and for some reason they feel like they need to eat every night and that I’m the one that is supposed to feed them.  And they like when Nana and Papa make chicken so I keep trying.  Miserably failing….and then trying again.

You are probably asking yourself right now, “How does she NOT know how to cook chicken?”  I know, pretty pathetic.  I am a grown woman in my 30s with a family and years behind me in which I should have been practicing and perfecting the art of bird cooking.  And I agree with your sentiment, in theory.  It should not be that hard.  I should be able to follow directions and set the temperature and the timer and pull out a perfectly bronzed specimen.  But, for some reason, it comes out chewy and stringy and altogether disgusting.  I am not exaggerating when I say that we have had takeout burgers for the last four Fridays and it was not our initial dinner plan.  (Thank you B&W…you are my family’s lifeline and provider of sustenance.)

I would love to say that it is just chicken that gives me a hard time.  But I am also not exaggerating when I say that I have not eaten a pork chop in 12 years.  Not since that time that I cooked them for my then boyfriend of six months for a romantic candlelight dinner.  After setting the table and presenting the meal, I took a bite of my pork chop and remarked that it tasted a bit “off.”  My boyfriend, either out of extreme hunger or fear of hurting my feelings (probably both), replied with, “Mine tastes fine.  Here, I’ll eat yours too.”  Six short hours later he was lying in a hospital bed with extreme abdomen pain and doctor’s hovering over him talking about his liver levels being “out of whack.”  It took him a full week to recover from this dangerous episode of food poisoning.  Thankfully, he still asked me to marry him a few years later—on the condition that I would never try to feed him pork products again.

Sadly, that is not my only foray into the abyss of meals gone wrong.  There is a reason why, when I ask my family what I can bring to Thanksgiving dinner, they always encourage (beg) me to make a salad.  (For the record, I make a damn fine salad.)  Last year I tried to get creative and make stuffed zucchini for a side dish.  My dad took one bite and I think I saw his eyes tear up as he forced himself to swallow it.  Mind you, this is a guy who started the tradition of biting the head off of the first smelt caught every year.  Let that sink in….he bites the head off of a live fish but he won’t eat my painstakingly prepared vegetables.  If that doesn’t scream “get out of the kitchen,” I don’t know what does.

It started way back though, this affinity for terrible cooking. I remember my mom’s face when she tried my homemade peanut butter cookies when I was about 12 years old.  I knew she loved milk, but I didn’t know she loved it that much. She drank an entire glass of it just to get that one cookie down.  This tradition continued into my 20s.  Remember that sweet boyfriend who I almost killed with salmonella?  Two months before that episode I baked him a whole batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies and sent them to his house in Nashville.  When I visited him two weeks later, I was looking for potholders in his kitchen when I opened a drawer and, lo and behold, there was the entire container of uneaten cookies.  When I questioned him, he said, “Oh yeah, I wanted to share them with my roommates. That is the community drawer.”  When I then noticed that the container was still filled to the top, well, let’s just say it wasn’t my proudest moment.

Want to know the embarrassing part?  My mother and my grandmother are and were phenomenal cooks respectively.  Huge southern style meals complete with gravy and all the fixins’ were a regular part of my upbringing.  The chairs around my grandmother’s dining room table were always filled with eager eaters and the smells that would waft out of her kitchen were drool inducing.  My mother is a professional baker.  Yep, she bakes and decorates cakes and cupcakes FOR A LIVING.  The closest I ever get to decorating a cake is licking her leftover icing off of the beaters.

Whether it was the tuna noodle casserole that I made in college when I forgot to add the tuna (and ate an entire helping before I noticed the omission) or the mac-n-cheese that I made for my little cousins as their babysitter that was (in the words of a four year old) “crunchy”, somewhere along the way, I earned the well-deserved reputation of being a terrible cook.  To be sure, this designation has its benefits.  I get to buy veggie platters and cheese trays from Martin’s Supermarket for family parties instead of spending the entire morning over a hot stove.  The freedom that comes with being a disaster in the dining room allows me to focus more on the important aspects of the dinner, such as the wine selection.

If you are reading this and thinking, “she should try this…” or “why doesn’t she just….” I welcome your suggestions and prayers.  My most recent attempt at Outback style Alice Springs Chicken could’ve used a few Hail Marys.  But, if you are reading this and nodding your head in agreement and feeling as though maybe you too could finally muster up the courage to admit your dinner time deficiencies, then I say to you, my soul sister, throw off those chains of entre embarrassment and embrace your inner Anti-Julia Child, and repeat after me…”I do not need to be a good cook to be a good person.  But I really wish I could make some damn chicken.”  Then call up B&W and order two burgers and invite me over.  I’ll bring the wine.

-by Stacey Carlin
Layin’ Down Roots

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