One summer many years ago, my cousin Mary decided to open a beautiful authentic Italian restaurant. The authenticity was to come from Aunt Philomena, who was a heavenly cook. You could almost picture the angels fighting for her scaloppini.
The kitchen, one of the first “in-the-round” designs, could be seen from every angle. Crowds flocked to the restaurant where Aunt Philomena was the center of attention.
She was as good as a floor show until she became convinced that patrons were trying to steal her recipes and the only way she could thwart them was by making subtle changes in the recipes as she worked to throw possible recipe thieves off the track. So Aunt Philomena began dropping strange ingredients into the dishes. She tried squash, (not too bad), and cod liver oil (not good).
Sure enough, nobody stole the recipes, and the restaurant was bankrupt and under legal restraint by Christmas.
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The story of Aunt Philomena is passed down in our family as a cautionary tale. So, when the home arts director for the Washington State Fair called last month to ask me to do a demonstration, I felt apprehensive. As I understood, the person who usually demonstrates was ill and could I just take her place? So I said I could.
It turned out I was wrong.
I am what could be called an exuberant cook. I drop things on the floor and then I trip over them. For more complicated dishes, the kitchen ends up looking like a very sizable hurricane has passed through. Maybe a little worse.
Chastened by the knowledge that there are many pitfalls, I chose my recipe carefully. I wanted something comforting and nutritious.
But it’s impossible to know what food is good for us any more. It changes from day to day. For instance, one day kale is reported to be very healthful and you should eat it at every opportunity. The very next day, the media is full of features about how kale is really bad for you and causes thyroid disease.
Dismissing fads, I planned to cook the good, old-fashioned way with whipping cream and canned cream of chicken soup — ingredients you can depend on. I knew the way would not be easy when I opened the cupboard and the door fell off. This was not a good sign, but I stacked the door in the corner with the other things for the next time a son visits. Tai chi master Cheng Man-Ch’ing said that we must “persist in the face of ferocious difficulties.” Of course, he also said we should start each day by standing on one leg for increasing periods of time. So take your pick.
The demonstration started off amazingly well, with a very appreciative crowd. In the first 10 minutes, I dropped only small things that could be easily kicked under the counter. Trouble came when I reached for the pot pies in the oven, simply bubbling with deliciousness. I couldn’t find the potholders. Faced with the choice of my skirt hem, my apron or a dish towel, I naturally chose the towel which turned out to be damp.
Of course, damp cloths conduct heat. It got very hot very fast. So in one breathtaking motion, I tossed the pies on the table and the pan in the air where it sailed in a graceful arc over the guard rail into the audience, coming to rest on a gentleman’s knee. Luckily his groan was barely audible over the clatter of the crashing cookware. He was very nice and helped clean up the grease and other debris.
The event planner thanked me warmly and said several times that she is almost sure the regular demonstrator is getting well really, really fast and will surely be back next year. I thought that was good news, and I said so.
I’m glad I did it, though. It’s important to keep trying new things because if you stop, someone will come along and put dirt over you. After that, moving will be a problem. I know this because I’m going to about two funerals a week now.
I saw a T-shirt last week that said, “I believe I can live forever! So far. So good.”
I believe we need to reach out in new directions. Keep moving.
Someone should write that on a T-shirt. Or a potholder.