COLUMN: Confessions of the kitchen clueless

This is my Sunday column for the April 8, 2012 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. A version of this piece aired on a recent episode of Northern Community Radio’s “Between You and Me.”

Confessions of the kitchen clueless
By Aaron J. Brown

The trailer house where I grew up was like a proletarian U-Boat. I learned to dash through like an able bodied submariner, which naturally meant I was to pass through the kitchen as well on my way to the torpedoes. The kitchen was where the food was, so it was important, but I never took much interest in where that food came from or how it was prepared. I had other business in the submarine.

My mom ran hot and cold with meals; home cooking many dishes but then surrendering to my preference of macaroni and cheese. So I learned to cook macaroni. Pan. Measuring cup. Spoon. I learned to cook grilled cheese. Knife. Griddle. Mostly I recall eating large blocks of sliced American cheese in lieu of sandwiches. Eventually I figured out how to cook soup from a can, ravioli from a can, and by my senior year of high school I had mastered instant mashed potatoes. During college, it was not uncommon for me to mix up a bowl of Potato Buds and pour in a can of corn and call that a Friday night. Left alone, that’s exactly what I’d do today.

But it’s been a long time since I’ve had Spudcorn casserole. During college I brought my girlfriend over to meet my family on a Sunday morning. To impress her I cooked pancakes and they actually turned out pretty good. My family knew it must have been serious. She returned the favor one day and the pancakes turned out in such a way that they could be balled up and bounced. So when we got married I was given very specific kitchen duties. I would cook macaroni and cheese and I would cook pancakes. Our children know that, with only the rarest of exceptions, the sight of me in the kitchen means one of those two things.

Christina is pretty handy in the kitchen and has the gadgets to show for it. I fail to understand what most of them even do. Once, I filled up what I thought was a pretty good travel mug with Diet Coke and she stopped me before I left the house.

“You can’t use that,” she said. “That’s a gravy mixer.”

“But it would work,” I replied. “Why can’t I just use it anyway?”

“Because every woman on the planet knows what that’s for and you’ll look like an idiot,” she said. And that was basically true. It took me a country year to figure out the new can openers when they converted to side openers instead of top openers. And of course, there was the sad end of the pancake griddle.

The non-stick surface of the griddle had been wearing out before the night I was to cook pancakes for dinner. I have a particular recipe for blueberry pancakes that I’ve developed over the years. In my rush to get the batter right I hurky-jerkied the griddle out of the corner cabinet and broke the plastic handle that leveled the griddle, something I fixed quickly with masking tape.

I heated up the griddle but when I poured on the first batch of pancakes they stuck like caulk. When the floppy high grade flipping spatula failed to peel up the cakes I panicked and went to a metal spoon. What was left of the non-stick surface scraped up in flakes all over the smoking sad pancakes. Within moments the griddle’s career had ended suddenly, like that of a veteran NFL lineman whose knees give out for good just as the team misses the playoffs.

I used a pan to finish the pancakes but I was rattled. I hadn’t botched pancakes so badly in a decade. We picked up a nice new griddle from the store and it’s since been smooth sailing. But I have no idea what would happen if I had to contend with the rice maker, or the bread maker, or the array of Pampered Chef whatsits in the drawers.

Probably I’d serve triple cheese sandwiches, with a side of Spudcorn casserole.

Aaron J. Brown is a writer and college instructor from the Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio.

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