Friday, October 28, 2005


I never cooked at all until I got back from Viet Nam, with a kid in tow, at the age of 40. Some years later I seriously contemplated writing a cooking column for a newspaper. I never did, but it would have been interesting.

No one could have started further back or dumber than me. I’m the guy that didn’t remove the frozen dinners from the cartons before putting them in the oven. (It didn’t say to do that in the instructions.)

But I smartened up. Some people never smarten up.

Some years later, while shopping in a market, I saw a sale on some canned items.

“Look at that,” I said to the fat lady standing next to me, “that’s a great price for lentils.”

“Lentils,” she scoffed. “They taste awful.”

“No, no. You add cooked bacon or sausage pieces, a little spiced tomato sauce, and pour it over toast. It’s delicious.”

“Oh, well,” she said. “if you’re going to fix it up.” She made it sound as if that were cheating.

No my dear. That is what they call “cooking.”

There are two lessons to be learned from this. The first is fat people are good eaters, not necessarily good cooks. (My mother was obese and one of the all time worst cooks.) The second is that imagination is important to cooking. As soon as I pointed out how to “fix it up,” she could imagine how the taste would be improved. Trouble was, she couldn’t imagine it on her own.

Even when I was a novice cook I got the reputation of being a gourmet chef. That was due to deception.

They had a pot luck dinner in the mobile home park in which we lived. My first instinct was to get take out or brownies, both are always a fan favorite. Then I decided to try a little flim-flam. At that time Banquet had two types of frozen Chinese dinners. They were just a Chinese flavored stew with rice in a separate compartment.

I bought two of each, plopped them all together, rice and all, added a couple of seasonings, and there you go. I’d never heard of such a thing, but what the hell. It was a Chinese casserole

It was also a big hit at the Pot-luck. My pot came home empty. That’s the only vote that counts. So I got the reputation as an accomplished cook.

A little later a female resident in the park asked me for the recipe. She was one of the few who hadn’t been hostile to me so I relented. Actually, I wanted to brag about the con I had pulled off.

So I asked her if she could keep it a total secret. She swore she would. So I told her.

Everyone in the park had heard about it the next day. There went my “Master Chef” reputation.

So here is another important lesson to be learned about the secret of cooking: Don’t tell anyone your secret!


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