Sunday, April 15, 2012
Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen Spoil the Soup
Why didn't I ever learn how to cook? I am not really sure. It's certainly ironic since I really love eating. It might be related to this time I remember watching my mother cook a big meal for my father and his friends sometime around kindergarten. I remember they all sat around eating and laughing and having a good time while my mother wore an apron and cooked and and served all of the food and waited to see if they needed anything else. Even at five I guess it didn't look my kind of party. I remember thinking that if I didn't learn how to cook, I wouldn't have to do that.
When I left home at 18, I figured I would eventually learn how to cook out of necessity if not desire. I greatly underestimated my ability to eat peanut butter and jelly and pasta with Ragu sauce for weeks and weeks at a time. The only thing I ever learned how to make was sandwiches. I do make pretty good sandwiches, but I am pretty sure that doesn't count as cooking.
I am so untalented in the kitchen that usually my mother gets too upset watching me try to cut or slice anything. Therefore, when she has parties at the house she usually politely asks me to stop trying to touch the food and go and pour wine for the guests instead. I pour wine pretty well.
I realize that given this set of circumstances it may seem strange that I decided to take a cooking class. I did not sign up for the class out of a burning desire to learn how to prepare a traditional Colombian dish. I was more interested in taking a break from my steady diet of TV. I really do love TV, madly and deeply, but even I have my limits. I also figured I should try to avoid becoming a complete and total weirdo which was in danger of happening if I watched even one more subtitled episode of CSI Miami, New York, or Las Vegas.
So I went to this nice lady's house and she tried to teach me how to make Sancocho, a type of Colombian Soup. Unfortunately, my teacher, Elsa, and her husband, Hernan, could speak no English (except for the word "chicken"). Therefore, we had to rely on my 8th grade Spanish which I am sure was a special kind of torture for both of them. We learned some basic things about each other, but a lot of our conversations ended with one or both of us shaking our heads in total confusion.
Elsa showed me the ingredients (chicken, beans, plantains, corn, and potatoes)and tried to give me some basic tasks to aid in the soup making. At first I thought my lack of culinary skills would not be a problem. I was totally able to open the pea pod and let the peas fall into the bowl. However, that was pretty much the last task I could complete with any real competency.
I thought that getting the corn off the cob would be no problem. I watched Elsa do it at a rapid pace and the bowl began to fill up with perfect little kernels. However, when I tried they did not look like perfect little kernels. They looked like I had removed them with my teeth and spit them into the bowl a chewed up mess.
We then moved on to the potatoes. I watched Elsa peel the potatoes with a large knife. The peel came off in a single,perfect ribbon. When it was my turn, I was very concerned. I had never attempted to peel a potato without a potato peeler. The giant knife looked way out of my league and I figured that accidentally lopping off a finger would put a damper on my cooking lesson.
I heard Elsa and Hernan do a little snickering and I saw them shake their heads. I wasn't offended. A grown up should be able to figure out how to peel a potato with a knife. I will readily admit that I could not figure out how to do this. I did figure out how to remove the skin but it required that I place the potatoes on the table and cut it off in chunks leaving the potatoes pretty hard to identify.
I think when Elsa realized what a menace I was in the kitchen she somehow signaled her husband to show me his wood shop where he carved frames and altars by hand for churches around Bogota. It was a pretty extensive tour which I think was meant to keep me away from the food because when it was finished so was the soup.
However, since I had not really done all that much to help make it besides deform a few potatoes and shuck a few peas, it felt less like a cooking class and more like I had just paid two nice old people to have lunch with me.
They were pretty sweet so that didn't bother me at all. However, I might have to accept that, much to my mother's chagrin, I will just never learn how to cook.