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17 May 2008

The Joy of Cooking

As I mentioned last week, I’ve been dealing with some weighty problems over the past five-or-so months. Aside from prepping my new novel, researching another one, completing assorted paintings, keeping my website up to snuff, confronting the assaults of tax collectors, and supervising all sorts of tradesmen struggling to prevent my house and grounds from looking like a Stephen King locale, my weighty problems have literally been weighty, like in avoirdupois.

The loss of 42 pounds has compelled me to buy a whole new wardrobe — that is to say, a couple of new T-shirts, several pairs of summer shorts, and a pair or two of dress-up pants, none of which, I might add, make me look any less the creature dwelling in the attic of a Stephen King locale.

Bad, to be sure. But even worse is my panicky, forced retreat into the kitchen.

In the latter years of my 62-year marriage, my late wife, a professional antiques dealer, and I, a professional dreamer and hard labor avoider, would do our various things during the day then meet, come dinner time, at convenient restaurants to chow down, after which we’d go home and resume the Mom and Pop scene we’d enjoyed for so many years. My wife, a truly excellent cook and baker, simply didn’t have time to work at it due to the demands of her business, nor would she allow me to cook because she hated to see good food ruined. So we became the darlings of local restaurateurs.

For most of the two years of my widowerhood, I continued to do my serious eating out. But one day my doctor, a beautiful, feisty little woman young enough to be my daughter, glared at me from under lowered brows, punched me in the chest with her thermometer, and said, “There’s absolutely no excuse for a man of your age to go around looking like a white-haired volleyball. If you don’t soon transform yourself into a white-haired baseball bat I’ll report you to the Medicare Police as a chronic calorie abuser.”

Cowering, I whined, “So how do I transform?”

“You cut out salt and sugar, first off. Then you avoid stuff with fat and carbohydrates and starches by reading every label in sight.”

“But,” I whined further, “there’s no label on the Colonel’s fried chicken, or on the breaded veal cutlet at Spaghetti House, or the super pancake stack at Burporama.”

“So make it simple. The best rule of thumb is to not eat anything, anywhere, that tastes good.”

All of which meant that, to survive, I’d have to forgo eating out and thereby consign myself to my own kitchen, where I’d spend the rest of my life reading labels and cooking stuff even my cat disdains.

The worst part, though, is not the godawful fare but my ineptitude.

To begin, everything in the kitchen hates me. The Foreman grill hisses and snaps and sends nasty smells my way. The toaster oven makes asphalt slabs of anything I place in it. The wok is an inscrutable Oriental mystery that turns stir-fry into poker chips. The refrigerator freezes stuff in the vegetable bins and defrosts stuff in the frozen food compartment. Even the coffeemaker is cantankerous, converting eleven scoops of Gevalier into three cups of hot, brown-colored water.

But the choreography is what really defeats me.

Like this morning, when I was planning to prepare one of my absolute favorites: two poached eggs on toast. After sending the brown-colored water machine into action, I pirouetted to place the recommended level of water in the new poacher pan — a top-of-the-line piece of houseware that had cost me only a little more than a 2008 VW. Then, with back arched and arms extended, I squirted some olive oil cook spray into two of those little cups designed to hold the eggs. The overflow put a fine, oily haze on a sizeable section of the kitchen wall and lathered my hands to above the wrist. By the time I had completed the polka required to wipe away the mess, the water was boiling in the pan. But I had put too much water in the pan, so when I placed the cup tray atop the roiling bubbles (parboiling my fingers in the process), the cups kept floating free on the streams that spilled over the pan and ran across the stove to send a cataract onto my bare ankles. There ensued a clog dance punctuated by some sailor talk, and the frenzy culminated in the obscene splurk of the two waiting eggs rolling off the counter and onto the tiles.

A half-hour later, after I’d stowed the mop and bucket, I sat, disconsolate, at my computer and read the news over a bowl of birdseed cereal and skimmed milk.

Maybe things would look up if I just changed doctors. . .

No.

Bad idea.

She’d just track me down and beat me roundly with her stethoscope.

-0-

Next week in our First Chapter Section we’ll present the opening of The Blood Order, sequel to The Blue Max. Those who’ve seen the movie version of “Max” have been led to believe that Bruno Stachel, the lovable swine who plays the central role, was killed in a plane crash at story’s end. Not so. In the book he survived World War I and, in the sequel, he lives on in Germany through the hellish years in which Adolf Hitler rose from a grumpy, unemployed paperhanger to the fire-spitting monster atop Deutschland’s Nazi political machine. Hitler, planning to capitalize on Stachel’s fame as a flying ace, never realizes how the wily Stachel is really playing him — der Fuehrer — as a sucker.

Hope you enjoy the read.

Jack

Copyright © 2008 by Jack D. Hunter.  All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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