Hardy Plumbing
April 19, 2006

Karen cooked Sunday dinner for me.

As an anxious world breathlessly watched.

Normally, a wife making a holiday dinner for her family is not big news. But as regular readers know, any time Karen ventures into the kitchen and exits without hurting herself or others it's a major story.

After all she has, in her few appearances there, blown up three microwave ovens and started two major fires. Her signature dish, broiled chicken with barbecue sauce, is black on the outside and raw on the inside. I called it chicken tartare and yes, she set the kitchen on fire.

This time around, her menu items reflected her culinary knowledge and impeccable ability to give me agita.

Lamb shanks with pineapple, sweet potatoes, and frozen spinach. It sounds OK to some, I imagine, but the problem with her choices was I hate lamb, I hate pineapple and sweet potatoes, and frozen spinach is best served cooked, a fact that was apparently lost on Karen.

You might be wondering why I didn't inform her up front that I didn't like her choices. The answer is simple: no matter what she was planning to cook, I knew going in it would turn out badly, so it didn't much matter.

My job was twofold: drink as much wine as humanly possible before dinner (to give me courage to face the agony that would surely come) and to keep a keen eye out for flames.

Karen has no idea what all the little items and gadgets in the kitchen are for. The other morning she was putting grinds in the coffee maker, using a ladle. The coffee can was on the counter 10-feet away. She would awkwardly dip the tiny ladle into the can, come out with a few grains of ground beans and walk slowly towards the coffee maker while the grinds spilled all over the floor. She had been doing it for 15 minutes; there was enough coffee in the maker to make maybe one cup.

Without saying a word I took a large spoon, picked up the coffee can, carried it over to the coffee maker, filled it up, and turned it on. You see, because I have a job I don't have the luxury of waiting all freaking morning for one lousy cup of java.

She makes chop meat for the dogs periodically. Because the dogs stand by her feet staring at her while she is cooking, she thinks they are gleefully awaiting the treat with much anticipation. In reality, of course, they are nervously staring at her, hoping the flames don't engulf her until after they have eaten. In other words, they instinctively sense danger.

I walked into the kitchen the other night and she was taking the meat out of the frying pan and putting it into a bowl (I'm not making this up). The process was methodical, because she appeared to be squeezing the little bits of meat on the spoon, trying to extract the grease.

"Honey, what are you doing?"

"I don't want to dogs to eat all this fat," she replied.

I handed her a slotted spoon. "Use this," I said.

"Oh! I always wondered what they were for!" she said, genuinely surprised. Yes dear, and next week's lesson we'll discuss the can opener and cheese grater. Please refrain from using the knives until you get proper training.

Anyhow, to get back to the lamb and pineapple combo, I figured her motivation was to make me as deathly ill as is possible without dying. Her logic, if indeed she wanted to kill me, would be I would be so busy throwing up from the lamb and pineapple that I would be unable to flee the resulting fire.

The family sat silently in the living room as Karen set the table. Some of us prayed. Others wept. We all drank heavily, including the children, who are allowed alcohol on special occasions like this one, when they are facing death.

"Smells good," I said tepidly at one point as a foul odor wafted into the room. "Oh, that was my hair burning!" Karen said cheerfully.

Finally, it was time to eat. "Come and get it!" Karen yelled, obviously proud of the fact the house wasn't ablaze. We walked single file, like prisoners might to the execution room. I hugged a few relatives and said my goodbyes.

A properly prepared lamb shank is what I call Barney Food, a big bone with meat on it right out of "The Flintstones." I braise mine in beef stock with some sherry, onions, shallots, carrots, celery and white beans and serve it with a dry red. If I do say so myself, it is excellent.

Karen's version, which I called Lamb Shank a la Don Ho, was, well, it was . . . interesting. I especially enjoyed . . . the bread. And frozen spinach is probably an enjoyable summer treat. They key thing for me, as I fondly look back at Sunday's dinner, is that I'm still alive and the house is still standing.

Thank you Jesus, thank you lord.

Epilogue: Flushed with success, Karen has now gotten overly ambitious. "From now on when you come home from work there's going to be a hot meal waiting for you," she vowed.

Curse you, Jesus.

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