February 16, 2011
The Chicken Dish From Hell
I wear the pants in my family.
I'm in charge.
I also do all the shopping and cooking.
It's really a matter of survival – if I let my wife Karen cook, she will end up killing me. I learned this sad fact, not coincidentally, the first meal Karen cooked for me. "It's broiled chicken," she announced proudly. "My Mom used to make it for us." With that out came eight pieces of grizzled bird, burnt a charcoal hue. Thick, black, smoke poured out of the oven. The parakeets died. Fire alarms went off. After chugging a bottle of wine I tried to bite into a piece – it was beet red, raw on the inside. I grabbed the nearest bottle I could find – Drano – and took a hit of that, hoping it would stave off instant poisoning.
"You don't like the chicken," she said dejectedly.
"Oh that's not it. I know most people like their chicken rare. Silly us. In our house Mom always cooked it!"
Later, I tried to explain what parboiled means, as in, "You see, Hun, your Mom parboiled the chicken first and then finished it off under the broiler." Karen insisted that wasn't the case.
"Well," I said, "the next time you cook dinner make sure to make this excellent Chicken Trichinosis dish again and I'm sure I'll love it!" That was 18 years ago. Since then, with the exception of the time she made her patented e-coli stew, I've been at the helm in the kitchen.
Being the family cook has its rewards, the main one being you can eat whatever you want. Here's how it works at my house. Let's suppose I want a Shrimp Scampi. I'll call home early that afternoon. "Hi Hon, what would you like for dinner tonight?"
"I've been dreaming of a nice piece of codfish," she'll say excitedly.
"Hmmm, ah, Ok, great. Umm, I'll er, pick some up on the way home."
Karen will catch the trepidation in my voice. "What is it?"
"Well," I'll reply. "They say the worms in the codfish carry some sort of viral . . ."
"Never mind, never mind! Let's have burgers!"
"OK, sure," I'll say. "Just go online and read me that article about Mad Cow disease again so I can make sure I don't get the wrong kind of beef."
That'll usually do it. "Now I don't know what I want . . ." she'll say. That's when I pounce.
"I'll tell you what I'm gonna do. I'll make Scampi for you tonight, but tomorrow I get what I want . . . Deal?"
"Well, I guess but . . ."
Even though I shop, cook, and clean (more on that in a minute), Karen always finds a way to inject herself into the cooking process so she can claim partial ownership of the meal. This is especially true when we have friends over (Actually we have no friends. Sometimes we rent a couple to come over and pretend they are our friends.)
I'll have already ladled the Scampi onto the plate with the sautéed garlic spinach and polenta (Karen calls it "placenta"). I'll have the big honkin' frying pan filled with oil and butter ready to singe anything it comes near. I swing towards the sink to dump the thing before it burns the hairs off my arm. Suddenly, she appears like an apparition. She'll say something like, "I'll get the bread!" and walks directly in front of me. She thinks the mere act of carrying the bread gives her equal-partner status when it comes to cooking the meal.
A war of nerves ensues when we are done. Eventually, I'll want to leave the table and read or watch a movie. She'll stall for time, knowing I am getting bored. "Are you done?" I'll ask repeatedly.
"NO, I'm still eating," she'll always say. Meanwhile, there is like a twig of something or other on her plate and maybe a pea or a grain of rice. She'll take her knife and start cutting this miniscule particle. Finally I'll blurt out, "DO YOU MIND IF I DO THE DISHES?" This is what she really wants, of course, so she can blab on the telephone while I, exhausted from working all day and cooking all night, labor to clean up the mess I have created.
An hour later, I mercifully sit down for a few moments of peace before bedtime and another excruciating day at work. That's when she finally goes into the kitchen. Like a Marine Drill Sergeant, she is going to inspect.
"You need to look at this," she'll say sternly.
"This frying pan. You need to see it."
"No I don't. I have it memorized."
"Get in here." She'll take my finger and drag the bottom of the frying pan. "What does that feel like?"
I'm thinking it's like some kind of quiz. "Is it bigger than a bread basket?"
"It's Grease!!!!!" There. She got me. I did a cruddy job cleaning up. Near exhaustion, my aching knees, bone on bone, near collapse, my once powerful shoulders trembling from the weight of an entire newspaper and household, my grizzled, gnarly hands, burnt from the scalding hot oil, barely able to grip a sponge, on the verge of passing out – yes, I cut a few corners cleaning up the dishes.
Guilty, Your Honor.
And, as in life, the situation evolves into a "what goes around comes around" moment, and The Circle remains unbroken.
"I'm going to clean up all over again. You can't be trusted," she says.
"Fine," I say. "And from now on you can shop and cook, too!"
"I will!" she vows. "In fact, I'm making my mother's broiled chicken dish tomorrow!"
Note to self: get more Drano.