Cookin' with Class

My wife works as a commercial fisher, so she's gone for the summers. I usually have three months to myself, which just started last week, and it's usually pretty nice for a week or so before the crushing loneliness sets in.

However, upon learning of the "Funyuns, Cherry Coke, and Taco Bell" diet I enjoy while she's out of town, she decided to ruin everything improve my ability to take care of myself by signing me up for a cooking class.

I showed up to my first class late because the tiny place had no available parking, so I had to find a spot in the subdivision behind and hope I didn't get a ticket since I didn't have the permit for the local neighborhood.

I have this weird and totally-not-helpful hangup about trying new things: if it's not my idea, I'll most likely hate it. If it's not going perfectly, I'll definitely hate it. It doesn't make sense. It totally sucks to deal with. But it's my hangup. I recognize that it's a personality flaw you could easily describe as "crippling" or "the most annoying fucking thing on the planet," because that's how I see it. But so far I don't know how to get rid of it.

Anyway, I was already cursing under my breath at the parking situation when I walked in to find 12 other people surrounding a very confused-sounding older woman as she explained what a knife is.

Seriously. She pointed out the handle and the blade.

I took my spot at the left end of the U-shaped counter next to an old guy who looked almost EXACTLY like Creed from The Office. Everyone has a kitchen knife and we're shown how to properly chop, which involves a motion our teacher describes as "like a locomotive." Everyone whips out their kitchen knives, except me. Since I was late, I get to practice chopping with a steak knife.

Uh, what? If I wanted to learn how to chop a carrot with a fucking steak knife I would have just stayed home and fucked up dinner like I always do. Is the COOKING SCHOOL seriously out of kitchen knives?

In all honesty, I can cook. If you give me a recipe I can make a reasonable facsimile of the intended end result happen. I just hate to cook. It takes me a lot longer than most, because I have no knife or planning skills, but I'll make it happen. I can't really just "whip something up" though. I can't look at separate ingredients and say, "I know what I'll do with this!" Instead, I look at my pantry, overflowing with starches and grains, the spice rack as tall as I am, and the freezer/fridge full of fish, cheese, broccoli, asparagus, spinach, chicken, and say, "Fuck. We don't have anything to eat." Then I usually get myself a bowl of cereal.

Since we were starting our lesson with "This is the pointy end of your knife," I wondered if I'd underestimated my abilities. I chopped my carrots and onion with the locomotion maneuver and began to feel slightly badass. Creed fumbled his knife four times, nearly stabbing me in the arm once. In my head I fantasized about slamming him against the wall, my tiny steak knife at his throat: "If you cut me with your stupid fucking knife I. WILL. GUT. YOU."

Instead I watch as Creed endures a sneezing/coughing fit, spraying his cutting board, knife, and vegetables repeatedly. The instructor seems to notice as well, mentioning that normally we all wash our hands before we begin cooking, but since this is just practice it's okay.

None of us ever washes our hands the rest of the night.

We sit as the helpers clear away our vegetable wreckage and our teacher drones on and on about what we'll be making. I survey the crowd assembled; there are 13, including myself.

- Directly across from me, at the other tip of the U, sit the Abercrombie kids: a guy and girl who could conceivably be brother and sister but are most likely a couple. She wears one of those hipster t-shirts with the huge neck so that one shoulder and half her bra is constantly exposed.

- To their left are the Frownies. I think they're a couple, but they could also be related because both of their mouths form the same taught, perfect frown. They constantly look as though you just stepped on their feet and they're trying not to cry.

- Next up, lonely dude. A young looking tall guy, pretty heavy, who awkwardly crosses and uncrosses his arms. He is loudly trying to strike up a conversation with the woman next to him, and at one point brags that he knows how to fry candy bars. He offers to bring one in for her. She declines.

- Sassy, the object of lonely dude's affections, seems like a pretty straightforward lady. She has a pretty good attitude, and gives knowing winks when engaged in conversation with the rest of us. Were I single I would be trying to impress her with fried candy bars, too.

- Next up, the Trucker. A smoky older woman, maybe 40s or 50s but looking closer to 60s-70s due to a hard-lived life. She doesn't have the raspy cigarette-smoker voice yet, but if you listen real close you can hear it starting to register.

- Next to her, Track Star. An athletically-skinny woman, college-aged and very very serious looking. She looks like she is here to learn some fucking cooking and would appreciate us knocking the bullshit off.

- Beside her is Sara, who's not actually named Sara but fits the mold of every other woman I've ever met named Sara (with no H. Sarah's are a totally different breed): short, a little chubby, big boobs, a splash of makeup, and a bubbly laugh. She also sports a "lookatmelookatme!" princess-cut engagement ring. She is the first one to acknowledge me in the class and seems nice.

- Next to Sara is the Kid, a tiny woman no bigger round than a drinking straw whose facial features and familiarity lead me to believe she may be Sara's younger sister. She is very quiet but smiles a lot.

- Next up, Legs. A pretty average-looking 40-something, wearing khaki shorts with perfectly smooth calves. He either waxes or is physically incapable of growing hair on his legs. He seems a little nervous and out of his element, but has a good attitude.

- Creed, the old guy I already mentioned, who leans in to tell me he's a huge klutz and will probably hurt himself and/or others before this class is over. I hope he means accidentally.

- Me, the sarcastic fat guy with the homeless-man beard and the greasy unwashed hair silently judging everyone else based solely on their appearances.

As our teacher's giving us the basics of how to not stab ourselves in the eyes with olive forks, a huge, fat fly lands on the work surface in front of Sara. It tries to fly a few times but seems drunk or injured or just too huge and fat to move. Teach notices the vermin and gets pretty embarrassed. She turns to one of the helpers, "Could you...ah, try to get that fly?" My eyes light up at the thought of the teenage girl in skinny jeans wielding a fly swatter through our cooking session, but no: she rushes up and smashes the fucking thing on the counter with her bare hand.

We all sit, staring at her, wondering if she realizes she just smashed a fucking fly where we're going to be chopping vegetables for soup in a minute. She's not sure if she made full contact, though, so she drags her hand back to her; the resulting smear of fly guts across the counter must mean we're ready to cook! "Oh, god, spray something on that," the teacher winces. Assistant #2 sprays something with bleach and dutifully wipes any trace of the murder that just occurred, and now we only have the pungent smell of Clorox to remind us.

Creed, Legs, and I get assigned to making vegetable soup. One of the ingredients is chicken stock. "So, if I were to make this on my own, I could get chicken stock...where?" Legs asks me.

"You can get the concentrated stuff like this here in the store, or if you're at just a grocery store you can get it in cans or cartons from the soup aisle so you can just pour it in," I answer, genuinely trying to be helpful because this man has lived nearly half his life without knowing what stock is.

"How do I know how big to slice this potato?" Creed motions toward me with his kitchen knife. Awesome. A klutz with a knife who talks with his hands. He later asks the teacher, "When you say, 'Heat the pan,' do you mean HOT hot?"

I chop my celery and carrots and add them to our bowl of chopped shit. We make our way to the pot and begin cooking our soup. Legs is afraid to stir; apparently he was burned as a child. The recipe calls for broken vermicelli, which I keep in our measuring cup. "So...Legs asks me inquisitively, "this is vermicelli?"

The dude doesn't know what vermicelli is.

I can forgive you if you're not sure what shape vermicelli might be, but he's looking right at it. It's the only pasta mentioned in our recipe. What the fuck could it possibly be but vermicelli?

The teacher passes around some compound butter she's made with garlic and herbs. We all take turns smearing some on bread and enjoying. The trucker asks, "What's the difference between salted and unsalted butter?"

"Salt," I blurt out before I realize what a sarcastic ass this makes me sound like. The entire class turns and stares at me like dogs that have just been shown a card trick. I retreat to the bathroom.

I duck into the bathroom, which is roughly four and a half feet away from the stove. Luckily I don't have to shit, because I can't imagine walking out of there, poop stink fumes billowing out and into the kitchen, and trying to act nonchalant.

I pee. For a minute or two I strongly consider leaving my dick out under my apron, but eventually I decide the hilarity is not worth the sex offender registry.

I wash my hands and come back out to the kitchen where I'm charged with seasoning the soup. I taste it and it's terrible; all I can taste are the canned tomatoes that went in. It's metallic and bland and horrible. I salt and salt and salt but can't kill the flavor of can.

Before we serve it to the class, the recipe calls for shredding fresh parmesan over the soup. Creed is charged with this task, but looks to us feebly for help. "Can you help me?" he pleads, "I've never used anything like this before." A cheese grater? You've never used anything like a cheese grater before?

While we're watching another group make stir fry the helpers serve us each a glass of white wine. Abercrombie boy downs his in a single gulp. He and Abercrombie girl continuously flirt and touch each other while the rest of us peel onions and chop shit.

The stir fry is served and the chicken is the consistency of shoe leather. To overcook this chicken further you would have to fly it to the sun. I dutifully chew through and look around; everyone is silently doing the same.

Eventually the class is over and we part ways, assured by our teacher that next week we will master chocolate cake. I'd be happy with just getting the right fucking knife.


Julie said...

Wow Randy. 1) Who knew you were such a snob when it came to can tomatos. :) 2) It does sound pretty lame. Are you gonna go to all the classes?

rc said...

1. They taste like metal! Metal's not a food!

2. Kat paid for them, so yeah I think I'm going to see it through. At least the pasta primavera recipe was good!