November 24, 2008

Recipe For Disaster

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I consider the recent yet already beloved Disney Pixar film Ratatouille both a lie and an insult. The values it espouses are contrary to everything that my life’s experience has taught me, and what’s more, I find its title very hard to pronounce. My friend Sarah refers to it as “ruh-tah-tuh-ville.” I should think her way is better.
To say “anyone can cook” and to show an anthropomorphic cooking rat flies in the face of all that I learned growing up, which is “no one can cook.”
My mother has extreme delusions of grandeur. Bless her heart, she’s been subscribing to Bon Appetit magazine since before I was born, maybe to help reestablish normalcy after President Reagan’s near-assassination. I don’t know; her motives are so unclear since she packs the magazines in decorative filers but rarely takes them out for any logical culinary purpose. The last time I remember her opening one was during my brief but intense “molten chocolate cake” phase in 2002 — bookended by my green tea ice cream phase and my carbo-pudding phase (bread and rice).
What my mother does know how to cook, and what she decides to cook often, are the things she knows subconsciously that I hate. If you repeat “I HATE SPAGHETTI” enough times, it becomes etched into someone’s cerebral cortex and frontal lobes, but instead of manifesting there as a warning sign, it becomes a flowery and enthusiastic suggestion, with extra, supportive words thrown in “I just HATE going more than a couple hours without SPAGHETTI! Please make it with canned sauce; that would just be the bee’s knees, Mommy-O.”
Let’s be real though, my dad is even worse. Dad’s version of “cooking” is passively suggesting we make bagel dogs, which have been in our garage freezer, or the garBage freezer, at least since I was old enough to realize that bagel dogs are not bagels, but for all I know could be made from dogs.
My dad at least had no misunderstanding of what was going on. His malnourishment of his children was on purpose, both to build character and to set an example of laziness that is deep-seated in all Weisses. But my mom, well, her condition deteriorated. She began this serious and immediately exclusive love affair with bottled sauce. Other things had to make way for sauce in our fridge and our pantry, and pretty soon, anything edible on its own or easily prepared was gone. Out of the way, pickles! So long, deli meat! Sayonara, cereal! Make room for ginger thai curry and pineapple teriyaki, barbeque marinade and sweet hot mustard. Every time I opened the fridge, the sauces had multiplied like feisty little post-pubescent rabbits. So far as I know there is no sauces anonymous, but I intend to invest in some sort of straight jacket.
This situation made me a very creative young thinker and nouveau gourmande at a very tender age. Typical meals for me could have been any kind of frozen dinner, of which the best ones were the ones that the most corn fell out of one compartment into the chocolate pudding compartment (corn-ocolate pudding). Or, on other sparser freezer days, and before I was allowed to use the stove, I’d take some Top Ramen, open the bag, put the rectangular freeze-dried noodle square on a paper plate, douse the noodle-block with the salty “Oriental Spice” powder, and dig in. Uncooked noodles. Yum.
The low point, if you can imagine it actually getting any lower, were the nights when there would only be sauce, and I ate sauce for dinner. Imagine Matisse’s palate, if you will. Instead of yellow, there is mustard. Red is curry. Green, pesto. Teriyaki, black. Now eat it. Welcome to my formative years.
We can blame this in some ways on the kitchen remodel that was “supposed to take six months”. Instead we had a crappy fridge and microwave in our hallway for over two years.
More than 10 years later, as is evident to me each time I go back home, the situation is stagnant, still bleak. We’re still hungry. Our stomachs distend like children on inconveniently poignant Sally Struthers “Feed these poor childre for 30 cents a day” commercials. It turns out my father can no longer have cholesterol, so we’ve augmented the contents of our fridge and freezer from “sauce” to “sauce and Tofutti.” My mother may be getting worse, in fact. You can now not open any drawer in our kitchen without finding wholesale boxes of fancy dark chocolate. As it were, my mother is now an intense fangirl for this seasonal chocolate from Scharfenberger, a company located in Berkeley, CA, and was convinced that, like wine, the next year’s version wouldn’t be the same. So she became desperate and added her name to the wholesale buying list for the company. They’d sell industrial quantities to Whole Foods, Peet’s Coffee, Barbara Weiss, and Safeway. Chocolate now owns our house and we just live there. It makes us pay to use the restrooms.
Now where has this left me in college? I can cook almost three kinds of cereal. I am learning to make sandwiches. And I can dial take out faster than anyone else, despite my thumb handicaps. I find food that comes in space-age, bar form very comforting, with it seeming to have all the nutrition I was deprived of as an adolescent. If that’s considered cooking, fine. But don’t tell me that a saucer of barbeque sauce and Sriracha is a home-cooked breakfast. If Disney lies to me anymore Mickey and Ratatouille better find aliases and go into hiding. They look pretty tasty to me.