After the oven fire -- French’s French Fried Onions ignite in the broiler -- and the explosion -- never heat Prego in a glass bowl on a burner -- I should have invested in culinary school, meal delivery, or a stomach pump.
Instead I kept on.
My husband endured raw hamburgers, burnt bacon, and rocky rice until I discovered chicken smothered in Italian dressing, baked at 350 for 30 minutes. After that, we had it night after night. Sometimes I’d run out of dressing, get creative, try substitutes, and throw dinner away. Other times, I skipped steps, and just threw dinner away.
Once we had kids, I gained expertise in Kroger’s frozen aisle. I knew which Lean Cuisines freed me to open the package, set the microwave, and roam for four-and-a-half minutes, and which enslaved me to lift the film, and stir halfway through.
If my five kids had known about my cooking, I’d still be breastfeeding. Growing up, they could count on me for spaghetti, hot dogs, grilled cheese, chicken nuggets, and the one delicacy among my entrées: tacos.
In time, my family tired of my repertoire, and when I returned to teaching, my husband took over cooking. He’s a chef, not only knowing what tarragon is, but knowing how to use it. He even creates dishes from recipes that include the word “meanwhile.”
But, sometimes he goes on business trips.
Last summer he left for three days. The kids panicked. I faked confidence. “It’ll be OK. I’ll get lunchmeat, we’ll order pizza, and I’ll make tacos.”
Taco night, I got out the skillet and ground beef. I turned on the burner. The meat started browning. I opened the cabinets and searched for the yellow El Paso box. Was it behind the Cheerios? Under the Ritz Bits? Elbowed out by the macaroni? No. There was no taco kit.
A sizzling sound told me that the ground beef was browning, and might start blacking. Suddenly, I spotted a white glove, smiling and waving. Hamburger Helper Cheesy Taco Casserole! With delight, I tore open the box. I poured, mixed, and simmered. Then, the pièce de résistance: crunchy corn chips. The box’s instructive illustration showed a tilted packet with chips floating into a skillet. I poured as directed. Voilà!
A chef tastes before serving, so I ate a chip. No crunch, instead, moist cardboard. I scraped it off my tongue, and the chips off the casserole.
The kids ate, and complimented me. So gracious. I’d raised them well. When they finished, I dug my fork in, then spit the gunk out. Disgusting. I grabbed the box – it’d expired five years ago. I felt sick, and proud. Politeness nearly poisoned my kids.