Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Preheat Oven to 375

It shouldn't come as a surprise that as this year circles the drain, I'm left with the smallest bank account balance I've had in a solid decade. I haven't seen those kinds of numbers since my most reliable babysitting client erased me from their speed dial, after an unfortunate incident involving food poisoning and a trip to Prime Care. Whatever, like I'd know you weren't supposed to make sushi out of chicken.

Anyway, as I impatiently shifted my weight from one scuffed Chuck to the other in the Harris Teeter checkout line last week, the cover of one of the women's magazines caught my eye. It had a cake that was more attractive than my prom pictures and a garish overstyled font that eagerly encouraged me to bake my own Christmas gifts this year. "What a great idea!" I thought to myself, as I dropped a can of Manwich sauce. "Because what says I care more than giving someone a plate of misshapen cookies and the enduring gift of diarrhea?"

I added the magazine to my stack of trans-fats and since then, I've been experimenting with holiday cooking in all of its forms, from baking to roasting to standing over the sink shoveling forkfuls of soggy tiramisu into my mouth.

No, this has not gone well.

I'm not sure that deciding to experiment in the kitchen was a better idea than having a sudden urge to explore body modification, since my last attempts at seasonal treats ended with a shrieking smoke alarm and tear-streaked cheeks as I pried the oven open and scraped yet another charred corpse off a cookie sheet. As the ash-encrusted pan clattered against the others in the trash bag, I more than considered using some of the sharper kitchen utensils to fork my own tongue or maybe to carve myself a forehead trench.

Last weekend, when our seven inch Snowpocalypse kept me confined to the square footage behind my front door, I decided to make a Gingerbread Cake with Blueberry Sauce, because I actually had the ingredients on hand and it required neither a mixer, a Cuisinart or any of the other appliances I won't own until I piece together a wedding registry, also known as Never.

The instructions and I were getting along fine until my eyes hit the imperative sentence "Fold in the blueberries." That was a verb tense that sent me toward my computer on the opposite side of the counter, pecking out the letters G-o-o-g-l-e as crumbs lodged themselves between the home keys and I streaked the track pad with molasses. After learning that "fold" was the chef-tastic way of saying "Dump everything into the bowl", that's what I did, dropping two cups of frozen berries into the almost edible-looking batter.

After stirring the just-fruited mixture, I realized that maybe the good people at Cooking Light left out a step, like the one that encouraged you to rinse the blueberries or Windex them or something before all this folding went down. It took maybe two swirls with a whisk before the batter turned from an appetizing golden brown to a sickly green, a hue I've only seen in nature one other time, right after the dog ate an entire box of Lucky Charms.

"Brown shade come back," I sang, wrecking Player's one hit. "Any kind of fool could see...there was something wrong with the fucking berries." I thought--hoped--that maybe baking it would make the gingerbread look like, you know, GINGERBREAD instead of a clove-scented sinus infection. I shoved the whole mess into the preheated oven, pacing back and forth in front of the counter like an anxious fiftysomething waiting for the results of their colonoscopy.

As the timer started blinking zeros, I crammed my hand into an oven mitt, slowly opened the door and...it still looked like something that belonged in a Biohazard bin. Even though it smelled amazing--like a Glade Plug-In you could eat--it still wasn't serve-able to anyone with eyes. I turned the cake out on to my best approximation of a wire rack--my tennis racquet (WHICH I RE-STRUNG BEFORE USING IT IN THE KITCHEN BECAUSE WHAT KIND OF SAVAGE DO YOU THINK I AM?) carefully balanced on David Foster Wallace hardcovers--and as it cooled, I started eating it myself in huge chunks. For the next five minutes, I was the first half of a Lifetime movie, before the inevitable purging-at-school sequence and awkward family intervention.

After the unfortunate realization that sometimes I sweat when I eat, I stopped decorating my molars with cake and carefully wrapped it in foil. I hate wasting food, so there had to be someone I could gift it to.

Someone I hate.

Someone who may have fired me because of that ONE time that their kids caught salmonella or had their stomachs pumped or something silly like that.

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! Additional kitchen failures are coming, part of a recurring series I like to call "Maybe I Should've Just Bought A Stack of Burger King Gift Certificates Instead, Rather Than Trying to Make Everyone Sick On My Own."


Phil said...

I just hit up Wikipedia and whoah, the origin of fruitcake is way similar to this. Be sure to tell whoever you give this to that it's an homage to holiday tradition.

Crystal said...

my attempts at blueberry pancakes always have a similar fate, but they still taste ok, so I try to look past the ashy green colour.

And I'm no cook myself, but I happen to live in France and am married to a French guy who was raised by a mother who killed and plucked the chickens herself before preparing a 17 course dinner from scratch. When he married me, he had no idea that my idea of cooking is A) take-out or B) the microwave. The other night I made him frozen fish sticks with a side of ramen noodles. I'm waiting for the divorce papers any day now.

Merry Christmas!

Stacie said...

To borrow from my favorite Sex and the City quote, "The only thing I've ever successfully made in the kitchen was a mess -- and several small fires."

It also reminds of the time I was in a store and over heard this exchange:

"Where do you keep the scratch?"
"I'm sorry, the what?"
"The scratch! My husband said he wanted me to make him a pie from scratch! where is it?!"

(don't worry; I'm a lousy cook, too!)

Kaela said...

Jelisa you can totally pass this off - it's Christmastime. Everything is red and green. No one will even blink! Just throw something sparkly on it and you are GOLDEN my friend

basilexposition said...

Jelisa, please let me help you with this! I would love to, as I'm as good with the "producing baked goods/sweets" as you are with "producing the funny". I had literally just put my homemade chocolate truffles in the fridge to cool when I read this post, and when reading it I became convinced that they are your solution for gift-giving to everyone you know. Chocolate truffles are really and truly foolproof. YOU CAN DO THIS.

Cagey said...

This reminds me of the first time I ever made chicken soup.

I had just moved into my first apartment, and had never cooked anything more complicated than toast in my life. To make a long story short, what resulted looked less like chicken soup than something you might toss up if you were doing tequila shots directly after thanksgiving dinner, heavy on the broccoli.

But, you live and learn. Have a good holiday!

LiLu said...

Pictures to prove it.

I'm sort of tempted to make this, exactly as you describe, JUST so I can see the coloring.

lacochran said...

"After the unfortunate realization that sometimes I sweat when I eat"

made me laugh out loud. :)


Guinnah said...

Don't get discouraged - next time try tossing the blueberries in a little flour first. It's like a little strait jacket so they keep their color to themselves.

Love your blog..

Amblus said...

At the risk of having something thrown at me, I'd like to make a suggestion. "Folding" isn't stirring and probably shouldn't involve a whisk. Folding means you gently dump the berries in and then more gently fold the batter over them using a spatula. The aim is to avoid berry explosion. But really, it doesn't matter as long as it's edible.