Doing battle with daily dragons

Friday, July 22, 2005

Cooking on the Edge

We’re having spaghetti for lunch today. To be specific, everyone in the HOUSE (4 people in total) is having spaghetti for lunch today. This is because I am a cooking gimp.

I’m not a fabulous cook. I’m not bad at it; I’ve got a repertoire of about 15 dishes that I can prepare competently and without instruction. (One of our current favourites is a feta cheese, onion and spinach omelette that I stole from Papapotamus who is a VERY good cook. We’re having it tonight.) I CAN follow recipes without too much trouble, although it takes me a few tries to actually get it tasting the way I think it’s supposed to. What I feel distinctly is that I lack is culinary common sense.

Last night, Baloo the Builder came over to have a jam with The Rock Star to prepare for his depping gig with The Mis-spelled Band this evening. Naturally, wanting to feed him, I made spag-bog because it’s easy to cook in large amounts. But for some reason, I believed that instead of just feeding the three of us, I was also cooking for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

When I was little, one of my favourite books was Strega Nona by Tomi dePaola. Strega Nona is a kitchen witch who leaves her bumbling assistant Anthony in charge of her house. Trying to be helpful, Anthony recites a spell over Strega Nona’s pasta pot and ends up with a town full of pasta. I thought of that book last night for the first time in years as it became readily apparent that I had cooked enough spaghetti to cause severe indigestion in the whole of the Black Watch.

This is a persistent culinary problem in our house that I think could probably be sorted out with a decent set of kitchen scales and a few measurement suggestions from the saintly Delia, the cheeky Jamie or the perpetually foul-mouthed Gordon. However, my biggest gastronomic disaster has been an attempt to bring a typically American recipe into our British household.

The Mennonite Cookbook was a treasure trove of goodness in my parent’s home while I was growing up and one of the things that got yummed up the fastest was always Shoo Fly Pie. Here’s the recipe. I would like to state for the record that I managed this successfully 3 TIMES while I was at college and once or twice in my mother’s kitchen. However, my attempts to recreate this delicious treat over here have been far less successful.

Attempt 1: Here’s something I found out: Treacle is not ANYTHING like King’s Syrup. Do not attempt this pie with treacle unless you want an unholy mess that will stick to the pie dish like hardened cement. Plus, your mother-in-law will laugh discreetly behind her hands at you.

Attempt 2: Here’s something else I found out: If you want to bring King’s Syrup back from America with you…it should REALLY go in your hand luggage. That’s all I have to say on that one except to report another gooey mess and more laughing.

Attempt 3: This was the puzzling one. I had managed to import all of the right ingredients without undue fuss or spillage, but I still ended up with a pie that was better served in pint glass than on a plate. And still with the laughing.

But I shall persevere. I shall have my shoo-fly, in this life or the next.

And if anyone’s free for lunch, there’s some spaghetti with your name written all over it.