Cooking Up Trouble

By Melinda Truitt

People who are hurting, sad and going through difficult times need light hearted moments. This essay is meant to entertain during what can be a difficult beginning to the holiday season. I hope it brings a chuckle to those who need it most.

The holidays are fast approaching and along with this an avalanche of pressure to produce a memorable experience for the family to preserve via photos, videos and social media. The fear of failure is almost too much to bear for someone like me.

There are millions of books, articles, recipes, pictures and memories of some delicious meals and deserts being prepared in countless kitchens on every continent on this planet
With the exception of mine. Lol

I have never claimed to be a good cook and certainly was never heralded as one. As far back in my adult life as I can remember I shouldered the caustic shame of feeling subpar in the world of gourmet Viking stove owners….many of which I have known personally.
I have resorted, over the years, to using humor to deflect my laughable inadequacy.
Truth is, however, our family gets a jolt of pleasurable hysteria reliving the various mishaps and attempts at my culinary bravery.

I was too young to remember the actual dinner, maybe because I wasn’t even there, when my mother almost set fire to the lap of a dinner guest as her Baked Alaska’s flaming trail blazed its way down the center of the dining room table.

I must be truthful though…my mother is a very good cook. She prefers entertaining, however, to the mundane ‘what are we going to do with this damn chicken or hamburger tonight’ dilemma.

I like entertaining too….with the stories.

I was engaged at 19 while still a junior in college and arrangements had been made for me to make a spaghetti dinner for my fiancé and his roommate while they were still at work so that it would be ready for them when they got home. When I let myself into the roommates house I was pleased to find that my fiancé had filled a large pot with water, put a bit of oil on top of the water so the noodles wouldn’t stick and left a note for me that basically all I had to do was boil the water and cook the pasta. He would help with the sauce when he arrived.


Well… growing up I remembered my mother telling me that oil can catch fire when over-heated and to be careful when cooking with it. I have no idea why I remembered that and not much else but so be it…

A few minutes after turning on the burner it began to smoke. I know now that burners do that when something is being burned off…well…in my 19 going on 12 year old brain I thought the oil resting on the water in the pot was on the verge of starting a fire….I quickly turned off the burner quite satisfied with myself that I had averted disaster and would be lauded a hero….

My soon to be husband along with his stunned roommate had more to do than help with the sauce when they got in from work….but he married me anyway.

Very early in my marriage I thought I’d surprise my husband by making a quiche…maybe that’s why I’m divorced….

I was missing a few ingredients…not in the quiche, because it was actually one of those ridiculous ‘pour-a-quiche’ things that came in a carton like milk did. I’m starting to giggle just thinking about the stupidity of it all. It was a laughable thought that I could pull this off as a fluffy gourmet meal. The ingredients I was missing were actually of an intellectual nature. In my excitement, although I doubt it now, I failed to realize that frozen crusts came 2 to a package…After 3 hours of the bitch being in the oven it had yet to set. My husband opened the oven and started laughing… “uh, Mindi, honey, I think I’ve discovered the problem.”

Yes…I had both crusts in their foil pans with the paper liner between them in the oven holding the watery ridiculous quiche…He took me out that night I think….

Newlyweds can and do flounder at times…and I’m not talking about the fish….

When the cooking bag actually melted on my first Thanksgiving turkey I thought that meant it was done....

I had the world’s greatest mother-in-law. She set the bar high that first morning of the weekend I was taken to meet “the family”. She was up early stirring away at a pot on the stove. This remarkable upstate New Yorker was cooking grits especially for me. I was overcome with love which quickly turned to embarrassment when she asked me if she was making them correctly.

I had no idea.

When I sheepishly informed her I used instant grits we both dissolved in laughter. She cried at our wedding. When asked why she claimed it was because she had been afraid I’d change my mind. Now, I wonder, if it was really because she had come to the horrifying realization that her son might starve. He, however, was a wonderful cook so he probably kept me from starving.

Then there’s the famous grilled cheese story years later when trying to make the sandwich for one of my children in the kitchen of a new house we’d just moved into. I realized with the help of the builder, who was there that afternoon, and my husband that 20 minutes into the process the stove wasn’t actually plugged in.

There were the Christmas cookies I made with my 5 year old daughter…which I frosted BEFORE baking.…

The hardboiled egg that wasn’t quite….
I put it in the microwave after peeling it, for a few seconds. I was attempting to eat something light before a huge awards dinner at which my husband was to be recognized and I didn’t want to be hungry. As I took the now pissed off egg out of the microwave and pressed a fork to the yolk it exploded and hit me in the eye…

Fortunately the pictures from that night didn’t show the slight burn. Talk about having egg on your face….

Having Scotch Eggs on Easter morning was a major tradition in my husband’s family and I had watched his mother and grandmother make them. They were delicious. My first attempt, when left to my own devices, left the entire family a fond memory of their newest southern addition. I boiled the eggs, had both kinds of sausage ready, baking sheet…the works…

Remembering to actually peel the eggs before wrapping them in sausage before baking was not written into the recipe…probably because in the history of Reinheimer Scotch Egg making it hadn’t needed to be….

Feeling like a culinary loser I tried harder as the years went by and actually mastered Rahm Schnitzel complete with Spaetzle made from scratch as a specialty. I prepared it for a German NATO diplomat who actually visited our home when we lived in Raleigh during the 1990’s. We had met Colonel Buch in Munich on a train the previous year during our 10th anniversary trip to Germany. We remain lifelong friends. I did not attempt desert but had a cake made with the German and American flags intertwined.

He was impressed and I finally had a positive story to tell.

My daughter had made strides with her easy bake oven by this time and was very much ahead of me in skill. 🙂

Years went by, meals were prepared and eaten. Dishes were washed and wine was poured. Holidays were celebrated, stories told and yes…reservations were made…
Unfortunately my lack of true culinary calling followed me to my brand new, first post-divorce apartment when I accidentally preheated my warranty and the roasting pan it was taped to.

My boss laughed when I told him at work the next day and tried to politely inquire what I had made for dinner while attempting to keep my ego intact. When I told him chicken and rice, he, being an extremely good and innovative cook, smiled and replied, “ahhh…chicken and something beige…” God I loved him.

So… the legacy of family traditions and memories include much laughter at the mishaps and the pictures tell the stories…my favorite being the one of yet a second Baked Alaska being held aloft over an elaborately set holiday dinner table skewered on a butcher knife for the photo because it was still frozen despite being properly set ablaze…

I tell all of these stories, with still more in reserve for a possible sequel, to remind everyone that life isn’t all about the perfect but the wonderful memories of the imperfect….

melinda truitt

Author of 5 children's books. Blogger of the Cotton Ball Syndrome on Tumblr. Divorced since 2008 after almost 24 years. Making sense of my new life through tears, determination and humor.

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