And now it’s time for our newest and most popular feature here at TDOY—The Half-Assed Gourmand. This week’s installment: “Starving Peoples of the World—Help Yourself to Whatever’s in the Fridge.”
My sister Kat is throwing a shindig this Friday night, and before you reach for the phone to call the authorities, let me assure you that the events that will unfold will be as rowdy as teatime in the U.K. She’s calling this a “Cookie Swap,” and the way it works is you bring four dozen cookies with you to this elegant affair, and trade (or “swap”) baked goods with someone else in attendance until you end up with four dozen different treats. I’m sure some of you may now be nodding your heads and saying, “Oh, yes…a quaint tradition…very few people do that anymore.” Well, knock it off—because she made the whole thing up. (The invite I received had a notation that read: “Soon to become a Christmas tradition.” Yeah, just like people spending Halloween lurking around pumpkin patches waiting for The Great Pumpkin.)
When Kat was first telling me about this “tradition,” she told me each participant had to bake twelve dozen cookies, prompting me to observe: “Well, I hope you like Fudge Stripes.” (Apparently I was mistaken about the number of cookies because it was later changed to six dozen…then four. I thought twelve dozen cookies seemed a little high. I mean, that’s practically…twelve times twelve…carry the…well, take my word for it—it’s a lot.) So my Mom tells me: “No problemo.” (I don’t know, maybe she was channeling Lee Atwater.) “Come on over to the house early Saturday (this past Saturday, for those of you marking this on a calendar) and we’ll bake the cookies we need.”
I relate these plans to frequent TDOY commenter and longtime online chum Pam, who snarkily suggests that a total of fifteen dozen cookies will have to be baked in order to wind up with twelve dozen. I knew what she was insinuating (that three dozen would have to be written off to quality control, i.e. cookies I sampled) but I pointed out to her that this is my mother we’re talking about, who wouldn’t hesitate to cut off a hand, Saudi-style, if I so much even thought about rooking a cookie. (“No, I was not punished for masturbating…I was reaching for a macaroon.”) But as it turned out, the foxy old dame was one step ahead of me: she baked the cookies on Friday, so I didn’t get to participate (or sample). (I did, however, get a dozen to take home with me, and I do not exaggerate in the slightest when I say they were delicious.)
And really, that’s what this whole post is about. Mom’s home cooking. I’ve watched endless variations of the old joke where two people stop by a truck stop or diner and start making cracks about the sign (“Just like Mom made”) because apparently their mother couldn’t cook. I’m here to dispel that notion. My mother is one hell of a cook. In high school, she won a prestigious Betty Crocker award despite never having set foot in a kitchen. Last week, she stops by the house and presents me with goodly-sized portions of grilled steak and grilled chicken breast (which I think Kat had a hand in, particularly since one end of the steak was a tad overdone). The next day, she makes a special trip to bring over a chicken enchilada with some yellow rice. Saturday (the day of the alleged cookie bake-off) she fixed for dinner a beautiful standing rib roast with mashed potato and gravy, green beans, hot rolls, Caesar salad and a nice bottle of Lancer’s with which to wash it down. (As a result, I ended up taking most of the prime rib home with me.)
So I really haven’t had to cook anything for the past five days or so, what with the contributions from Mom plus some fried chicken I got at Publix on Friday. (I asked the guy behind the counter if I could get the eight-piece thighs and drumsticks special with just thighs, and at first it was copacetic with him until he learned he wouldn’t have enough thighs to make a pick-up order, so I told him to throw in a pair of wings in their place.) And isn't that what being a half-assed gourmand is all about? If it sounds like I’m complaining, I’m really not—it forestalled my plans to attempt to cook some chicken breasts marinated in light peppercorn ranch dressing, an idea that originated with my Mom but in my hands will probably turn into a complete disaster. (This project is going on in my kitchen as I type this.)
I possess very few culinary skills. I’m king of the frozen food entrée; though I occasionally will tackle a roast chicken or beef roast if I’m feeling adventurous enough. So I just wanted to say, Mom—keep those care packages a-coming’.