In my quest to make anything "perfect," I always opt for the back seat approach. For me, it is no use to plan out an ideal situation, or even have high expectations because sooner or later, reality will come up short. So, when I was assigned to cook my perfect meal, there was little planning involved. I gave myself simply one rule: if there is food in the kitchen, then cook it. Low and behold, on the day of dinner perfection, I opened my cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer to check out the loot. Hidden beneath the Lean Cuisines and Pizza Rolls in the freezer I spotted a pink meat marbled with white fat. A diamond in the rough some would call it, I plucked that chicken out of the freezer as fast as I could. I was grateful to have found some protein that could provide a meal with sustenance.
With upcoming exams to be studied for, I quickly tossed the rock hard meat on to the counter to thaw. Well, thirty minutes later, upon returning from Upjohn's Library on Kalamazoo College's campus, I found that the meat was still frozen. A search on Google, guided me to microwave the meat for fifteen minutes to defrost. The food forums also warned against de-thawing meat on the counter, but I figure you only live once and pretend like nothing had happened.
While the meat was in the microwave, I decided to take some initiative on the rest of the meal. First, I needed some motivation and inspiration. My 3D glasses are always a must when cooking. They provide optical confidence with their busted out shades, and sleek black temples that lead into square frames. They proudly read "Real D 3D." I tell my roommates that they let me see another dimension, or they let me see the future. In reality, they give me another person to be for an hour. With my 3D glasses, I suddenly take on strange French accents, and become the top chef in the world! To add on to this insanity, there is one more necessity before I am ready to cook this perfect meal...some music.
I force my laptop out of my backpack; it is squished between all the books in my bag, and log on to 8tracks.com. There is only one set of songs that can ever get me pumped up, and that is the summertime playlist of the 1990's. The first song, "Steal my Sunshine" pops on and we are ready to go.
I dance on over to the fridge, and pull out multiple bags of fresh produce from the fridge. The clouded plastic bags crinkle while they make their way to the counter. Opening them, I uncover food that I can work with. Part of a left over onion, a lone sweet potato, garlic, and twigs of rosemary. I am thinking "I can work with this," when my thoughts are interrupted by the microwave ding. I open the door to find a sad, and warm chicken breasts oozing out some juices. I pry it out of the plate and set it in a glass pan, leaving a white crust and fluids in its wake. I am praying that this is safe as I decorate the poultry in 2 tablespoons of butter and the rosemary. I slide the pan in the oven, and turn my mind elsewhere to avoid the worried and guilty feeling coming over me.
I pull out two pots from the cabinet and fill them with a few cups of water each. While they are heating up, I slide on over to the cutting board and begin to chop up the onions and garlic. As my head bobs to the music, I begin to lose my control over the vegetables and rampant garlic slip between the crack separating the counter and stove, to be eaten by a hungry critter. I am careless and laughing, and the pots are beginning to produce steam, cutting off my oxygen. A mad scientist watching her chemical reactions, I now turn to my pots to watch them boil. As the saying goes, "a watched pot never boils," but by the graces of the 3rd dimension taken on by my glasses, the water in those two pots began to bubble. Peering into the black bottom of the pots, the air bubbles began to rise until the water strengthened into a fierce boil. Needless to say, I felt on top of the world, and ready to take on the rest of the meal.
I plopped some rainbow rotini into one pot, watching as the orange, yellow, and green noodles found their way from the box to the water. Next, I cut up the sweet potato into circular rounds. Previously, I have been unsuccessful in thoroughly cooking my sweet potatoes, so I am hoping the small pieces will cook faster and be edible for my meal. They end up in the second pot, and soon enough my work has been reduced to waiting, or dancing.
I am getting my freak on singing "I just want to fly, put your arms around me baby..." when I hear some one yell "schioasht" coming from the foyer. My friend Laura Manardo just returned from a local eatery, "Food Dance," and was startled by the smell of the house. Here gibberish words were an indication that the food smelled good. It took me this incident to wake up and smell the rosemary, or something like that. I took a big whiff of the air I was inhabiting and realized that the baking herbs were filling the room with a natural woodsy smell. I was brought to my senses and began to check all my dishes in progress.
The pasta was now saturated, and I drained it only to occupy the space with butter, onions, and garlic. I topped the pot with a lid to allow the vegetables to steam, and looked to the sweet potatoes for my next move. Stabbing a fork into each circle revealed that the orange rounds were ready. I set each chunk on a small plate and garnished them with cinnamon, brown sugar, and butter. The mix of bright oranges and browns left me remembering my fall and all of the friends that were about to enjoy this meal with me. But first a few finishing touches. I dished out the colorful pasta into a bowl, and placed the white chicken breasts on a plate.
My friends arrived on time and eagerly awaited my meal. My friends Andrew Haubert, Marie Bunker, and Sam Foran were able to share this feast with me. As we began to eat, it was evident my friends did not have the same tastes as me.
Haubert only ate the noodles leaving the onion and garlic to the cold. Meanwhile, Sam was trying to politely explain why she doesn't eat sweet potatoes because she was force fed them when she was a child. Anyway, everyone enjoyed the chicken. The butter and rosemary had left a slight yet fresh taste to the chicken, The meat was cooked perfectly, and no one got sick after eating it. I was very grateful for this because I made a lot of mistakes. Everyone agreed that the meal was very natural, especially for a college diet. And everyone seemed to enjoy my combination of spices. They even recommended that I make this a weekly event, which I declined.
My alternate French persona was not able to churn out a foie gras, yet I had fun in the process of cooking my modest chicken dinner. I was happy to have a positive experience before the meal, taking myself lightly, and then sharing the meal with friends. Sometimes small expectations allow for the enjoyment of the simple pleasures of life, and I think that's perfect.