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 received an assignment to cook a perfect meal for a writing class, zero planning took place. 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 of my campus house kitchen to check out the loot. Hidden beneath the Lean Cuisines and Pizza Rolls in the freezer I spotted pink meat marbled with white fat, vacuum sucked in a Ziploc bag. A diamond in the rough some would call it; I plucked that chicken out of the freezer as fast as I could.
With upcoming exams that required studying, 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 online food forums also warned against de-thawing meat on the counter, but I figured “carpe diem” and pretended like nothing happened.
While the microwave cooked the meat, 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 often tell my roommates that they let me see another dimension, or they allow me to gaze into 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! Escalating the insanity, I needed one more thing to prep me for the perfect meal: some funky music.
Squished between books, I forced my laptop out of my backpack and I logged on to 8tracks.com. Only one set of songs can ever get me pumped up for a culinary explosion: “the nineties//summertime” playlist. The first song "Steal my Sunshine" popped on and a smile grew across my face. Ready to go!
I danced on over to the fridge, and pulled out multiple bags of fresh produce from the bottom drawer. The clouded plastic bags crinkled their way to the counter. After opening them, I uncovered part of a leftover onion, a lone sweet potato, garlic, and sprigs of rosemary. I thought "I can work with this," until a microwave ding interrupted my flow. I opened the door to find a sad, warm chicken breast oozing out juices. I pried it off the plate and sat it in a glass pan, leaving a white crust and fluids in its wake. I prayed that no one would become sick as I decorated the poultry in two tablespoons of butter and the rosemary. I slid the pan in the oven and turned my mind elsewhere to avoid the worry and guilt coming over me.
I pulled out two pots from the cabinet and filled them with a few cups of water each. While they were heating up, I skipped on over to the cutting board and began to chop up the onions and garlic. As my head bobbed to the music, I lost my control over the vegetables and a rampant garlic clove slipped between the counter and stove, waiting to be eaten by a hungry critter. I was careless and laughing, and the pots began steaming, cutting off my oxygen. A mad scientist watching her chemical reactions, I turned to my pots to watch them boil. Though the saying goes, "a watched pot never boils," by the graces of the 3rd dimension of my glasses, the water in those two pots started to simmer. Peering into the black bottom, the air bubbles rose until the water strengthened into a fierce boil. I felt on top of the world, and ready to take on the rest of the meal.
I plopped rainbow rotini into one pot, watching the orange, yellow, and green noodles tumble 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 was hoping the small pieces would cook faster and prove edible for my meal. They ended up in the second pot, and soon enough my work reduced from cooking to dancing.
I was getting my freak on singing "I just want to fly, put your arms around me baby..." when I heard some one yell "schioasht" coming from the foyer. My friend Laura just returned from dinner at a local eatery, "Food Dance," the aroma of the house startled her. Laura’s gibberish words indicated that the scents stemming from the kitchen were well received. It took me this incident to wake up and smell the rosemary, or something like that. I took a big whiff and realized that the baking herbs filled the room with a natural woodsy fragrance. Brought to my senses, I checked all my dishes in progress.
The pasta now saturated, I drained it and tossed in 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 made me think of fall memories with the friends who were about to sit down and enjoy my meal, 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. Haubert, Marie, and Sam were able to share this feast with me. As our eating commenced, it became evident that my guests did not have the same tastes as me.
Haubert only ate the noodles leaving the onion and garlic to the cold. He kindly explained, “I never like onions or garlic. I enjoy the flavor from them, but I am not going to eat that.” Meanwhile, Sam tried explaining why she doesn't eat sweet potatoes because she was force fed them as a child. “When I was a young, my Uncle Ben always made sweet potatoes and he covered them in marshmallows. I hated them and it sucked. Now I can’t stand them! They’re just super gross and nasty.” Marie was the only compliant diner guest. Still, I ended up eating their leftovers, with no complaints about the noodles seasoned with soft onions and garlic, then the bright starchy rounds sweet with sugar and butter. My stomach was satisfied with carbohydrates and starch, when I remembered the protein.
Nobody had touched the white meat christened with rosemary when the conversation started to wane. Their attention turned to a football game, or was it basketball? I quietly took a bite of the chicken, a servant making sure her king and queens would not die from poison. The butter and rosemary made it taste fresh and the meat was cooked perfectly. I offered some to my friends and no one got sick while eating it. In fact, the conversation completely dissipated when Marie chimed it, “Katherine, this is like really good.” She thought it was tender, with a slight flavor, nothing too overpowering. I was very grateful for the positive review because I made a lot of mistakes. Everyone agreed that the meal was very natural, especially for a college diet. The unprocessed approach really showed off in my results. They even recommended that I make this a weekly event, which I declined.
My alternate French persona failed 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 while preparing the food, 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.