Monday, April 1, 2013

The Cleanest Oven in the Trailer Park

When I managed a restaurant in Delray Beach, Florida, I was always amused by my tribe-mates who would entertain by taking their guests out to dinner for the early bird special. Seriously, they would call to make a reservation, and the conversation would go like this:

“This is Mrs. Feinstein. I am entertaining my friends Saturday night. We would like a round table for ten at 5:30.”

“I am sorry, Mrs. Feinstein, our largest round table only seats eight.”

In the background, and quite loudly: “Artie, tell the Greenbergs we decided to go out of town this weekend,” then to me, “We will take a round table for eight.”

It was always funny when the Greenbergs would show up at the same time on the same night.

Mrs. Feinstein told me she had the cleanest oven in Boca. She never turned it on.

At the time, I could not understand entertaining your guests outside your home. Over the years, I had thrown my share of dinner parties, many, many dinner parties. I would cook and serve and clean up. I couldn’t wait for my guests to arrive, and I couldn’t wait for them to leave. I also threw my fair share of Mary Richards parties. Last year, I threw a party and instead of cooking, I ordered trays from the grocery store, and for once I enjoyed myself, and for once my guests didn’t spit food into their napkins and toss them into the houseplants. Once, a plant spit it back. Even my cooking makes bad fertilizer.

That is when I came to a realization. Not all Gay men have to be great cooks or even like to cook or DVR Barefoot Contessa. I don’t consider myself a cook. I consider myself a survivalist in the kitchen. I cook like a Mid-Century Modern housewife, which if I had my way, I would be, complete with Thursday afternoon Mah Jongg games and a pink and white 1960 Ambassador by Rambler Cross Country station wagon in front of my split-level, three bedroom, two and half bath home with all the newest Westinghouse appliances

I can roast a chicken, make a tuna casserole, boil pasta, bake fish, and make a cake for your birthday if you wish. However, I have never blanched, braised, pureed or even emulsified. My spice rack is a section of the cabinet with salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and Italian seasonings. I have never bought a garlic clove. I worked as a sous chef at one time, and I learned how to sauté and other things I have no idea how to pronounce. While I enjoyed my work, I didn’t love it or want to make a career of it. I just threw whatever they told me into the pan and served it up.

However, I am surrounded by people who love to cook, and while at a time I felt inadequate, I have come to accept the fact that this is one more hole on my Gay card that can’t be punched along with knowing the names of flowers, designers and the cast of Glee. Although, I dare you to name all the actors who appeared on Bewitched!

While I admire their love of the culinary arts, it can become quite annoying to have so many kitchen mechanics in my social circle.

My brother loves to cook, and he is very good at it. I don’t know where he gets this. Alex is always trying new recipes, and he watches the Food Network. His marriage is a perfect one because he cooks and Julie cleans.

We were convinced that our mother was a good cook, mostly by our mother, but she wasn’t. Between the oily cakes and burnt offerings of chuck roasts to the God of fire, the only dish she made well was chicken cacciatore. But, one dish does not make you a good cook. Grandma baked great mandel bread, but her tuna salad was made with butter! The only thing Nana ever made was a reservation at the Hot Shoppe. When people tell me about dinner at their grandmother’s house, I just look at them with wonder at such an occurrence.

Every day, I discover one more way I am Nana redux. As I always say, I look like her in drag, and I am only one Kent cigarette and a Reed’s mint (I finally mentioned the Reed’s mints, Alex) from saying “Oh My God” and ordering custom made wigs from Don’s Wig Shop in Newport News. If the Hot Shoppe were still around, I would eat there every night.

I used to watch Rachael Ray’s show, but I soon realized that to make one of her thirty-minute meals, I would have to shop for thirty days to get all thirty ingredients. Who has that kind of time … or patience? And if you cook one of her meals, do you have to be as equally annoying? 

My friend, Ed, is a good cook, and if you don’t think so, just ask him. “I made a marvelous mushroom lasagna, and it was a hit. Everyone wanted to know who made and it and asked for the recipe.” I once hosted a Passover Seder. After cooking everything for the main meal, he made homemade macaroons. They were to die for, but I was not happy. While everyone was oohing and aahing his goddamn macaroons, they had completely forgotten about the crappy meal I prepared. I put a Sephardic curse on all of them, and his macaroons didn’t pass for twenty-eight days.

I wasn’t bitter.

My friend, Ted, is apparently a great cook with the most beautiful presentations ever. I say apparently because the only thing he has ever served me was tepid water. He is going to be pissed now! He posts more pictures of the food he has prepared than Paula Deen. All of the pictures are works of art. He keeps promising to cook for me. We did go to a fundraiser together where they served expired appetizers from the Costco freezer. I hadn’t spit out that much food since my last dinner party.

Frank, whose house looks like a centerfold from a 1963 issue of Architectural Digest, is probably the best of them all. He is the Martha Stewart of McLean. If you tell Frank you are having an impromptu cookout in two hours, he will show up with a gourmet side-dish made from the rarest of ingredients he just happened to throw together along with a homemade chocolate cake. There isn’t a supermarket within ten miles of his home, so I am convinced he is a warlock. He also has an extra oven, refrigerator and freezer. And, I have never seen him sweat.

I used to cook for boyfriends to show them how domesticated I was. Ironically, I wonder why I am still single. However, since moving to the trailer park and having what is the largest and most efficiently laid out kitchen of my lifetime, I have stopped cooking for other people. I make all my own meals, which are simple fare, but no longer do I subject the innocent to my gastronomical atrocities.

I am comfortable with the fact that I really do not enjoy cooking. After all, if God had meant for me to cook, I would have been born with aluminum hands.

This past weekend, I had dinner with a friend of mine from my Newport News days, who recently moved to the area. He had been a guest at more than a few of my dinner parties back in the day. When I told him we would go out to eat, his response was, “Thank God.”

Mrs. Feinstein, upon reaching age fifty, I finally get you, and I will no longer make fun of old Jewish women who entertain their guests at the early bird in Delray Beach.

I have the cleanest oven in the trailer park. I’ve never used it.

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1 comment:

  1. You missed it: Ed recenly served a Cinco de Mayo variant of his mushroom casserole to 18 guests at the Cottonwood Springs Campground, a good 45 miles from the nearest self-cleaning oven.

    Yum; pass the sponge, my talents limit me to KP!