When Terri and I moved to Orlando, we spent our weekends and evenings getting to know each other by exploring mutual likes and dislikes; one of the likes being cooking.
Our apartment was small, with a miniscule kitchen, but we were ambitious. On Saturday mornings at the Farmers Market, we would choose the fresh vegetables and fruits that would define that evening’s menu. After purchasing the produce, we would decide on the meat dish, select fresh-baked bread and of course, splurge on a bottle of wine.
Our dog— at that time a Fox Terrier named, of course, Foxy— waiting for us to accidentally drop food, learned to stare at the floor when we cooked. It didn’t matter what: onions, broccoli, hot peppers; if it hit the floor, it belonged to him. On Saturdays, knowing he was going to get his fill, he would eschew dog food while waiting for the banquet on the floor. Since he would eat almost anything, he became our official food tester—after all, if Foxy spit it out, we certainly weren’t going to eat it. I recall his quandary over a raw oyster: he stared, sniffed, barked and deciding it was dead, flopped on his back and rolled on it.
After a dinner at a local restaurant, I decided that flambéing was the secret to gourmet cooking. I liked the flavor imparted by the flaming alcohol; the slight char the flames left on the food but most of all, I was crazy about the blue flames. I would turn down the lights, pour a potent alcoholic beverage into the hot pan and then jump back as a dropped lit match ignited the alcohol vapors. Smarter than Terri or me, as soon as the alcohol came out and the lights were dimmed, Foxy would head to his hiding place under the bed.
Cooking two expensive filets, I decided to finish them off by flambéing them with brandy. When my hand slipped as I poured the brandy, I realized that perhaps I had added more than was necessary; but what the heck, it would burn off. When I dropped the match, the alcohol vapor exploded in a firebomb that sucked the oxygen out of the room, marked the ceiling and removed my eyebrows and a quarter inch of my hair. Where my glasses had shielded them, there were white circles around my eyes but the rest of my face was black from the explosive residue.
Unhurt but embarrassed and blackened, I told Terri—who was holding her stomach as she rolled on the floor laughing—to watch the steaks while I washed up. By the time I turned the water on in the sink, Terri—regretting her uncontrollable laughter and concerned that I might be injured—joined me in the bathroom. When I saw her, I hollered, “go check the steaks!” She immediately turned, ran into a chest-of-drawers and broke her nose.
There we were, me looking like I had just returned from fighting a forest fire and Terri rolling on the bed with a broken nose. Not coincidentally, we began experimenting with recipes that wouldn’t explode.
I have learned valuable lessons in the kitchen: to plan; prepare the food in advance of cooking; use the best ingredients and pay attention when putting a match to alcohol. All of which are easily translatable into life lessons: in any endeavor planning is important; have your tools and supplies ready before starting a task; you never regret quality and if the dog hides under the bed, think twice about what you are doing.
“If cooking becomes an art form rather than a means of providing a reasonable diet, then something is clearly wrong.” -Tom Jaine