A George Clooney look-a-like said, “We were just driving by on a grocery run and saw all the smoke. Is everything okay?”
Before I could answer, Sue, wrapped in a wet towel, appeared at the top of the stairs. “What’s going on? Why is the smoke detector going…” Her voice trailed off at the sight of the firemen standing in our foyer. She may have giggled. I’m sure she did. She would later deny it.
“Sorry, guys,” I said, “but it’s just a small grease fire, nothing to worry about.”
“Do you have a fire extinguisher handy? A planned escape route?”
I just stared at him. What I had was a chunk of black meat that looked like it had been torched by a flamethrower.
Sue, moving with the speed of a glacier, retreated to the bedroom to put on clothes.
“What are you cooking?” a chisel-jawed firefighter asked.
“Pot roast,” I answered.
“Did you get a cut of meat with enough fat on it. You need fat for flavor, and wine… and—”
I assumed he was the one at the fire station always switching the TV channel to the Food Network. “Thanks guys, but I have everything under control.”
The firemen lingered in our foyer. One of them handed me a pamphlet on home fire safety. They couldn’t possibly be waiting for an invitation to my charred dinner so I assumed they were hoping to catch another glimpse of Sue in her bath towel. I closed the
door on them just as the phone rang.
“Did you flush out all the smoke?”
“Good. Did you brown the meat?”
“Oh, it’s good and brown all right.”
“Fine. Did you add the wine and a cup of water?”
“I’m doing it now.”
“What about the bay leaves? Did you add them to the juice?”
I’d forgotten the bay leaves. I pulled them out of a plastic bag; they reminded me of something I rolled and smoked in college. I dropped them into the big red pot.
Mom’s deluge of instructions resumed. “Sprinkle half a tablespoon of cumin to the juice, along with a dash of cinnamon. Place a few strips of bacon on top of the roast, cover the pot with the lid and put it into the oven. Did you preheat your oven to 350˚?”
“Of course,” I answered, turning on the oven.
“Leave it in the oven, covered, for about an hour. Then take off the lid, drop in your peeled celery, potatoes and carrots. Let it cook for another thirty minutes.”
“Holy crap!” I barked into the phone. “The Manhattan Project made atomic bombs at Los Alamos with less fuss.”
“I don’t know how they make pot roasts in Manhattan,” she said, “but this is the way I do it.”
I hung up and cautiously pushed the pot into the oven, hoping for the best. I’d only
wanted to treat my wife to a nice meal, but I now felt like the fate of the free world rested
on my shriveled piece of meat.
Sue’s voice wafted down from the top of the stairs. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“No, sweetie, I’ve got it covered. Why don’t you take a nap?
“I think I will. What a treat!”
I didn’t want to admit it but cooking was hard work. I settled down on the couch in the family room, turned on a football game and quickly fell asleep. Had I known how to set the timer on the stove I might not have slept so long, but two hours quickly passed. I dashed to the oven and plucked out the pot. Even though I hadn’t preheated the oven, my roast looked like it had been hocked up by a fire-breathing dragon. I dug out Sue’s meat thermometer, which informed me that beef was well cooked at 160˚. With difficulty, I jammed in the thermometer. The needle rose…and rose…and rose…. It wavered at 180˚ and then jumped upward to 201˚. Close enough. I promptly burned a few pop and bake biscuits to accompany my meal.
Sue came downstairs just as I was placing my meal on the dining room table. She didn’t say anything snarky about a meal that looked like it had been prepared in the fiery kitchens of Mount Doom.
My meal was a bust: a mako shark would have struggled to bite through the meat, the biscuits looked like hockey pucks and the juice I was supposed to ladle over the carrots and potatoes—strangely missing from the pot—looked like residue spooned from a tar pit. But the sight of me clearing the plates and doing the dishes seemed to put her in a generous mood.
“Let’s go upstairs,” she said when I wrapped up in the kitchen.
“What did you have in mind?” I asked, my curiosity piqued.
“Let’s spice things up with some game playing. I’ll be a damsel in a burning building and you can be the handsome fireman come to save me.”
The bit of pot roast I’d managed to swallow lurched in my stomach.
What was your greatest kitchen disaster?