Monday, April 23, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 7

Santa Maria Sun / Humor

The following article was posted on May 16th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 11 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 18, Issue 11

Culinary rube

Rebecca explores the terrifying time she first learned to cook


I may be a food and wine writer now, but I wasn’t born with any kind of dignified understanding of food or even the basic understanding of how to prepare food on my own. I went through my 20s living off leftover pizza and whatever hangover food Denny’s offered on Saturday mornings. But part of being a functional adult (or any basic living organism) means having the ability to create some sort of meal to survive on. This is how I took my first baby steps into learning to cook, and it wasn’t a pretty picture.

I was 34 and had no clue how a Crock-Pot worked. (Honestly, they frightened me.) Every time someone tried to show me or teach me anything, it was like teaching nuclear physics to a hamster, only at some point the hamster would stop crying and begging, “Please don’t make me touch the stove, it’s scary!” It certainly felt like a lost cause. A monkey could teach a dinosaur how to do origami in less time than it would have taken Julia Child to teach me to boil water.

We were literally starting at ground zero here. Let’s just say, I never took the Betty Crocker-route. The last time I had used a stove was in 1984 and it had the words “Fisher-Price” on it. I subsisted on a nutritional intake rivaling that of Jeff Goldblum in The Fly, only with more alcohol involved. The only things I consumed on a typical day were four glasses of chardonnay and a Kit Kat bar. And yes, in case you’re wondering, it is a miracle that I am still alive. I think my condition was documented in several medical journals. My doctor was convinced he was on track to win the Nobel Prize in medicine as soon as he discovered just exactly how I managed to stay alive. I have my own theory—that somehow my blood mutated and when exposed to alcohol, it coagulated into some sort of nuclear-grade hemoglobin, one that is capable of sustaining life indefinitely or possibly raising the dead.

All you would have found in my kitchen 10 years ago was margarita mix and a box of leftover Hawaiian barbecue chicken pizza that a friend brought over as a desperate act to save my life. Wild wolves lived with more graceful domestic dignity than I did.

I have a friend who is fond of saying, “There’s a little Martha Stewart in all women” (OK, she’s not that good of a friend). I sincerely doubt that. If there were actually a teeny little Martha Stewart living inside of me, she probably would have died a long time ago from starvation or alcohol poisoning.

I thought I would start with something basic. Of course, basic cooking to me involved buying soy sauce for my La Choy canned meal. I needed backup. So I called my mother, who lives in Europe, to get her input on my first culinary steps. She suggested I try a simple baked chicken. She also suggested prayer and flame-retardant clothing.

I rummaged through my kitchen supplies. I have two wine bottle openers, a San Diego Chargers beer bottle opener, and a knife that couldn’t pierce tissue paper. I dug through my storage closet and found a roasting pot that was given to me for Christmas nine years ago. Still brand new, in the package. Clearly this was a gift from someone who did not know me.

Next, I needed a recipe. I found a lovely website littered with thousands of recipes for every type of food ever eaten since man first made fire. The website’s section devoted to chicken is astounding; they seem to have every possible concoction of chicken imaginable. There are variations on the variations of chicken. Hundreds and thousands of recipes. Indian Butter Chicken. Cheesy Chicken. Gravy Chicken. Whatever possible chicken mood you are in, there is some sad, desperate pseudo-chef willing to shock and awe you with their chicken inventiveness. Chicken and Noodles? 500 recipes. Chicken and Sauce? 300 Recipes. Chicken and Motor Oil? 129 recipes.

People from all walks of life post their own recipes and review other aspiring chefs’ recipes with a kind of zealous rancor best reserved for scholars debating translations of the Talmud. There is a weirdly subversive competitive streak that apparently exists among recipe posters, too. They title recipes things like “Darn Good Chicken,” “Damn Good Chicken,” “Best Chicken Ever,” “No, This Is Absolutely the Best Chicken Ever,” “Kiss My Butt, THIS Is the Best Chicken Ever,” and “Hey Wise Guy, How About You Come Down Here and I Shove Your Chicken Where the Sun Doesn’t Shine ’Cause Mine’s the Best Chicken Recipe Ever.”

Violent drug gangs aren’t this vicious about their turf. I didn’t see any titles like “Chicken You Can Make When You’re Drunk and Worried You’ll Burn the House Down,” so immediately I knew I was out of my league. Then, I got lucky. I found a recipe for something called “Easy Roast Chicken,” obviously from the more zen side of the extreme chicken recipe posters.

The first line was: “Wash chicken, remove innards.”

I made a $54 call to my mother in Europe to ask what that meant. She explained it to me in the same manner and tone that you would use to explain to a car crash victim that they’ve just lost both their legs.

That chicken is more likely to climb out of the pot, get dressed in a Chanel gown, and walk the red carpet with Ryan Gosling on its arm, gushing about how they fell in love on the set of their new film than I am to shove my hand up its butt and feel around. After spending another 10 minutes begging my mother to fly back from Europe to perform this task for me, I hung up and finally decided to give up on the whole roast chicken thing. Kentucky Fried Chicken is five minutes from my house anyway.

Ten years later, things are a different story (thank goodness). It was a long slow road out of culinary Gehenna, but I got there. Just don’t ever ask me to do anything to a chicken that involves putting my hand in that place.

Arts and Lifestyle writer Rebecca Rose is still terrified that her Crock-Pot will literally burst into flames at any moment. Contact her at

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