This Thanksgiving was the first in a few years where I did virtually no cooking. Time was, I would slap on a chef’s hat for that one of two times of the year that the area’s pizza joints don’t deliver. And then a few friends would come over and we’d all sit down, eat my cooking, and be thankful for the other 363 days of the year when the area’s pizza joints DID deliver -- which, I thought, was the original meaning of Thanksgiving (turns out: no).
This year, however, I was invited to break bread with a couple, Zach and Stevie, who are friends of my friend Cortez. And my entry fee for said dinner was one dessert, one bottle of wine and one charming self. And on all three fronts I delivered – though, I must say, that my lack of experience in all three areas was no doubt telling.
For instance, I know as much about choosing a wine as I do a cold medication. Whenever I purchase either I end up spending 10 minutes trying to divine some hidden meaning from the color of the label or the area it was produced – “Maybe White Plains is the Burgundy of the Pharmaceutical world,” I tell myself – knowing only that one is different from the other but not at all how it is different. I know only that you’re not supposed to operate heavy machinery on either, but don’t worry because if you do, chances are you won’t remember it. (And as for charm, I think that that tends to exude from just about anyone who finishes his first bottle before he even makes it to the party).
But making a dessert (in my case, an apple pie) -- and cooking, in general, really -- is a little different. With a bottle of wine, if it doesn’t go over well, there are plenty of people to blame -- from either a store worker to a sommelier to your friend Mitch who works at Wine Spectator: You can always pass the buck when choosing a bad wine and rare is the case that anyone can call you on your bullshit (save, for instance, maybe Your Friend Mitch Who Works at Wine Spectator). More than likely, they live the same lie, and are willing to believe that your bad wine selection is the fault of someone else just as we’re all ready to believe that when children go missing or die mysteriously, then it MUST be the work of “some black guy,” like the parents keep saying.
But cooking, that’s a different matter entirely, because there’s no passing the buck: It’s just you and your definition of “to taste” that people remember for years to come.
Fortunately, cooking is rarely the difficult task that you build up in your mind it is. It may take the novice (like myself) a little longer to follow the recipe because, in the four years you’ve been making pies, you’ve only made four pies. But if you can read and you can follow simple directions and know that only the four greatest chefs in the world should ever attempt anything involving yeast, then cooking, generally speaking, is a fairly simple operation.
In fact, the only complicated part is, if you’re like me, and you approach simple situations with the genetic disposition to make them difficult: you come into it, say, armed with monkey wrenches at your side like cowboys do six-shooters in old westerns and are just itchin’ to pick a fight with destiny.
In my case, that meant that when I had to perform the simple task of picking out apples at the store, I would manage to screw even that up. The rules are simple: no holes, no bruises, and if it’s green it better be a Granny Smith. And if you follow them, you’ll be fine (and, speaking of which, how do you know when a Granny Smith is ripe?).
Somehow, though, my super power to extract difficulty from the earth’s core came through in shining fashion. On or about the fourth or fifth apple, I chose the one that was single-handedly the finger in the dyke: the one piece of produce preventing the avalanche that, when it occurred, laid a curse upon my feet and made me, if only briefly, rethink my greedy little pie-making fantasies.
Now, I’m sure there’s a Biblical metaphor here, what with the picking of the Apple preceding a Fall and with me trying to quickly put everything back before the Guy in Charge notices there’s a Calamity on Aisle 1: only, I don’t think when Eve took that apple that there were about four or five -- well, since there were no people, then -- orangutans (in her case, if you will) looking at her with a judgmental eye and thinking, “Pshaw, moron.” It’s not in Genesis and Jesus never made mention once of it, so I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that that never happened.
I’m equally sure that there was no Funniest Home Video moment, where she cheekily decided to pinch one but then the rest fell out of the tree and so, now that there’s no Garden Party of Eden to speak of, why not try to make ten thousand bucks off the video (in fact, keep watch for a Key Foods manager in possession and looking to make money off of just such a video)?
Yes, she and Adam lost Eden, but I lost one minute of my life, looking like a fucking moron in front of a grocery store full of Polish people. And yes, I know that the cultural stereotypes are grossly unfair towards the Polish, but I know also this, ladies and gentlemen, and that is: the very definition of Irony when it comes gently tapping at my chamber door. I think when you have a shopping center full of Polish men and women –some of whom were no doubt testy because they needed apples too – and they’re cursing through their teeth at this “idiot” in front of them, then, you, my friends, have Irony, not to mention the hardest part of making an apple pie.
Incidentally, I’d have to say the second hardest part is realizing at the last minute that you don’t own an apple corer.
Today’s lesson: Zach and Stevie on the other hand know a little something about the kitchen and had not only turkey on display but goose -- yes, goose! -- and delicious goose it was. So good in fact that while consuming a fair share of it, my mind immediately leap-frogged to the most famous goose of all – Mother Goose. And then from her to Humpty Dumpty to the Cow who jumped over the moon, to ginger bread houses and little red riding hoodsters with food for grandmother -- until suddenly the realization came upon me that it’s not McDonald’s that’s making children fat, it’s fairy tales.