my cooking (in)experience can be hilarious…

….and like everything else in my life, I know just enough to be dangerous.

I burned the sh** out of some lamb chops last week. It was really quite something – there I was thinking ill of no one when all at once the cat escaped off the deck through my legs, the grill erupted in flames and the skies opened up on top of us. Of course the sliding glass door leading back inside was jammed shut. After a torrent of expletives I extinguished the fire, retrieved the fugitive, pried open the door with spatula, toweled us both off and successfully scraped the molten char off my crispy, but rainwater-fresh dinner. And I did not spill a single drop of wine. I could only smile – it was comedy gold.

luckily I inherited Mother’s burnt-food scraping skills

I love to laugh. I laugh at many, many things including and especially myself. I laugh often, loudly and with a doubled-over, full-body surrender that can lighten my soul and maybe even those around me. But in a pinch, even a private, reflexive smirk will do the trick. Perhaps I’m one of those people whose sense of humor could occasionally intersect with things that aren’t necessarily supposed to be funny. Not in a mean-spirited way, and not ever to make light of misfortune or pain, but rather to point out the little absurdities, ironies and contradictions of any given moment.

“Life is a tragedy to those who feel and a comedy to those who think.”

Molière, Jean Racine or Horace Walpole – you choose

This quote was sent to me by my wise, dear friend, Louise of the North, who always manages to inspire and conspire at the same time. Regardless of who actually coined the phrase, it’s dead on. In the battle between feeling and thinking I’m often at an impasse until I notice that one little thing that tickles me. Sometimes just knowing that the one little thing exists is enough. I suspect it is actually perspective masquerading as humor.

I am often amused by my own folly as I stumble through life. When I introduced this blog, I admitted up front that it was in no way intended to show off my imaginary expertise or mastery, but rather the opposite. I think I’m killing it so far because there is no place more rich with comedic material than my own kitchen. When I encounter that shared celebration of ridiculousness I get hooked:

Schitt’s Creek was a much-needed diversion in 2020

After giggling about this Schitt’s Creek clip for ten minutes, I spent a morning hunting down iconic cooking scenes in TV and movies. I will slip in a few as we go along, but the winner this week was Disney’s Ratatouille. I was particularly enchanted by the gagging scene – Remy the rat recoils from a whiff of hopelessly disgusting soup. He chooses to risk everything to fix the novice chef’s botched recipe rather than continuing his own escape because he just couldn’t let it go; I totally feel you, Remy.

I think there are few things as funny as encountering something truly gag-worthy and running with it. Sometimes I get into hysterics over my revolting fails, like the time I made purple fish or the pasta brain. But it can also be as simple as texting your friend a nasty, unsolicited raw duck pic on Christmas morning. Failure, impending failure, and even the mere potential for failure can all be as funny as they are instructive.

Of course the featured recipe for this post had to be ratatouille, but with a slight caveat: I didn’t exactly have any eggplant. I know, I know – how could I find myself without eggplant after all those photos from the eggplant gettin’ place last week? But I’d been to the market three days in a row and simply couldn’t show my face again, even masked. Also, I probably should fess-up that my giant tomatoes were too large to layer in an exquisite pattern; I needed romas. Oh yeah, um…I was also out of onions. So this was going well. It was like making duck a l’orange with a chicken and a handful of figs. Soooooo close. But with 5 pounds of squash, some not-green bell peppers and a couple of shallots I could not, would not let it go. Plus I had a crusty French baguette and good bread can make up for any minor inconvenience.

without the eggplant it still behaved like ratatouille, even though my slices were way too thick.

Ratatouille is not a fancée dish, but an 18th century Provençal peasant stew of necessity rather than the dish of French kings. Today it has a cult following from home chefs to snobby food critics, but most generally agree that it’s an eggplant dish, starring eggplant. Except moi. Mine was going to feature zucchini and yellow squash exclusively. Historically I’ve made ratatouille as a jumbled, baked stew of sorts, but this time I was excited by the challenge of creating a colorful serpentine pattern. Having once again opted to make this more difficult than necessary, I needed to give a bit more attention to the details. Well, not really. Since I was missing half the ingredients I only had to follow a basic preschool A-B pattern. I still managed to mess it up. Twice.

oven-ready sans eggplant, tomatoes or onions, but avec shallots and plenty of squashes

I’m a lifelong, unapologetic jack of all trades and master of none. It used to bother me until I realized that even a generalist can pull from a few disciplines and cobble together a passion. And without the strict borders of mastery, I’ve found some space for delight, laughter and even a little silliness. Early on I wrote about how I took hideous photos of absolutely delicious food and made stunning images from the nearly inedible. There’s that space for humor, right there in those absurd margins. It’s very much like the ratatouille that wasn’t ratatouille at all – I used what I had, summoned my little slivers of knowledge and skill, and somehow made it work. I was smiling the entire time because of low stakes and high rewards.

And in case you are wondering, there is more to the jack of all trades saying:

“A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.”

Even with that endorsement, I swear I am genuinely amazed and amused by my daily dumbassery. I wish I could say it was confined to my kitchen. Fortunately my quirky sense of humor has a long history of saving the day – saving entire years, in fact. It’s been quite busy this century. Sometimes I can even be funny myself, but mostly I’m just drawn to smart, nuanced and often biting humor. It is my kryptonite – and if you show up with brownies and a good laugh and we’re going to be best friends forever.

how did I not have eggplant?

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