A Kitchen, Casseroles and Me

By Judie Schaal

I am not a culinary expert. I wouldn’t know a fig from a filbert or escarole from espresso. Give me a pill to replace a meal, and I would be happy. And the time it takes to produce a meal is absurd. I would rather be out playing tennis or golf or, for that matter, washing windows. At least clean windows last a little longer than a fully prepared meal.

But a few months ago food became a big priority in my life. My husband and I had planned an event and invited several couples from out of town. I thought maybe I could fulfill my hostess culinary duties by ordering in pizza or KFC. Or, at the very most, we could grill a few steaks accompanied by baked potatoes and salad. With that in mind, I became a lot less stressed about the impending avalanche of friends. However, those plans were dashed when I found out that one of the couples was vegetarian, and the wife of another was consuming only gluten free products. Do you know what that means? She could not have anything that contained wheat, rye or barley. What would she eat for breakfast? No pancakes, waffles, cereal or sweet rolls. Considering all these food restrictions, I figured fruit would be in, eggs out, juice in, bacon out. My head was starting to spin. What was left…tofu? Not even a semblance of that as I bought soy milk for one and later found out he had converted to almond milk. Almond milk? How on earth do you get milk out of nuts?

Okay, back to basics. I decided fish and chicken would satisfy some with lots of vegetables, rice and salad for the others. My next problem was that we had planned a host of outdoor activities including biking, kayaking and boating. That meant I would not want to return in the evening to do a whole lot of cooking. My solution was to assemble the meals ahead of time, freeze them, and then there they would be, magically, at the end of the day.

So out came the cookbook…notice that was singular! I selected Mushroom Chicken, Curried Flounder, Three Bean Casserole and Rice with Squash and Slivered Almonds. What I failed to realize was everything I’d chosen had chopped ingredients, and I didn’t have one of those fancy appliances that chop things for you. So I spent what seemed like hours hand chopping mushrooms, onions, garlic, yellow squash, zucchini and shallots. When I finished my fingers were bleeding, my eyes were tearing, and my hands felt as if they would fall off my arms. And people enjoy cooking? But after this week of my life in the kitchen I was beginning to feel as professional as Paula Deen. Why I even added a lasagna dish, apple crisp, a cheese ball and two kinds of cookies! Maybe that Savannah Chef might want me to show her a thing or two.

However, I still was unsure whether I had everything covered. So, I went to the local health food store to check on gluten free foods. Luckily they had a whole aisle of such products. I was about to fill my shopping cart with all these delights when I looked at the price tags. Wow! I realized you need to be a millionaire to afford such foods. No wonder my anticipated guest is thin. With limited inexpensive foods to eat how can she gain weight? I’m sure no diet challenged individual could be saddled with this malady. In the end, I decided the extent of my purchase would be flax seed bread and sea salt rice chips.

Now having filled the kitchen with all the appropriate food, I started to work on the house. I threw out old plants and replaced them with new, shampooed the carpets, sent out comforters, cleaned the bathrooms ‘til they sparkled…even washed a few of those windows. Had I forgotten anything? Hmm…the ceiling fans are a little dusty on top, and it’s a bit dirty behind the refrigerator…. But, no, that was going a little too far! Okay, house guests, bring on your food specific bodies.

It had been a long time since we had seen some of these friends and we spent many hours getting caught up on family matters and reliving old memories. The stories that were told set off gales of laughter and made us all feel young again. There’s nothing like sharing old tales with good friends and then making new memories to bring you close together. We enjoyed every minute.

We went out to dinner those first few evenings and each individual was able to order his or her favorite entree from the menu. And I was actually getting excited about the evening I would serve all of them dinner. I had taken the chicken and vegetable casseroles out of the freezer and put them in the refrigerator the day before. And on the afternoon of our dinner, as I prepared to put them in the oven for warming, I felt pretty proud of myself and my prior preparations. But the container felt way too cold. When I took the lid off I found the chicken was still frozen – solid! Oh dear! How was I going to see that this chicken dish was cooked through without becoming too tough? And would it be done at the same time as the vegetables and flounder? Thanks to the mighty microwave, it was. But, I forgot about the rice, and no matter how I encouraged it, the pan continued to look like a soupy mess. I’ve heard you’re not supposed to take the lid off of rice when it’s cooking, but when everything else is ready, how are you not going to peek? Finally the wait was over. The food was on the table. And after a week of preparation the meal was devoured in fifteen minutes.

You know, a lizard is not an alligator, a dogwood is not a live oak and I am not a cook. I gave it a whirl. I spent the time and effort, but an apron just doesn’t look good on me. Next time? Next time I’ll buy the food, put it out on the counter, heat up the grill and we can all cook together. Or, maybe I’ll just call Paula Deen!

About this writer

  • Judie Schaal Judie Schaal lives in Murrells Inlet with Gary, her husband of 50 years. She has written for On The Green magazine, the Sun News as a tennis columnist and is currently copy editor and photographer of a local color 28 page newsletter.

You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

One Response to “A Kitchen, Casseroles and Me”

  1. marsha tennant says:

    LOVED LOVED this essay!!! Felt like it was ME!!!!
    I am drawn to cookbooks(stories)but not the prep!!!

Leave your mark with style to marsha tennant

Comment in style

Stand out from the crowd and add some flare beside your comment.
Get your free Gravatar today!

Make it personal

avatar versus gravatar Close