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Food Fail, But Other Successes

May 1, 2016

I’ll give me this: when I fail, I really fail.

Related: I’m pretty sure I’m the only person on the planet without a go-to lasagne recipe.

So yeah, I failed dinner, specifically Jim’s birthday dinner, in spite of working really hard on it. (Jim’s birthday was actually yesterday, but we were a bit preoccupied that day with the task of getting our soon-to-be-college-kid to visit–ahem, for the first time–the school he’s likely to attend.)

I had decided to try a new lasagna recipe. I really am dying to have a reliable version of this comfort-food standard that I can fall back on when in the mood for something rich and heavy and cheesy. It’s so the perfect dish in so many situations. And I so don’t have the definitive recipe.

Have tried so many over the decades.

[Hangs head.]

This one billed itself as, “Healthier World’s Best Lasagna.” The weird word construction should have been my first clue.

It might have been tasty, I suppose, but for a couple of things:

1) I cooked, as directed, a nice combo of tomato sauce, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, onions, garlic, spices, a variety of ground turkey & turkey sausages, and fresh herbs over the stove for hours. Hours. As directed. By the time I began to layer the lasagna, the sauce had thickened into a paste. I could have thinned it with some water, wine or broth to get it to a better, more lasagna-like sauce, but, first time through, I like to stick faithfully to the instructions. So I just went with the paste-like concoction.

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2) They said I could save time by layering the lasagna with raw noodles, rather than pre-cooking them. They said the noodles would cook to PERFECTION if I added water halfway through the baking process. So I did this.

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But, this was not true.

The noodles far down toward the bottom and middle cooked sufficiently, but toward the outside and top of the dish did not. They were hard or shoe leather-like.

So disappointing.

3) And they did warn me about this, but I forgot, so this one’s on me: Once fully assembled, with the cheesiest layer (mozzarella and parmesan) on top, I covered with foil. There was not, however, sufficient space between cheese and foil and when I went to remove the foil, the entire top layer came with it.

Very messy. Disappointingly messy.

So shit. The whole thing was a disaster. About 4 1/2 hours worth of disaster. With no back up plan.

I should add, the salad I made, the SALAD, was horrible. I don’t often fail at salads, but this one was an unfortunate combination of things that didn’t really go together. I don’t really want to go into it.

Okay, so then the dessert. Jim’s usual birthday request is pecan pie. And here I DO have a go-to recipe that I’ve been making for nearly two decades. It’s from the Five Star Recipe Collection of Southern Living and it is just fantastic. The recipe’s got a few gotcha points in it, and I’ve made all the mistakes one can make on this pie, but after making it so many times over so many years, I’m rarely tripped up anymore. My crust is pretty no fail these days, so no worries there, and I’ve perfected the a) oven temp and b) cooking time, both through so much trial and error, and have made such careful notes, I just expect the pie’s going to set up perfectly. Old problems. Totally overcome. Until today.

Everything seemed perfect to this point:

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The pecans sat nicely atop the filling (it would be fully covered, as usual). And when I went to pull the pie out, after the perfected 45-minute plus 10-minute baking time, it jiggled only the slightest amount. Just the way you want it.

But a couple of hours later when we went to cut into it… too soft and nearly runny.

Not the way I want it. Jim will eat it any how, any way, and seemed to like it just fine, but I was very disappointed.

And just felt like a schmo for blowing every aspect of this dinner.

Peter, in my opinion, saved the whole night by giving Jim the nicest birthday card ever. I kind of want to take a picture of it and include it here… but I think it’s too personal. The printed portion said, “You are my Hero,” and that was lovely enough, but what he wrote on the inside was very moving and genuinely heartfelt.

He also gave Jim two certificates for dinner, which he drew onto some notebook paper and then perforated himself using a perforator we gave him for Christmas one year when he was about 5 years old and very obsessed with perforating everything. I was delighted he still had it and that he thought to use it to make the certificates. Charming, that kid.

The dinner certificates, he clarified, are an offer to join Jim and me for dinner in a restaurant of Jim’s choosing. He won’t be paying for dinner, because he’s broke he said, but will join us.

Which is actually great.

~~

And….. we’ve hit another milestone in the Peter-goes-to-college project. Tonight, with 90 minutes to spare on the May 1-midnight deadline, Peter: 1) confirmed with UCSC that he was accepting a slot; 2) indicated his top three college picks; and 3) paid $257 to hold said spot and, I presume, go on to the next step(s) (orientations, dorm assignments, class schedules…).

I might best describe his mood as inwardly resigned, outwardly indifferent, and mine as outwardly relieved, inwardly ebullient. Jim is remaining low key so as not to trigger reactionary comments from Peter.  (For example, I say, “Congratulations Peter, it sure has been a long road on this college thing.” He, not meeting my eyes, says, “If San Diego comes through I’m going there. Or Irvine.”) Before pulling the trigger tonight, Peter wanted to check NYU to see if they’d offered any more money… but alas, their deadline had passed earlier due to the three hour time difference. Desperately grasping at straws? Yanking our chain?  Being petulant…who’s to say?

He is definitely making it known, at least to us, that he is not happy with his choices. To what end, I’m not exactly sure. But one thing is absolutely clear, he wants this to be his own choice. If we seem too positive and encouraging about it, he goes the other way. If we like it, he does not (at least not that he’ll ever admit). He is very hard headed about it all. As Paul said, he clearly wants to be the master of his own experience–even if he currently possesses the wisdom of an unworldly 17-year old. It’s his biggest jump yet into the world of separation and independence. I admire him for this, even as he’s been quite surly.

His olive branch lately, especially when things have gotten especially tense, is to suggest we all sit down and watch an episode of Seinfeld…. all squished together on the futon in my office…I think it’s his way of trying to connect again, and it’s a nice break from whatever’s going on in the teenager-parent battle zone.

So, after he completed the Yes, I am accepting your offer to go to Santa Cruz thing, we did just that.

3 Responses to “Food Fail, But Other Successes”

  1. Michael Ann Says:

    I have a really good “go to” lasagna recipe 🙂
    Hey, one thing about college. I hope Peter gets it that at least his parents are willing to pay for him to go to college at all and he is a lucky kid.


  2. All very touching, especially the Peter/college dynamics. Sorry about the epic fail Schmo. You’re obviously a talented maven in the kitchen from all the work history you describe.

    • Kari Says:

      Jim is the mavenista. I’m junior maven, or mavenita. I have my moments.. though few and far between.


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