How does one burn Ramen Noodles? (A David Clark Illustration www.clarktoon.com)
I admit now that I can't cook. I don't know why I keep fooling myself by trying because I am absolutely lousy around the kitchen. There was a time when I used to cook all the time. I knew how to throw down some egusi, okro-soup, ogbono and moin-moin, I think that was a fluke. Either that or I just have kitchen-amnesia. Ok so my ogbono soup looked like egusi once; I tried substituting by using canned fish instead of dry fish, those have too many dead maggots and bones. Don't blame my mother, she did teach me how to cook, I just never learned because my mind was always on basketball and television. Faked paying attention, that's why I got so many cuts on my fingers chopping onions and pumpkin leaves. Man! I remember pounding ogbono and egusi (melon) seeds from scratch when the blender did not work. I eventually graduated to boiling the meat for stock, so my mother tried her best. But you can't teach someone who never wanted to learn. In fact I should say I consciously rebelled against the whole gender role thing (dejavu moment, feel I have written about this already)
My roommate/landlord is becoming very concerned because this is the fourth time he has walked in on his house smelling like where they're roasting goat. Not too long ago I burned my steak and biscuit sandwich and the microwave popcorn; that was not my fault, I went according to the instruction on the packet but the microwave was too powerful. The other day it was the stew-slash-spaghetti sauce that I was cooking. Today it was my gourmet Ramen Noodles. No it is not a new version of Ramen, but Adaure's version. Added fried onions, tomatoes, minced meat from my stew, green peas and sweet corn, a real balanced diet. Chai!! Austerity will not kill person, but 'how for do'? Anyways 'E go better' as Singto always says. I meant to let it simmer on low heat, but forgot to turn the knob on the stove from hi to lo and went to continue my random browsing online. That's how the whole kitchen section was just smoky and the house just smelling. And how about my roommate decides that's the time he'd return home.
I was so embarrassed for myself that I just had to announce that I burned another meal just so that he won't start asking and wondering what it was that was smelling. He laughed and cracked some funny jokes and was like 'Girl just stick to ordering Chinese before you burn down my house.' Men, that was a very pregnant statement, because he probably means it and is concerned I am a domestic hazard. He's right though. I am just going to stick to Japan Express and Hunam Chinese. There's no point buying groceries only for it to end up in the trash charred.
I really hate when that happens, not because it means I'll go hungry but because it reminds me of the days when food got burnt in my house. God save whoever it was who burnt food in my mother's kitchen. Especially after she has suffered to go to all the markets in Lagos looking for food stuff from 10 am to 6pm, in the hot blazing sun or steaming monsoon rain, depending on what time of the year. Walking through all that nastiness of Lagos roads and putting herself at the risk of getting guinea-worm. Do you expect her to look at you and say 'Oh my dear, that's ok, it's just food you burnt not the house, all you have to do is try and try again until you learn'? What a funny joke. What's even funnier is that I considered myself a domestic diva taking food and nutrition and home economics classes (I actually really wanted to take fine arts and wood works aka carpentary, but all the really cool gals were in F&N so I had to perpertrate the stereotype)
The thing is that you can't even wait for her to find out that you burnt food. Moreover, the food just can't go to waste, everyone would have to eat it like that, just add more onions, pepper and stew or soup. If you like cry blood. Housegirl O, Uncle O, Aunty O... as long as you are not older than my mom or a guest (relatives don't count) you will have to manage till the next day's menu. Even though everyone suffered along together it was usually the housegirl that got the brunt of the punishment because she's the one incharge of the kitchen, padlock and key and all the nines.
You couldn't dare refuse the food because my mother would make you feel so guilty by reminding you that there are children on the streets who will be over joyed to be getting half charred food, plus the children in Ethiopia and Somalia don't even have food at all talkless of the one to burn. Kai after this sermon you have to chuck it up and eat that damned food, use your lunch allowance to buy meat pie or Indomie noodles and coke. On days when pocket is tight, you can only probably afford to buy groundnut to drink garri and go to bed. It became a co-operative effort to make sure food didn't get burned, from turning the burner really low to eating half done beans or rice. Once we tried to use a stop watch for steaming moin-moin (gas stoves sold in Nigeria didn't come with time back then, neither did they come on kerosine stoves for days of fuel scarcity and they sure as hell did not come with firewood for when we were in the village... that's a thought.. Timex on Firewood.)
Point of the story is that one would think I would at least be haunted by this and be a bit more cautious. I mean I do feel bad anytime I waste food. Correction. It pains me to waste food because indeed there are kids who do not even have common water to drink in a day. Thera e are kids who would kill to eat the charred food from my trash bin. There are kids who rummage through garbage sites to find days old rotten food to eat so that they can get to the next day. There are kids who eats dead animals so that they themselves don't die. I guess I need to think about this much more consciously that I have in the past few weeks. Either I stop cooking entirely and just order or I go and really and truly learn how to cook (that's going to be very difficult because I wouldn't know where to start. All I know is rice, beans, fufu and salad). I even bought some cookbooks from the PTA thrift store. I'll try a dish or two sometime and find something I like that doesn't require stove-heat or any thing more than 2 mins in microwave. Oh by the way, I make some bad-azz macademia nut cookies. Hey! Hey now! drink that and a glass of maple farm whole milk and that's better than the food served by the old woman who lived in the shoe, who had so many children, she didn't know what to do.
Below is an entry from earlier this year from my personal blog describing several other hazardous situations. Some of you have read this already, but I thought i'd just share it with others to give a better picture of just what i'm talking about
Sent: 3/28/2005 11:07 PM
Forget wifey material, I am DANGEROUS. It's like everything I touch or do turns into a catastrophic, calamitic cluster of colossal consequences and I am not talking about my driving...car that is...uh hmh...ya'll dirty minded fiends. On Easter Saturday, I was in Charlotte at Uncle Jonh's. I planned to take his 4 kids with me to go visit some uncles (but due to one of those many funny incidental family 'bs' that didn't happen). While the kids were trying to find clothes to wear, I was 'attempting' to fry eggs. I put the oil in the pan and put it on the stove. I wasn't supposed to leave the kitchen, at least I usually don't if I can help it, but after seeing what Uchenna, the youngest one picked out to wear, I just could not help but take it upon my self to find her something more appropriate. My rules with those kids is that they can look as crazy as they want whenever they are going out with their parents, but they cannot look shabby if they plan to go out with me. Poor kids, they lacked fashion pizzazz and style, and so we had to go through several outfits to find the most appropriate.
Meanwhile, my pan of peanut oil was still on the stove, with the knob set on 'high heat'. After a little bit, say 15 to 20 minutes later, I turn around to go to the living room and all I see is smoke. Kelechi the second kid who is like 8 or 9 was glued to the television that he did not see the fire or smell the smoke, while Uzo the third kid was just satnding there and just looking at the flames calmly he was like 'wow, aunty, there's a fire, that is so cool'. I was like OMG the house is going to burn down and it is going to be all my fault. I was like 'oh hell naw', there is no way I am going down like this, so that some one will use me to cry and blame me for their situation, for ruining their life lets say 10-15 years down the line.
I took the pan, flames rising high and all. In between grabbing the pan from the stove and throwing it onto the front lawn, I was also trying to hold up my wrapper and sheild my fine face and flammable hair from the fire. Then the stupid fire alarm came on and the stupid nosey neighbors 'collie' started barking and even pissing me off the more. Did I mention that this is the third time that I have nearly set fire to Uncle John's house and it always has to do with me attempting to cook. The first time was in 1997 when I first came, I was trying to boil rice, and thanks to 'jetlag' I slept off and didn't wake up for like another hour and half. The whole house was full of smoke as my one 'de rica' cup of rice just turned into a 'biggie size' ash tray. The next time was when ignorant little me used foil to cover a dish in the microwave. As in I didn't know and plus everything you put in the 'oven' is usually covered with a foil wrapper, so I thought the same rule applied to the microwave. The thing started sparking and burnt the door and melted the top-inside of the oven. You can't really blame me, microwaves were scarce in my days in Nigeria, plus there was no user manual for the microwave.
Speaking of microwaves, also at Uncle John's, I tried to boil an egg in the microwave. I mean, there has to be a faster way to boil an egg than on the stove. Now that I mention 'boiling eggs', a friend of mine told me that he almost started a fire when he slept off while trying to boil an egg. By the time he woke up the pot was almost melted, if not entirely and the egg had exploded. Ah yes...explosions... I discovered that the sound of an egg exploding and the sight of it in the microwave is not a pleasant one. I am sure there have also been a couple cooking hazards of mine, like the day I treid to make ogbono soup and put 'canned jack mackrel' in the soup as a substitute for dried fish, because I hate that. Why did the soup turn to egusi and lost all its 'chain consistency'. Oh and how many times boiling tomato paste has bubbled up in my face I cannot even count, and for those of you who may not have noticed, that scar in the middle of my cleavage is not a birth or beauty mark, I got that during one of my attempts to make stew when a 'hot' bubble of tomato and pepper paste splattered on to my chest...right in my cleavage...and there was that huge black fluid filled keloid looking thingy...and when it burst, it was so red and hurt really badly. I was sooo pissed off, I was like that's it, this is the end for me, my chest baring days were over. Fortunately, ori [shea butter] and palm kernel oil really work magic. Then there was the time that I was trying to use the dish washer. Ok so i'd seen it on tv and in movies like 'little rascals' and stuff where people put liquid dish soap in the dishwasher or washing mashing and it bubbles over...well, like they say experience is the best teacher and I guess seeing is believing. We'd run out of dish washing soap and I didn't feel like driving out to the store so I figured I'd try the liquid soap and 'see' what happens. You can guess what happened next, I left the washer running and went to watch tv with the kids, by the time I got up, I dont remember how long, may be 15 minutes, the whole kitchen was filled with soap sud and bubbles up to my knees. Now I really wasn't worried about that, I was more worried about what my uncle's wife would say or do if she'd seen that. Trust me, you do not want to get her cross, she is pretty, shall I say, 'dippy' sometimes, and she would be coming home anytime soon.
My brain began to work over time, wondering how I would clean up my experimental mess. Like a drama queen would, I went beserk and I enlisted the kids and all the towels in the linen closet and we cleaned that place till it was shiny and pretended like we 'just cleaned' the kitchen. You might be thinking, 'oh my gawd this girl is worse than Jessica Simpson', but really it's not being ditzy or dumb, I was just acting out my curiousity, like I do many with things that I have no business knowing about. But that is a good thing though, it show that my mind is always at work, always thinking creatively and actively indulging in 'mental exercise'. I mean I may just discover a way to boil an egg faster, it may look crazy, but that is fine, after all people didnt think Edison, Ford and Einstein were normal people, but those 'playas' were smart. I may be like them one day, may be even invent a way to make human beings taller without stilts or 4 and half inch pumps.