It’s Sunday and my wife has gone to Paris and left me alone with Thing 9 and Thing 7. FYI, I have changed their code names to correspond to their respective ages. It’s T minus 6 hours and 23 minutes until bedtime. I’ve exhausted every diner, bagel shop and pizza joint within a five block perimeter and my wife’s parting comment still rings in my ears like a cautionary Shakespearian tale, “Don’t feed them junk or you’ll have two sick little girls on your hands.” I know this to be true and I decide to kill two birds with one home-cooked meal.
I turn to the the inner-web for inspiration and land on a site called Chow Hound. I’m a Texan in Manhattan and as such, I have a sizable list of things I long for from the Lone Star State. Here are my top four:
1. Brisket that is BBQ’ed…not boiled,
2. The ability to display a firearm in the back window of a truck,
3. To lament freely with a fellow native about the state having once been it’s own country
4. To gorge on the wholesome goodness of a chicken-fried steak.
The girls are excited about the idea of messing up the kitchen and help me find a suitable recipe for the steak that is fried like chicken and smothered in cardiac arrest gravy, or as it’s commonly referred to in my homeland….The Catcher’s Mitt.
Now we’re at Whole Foods. It’s crowded but there’s not a lot of competition for the cheaper cuts of meat. We zip through the 10 items or less line and return home with a two pounds of round steak, four rustic potatoes for the mash and some green beans.
Back at home and the kitchen is already basking in a fog of fine flour. Next time we’ll definitely beat the meat flat before rolling it in the powdery coating. Thing 9 is peeling potatoes at a glacial pace while Thing 7 starts creating small conceptual sculptures out of the leftover flour and milk.
Now everything is happening too fast and the whole experiment is unravelling quickly. The potatoes are boiling over in a starchy oozing secretion, the green beans are shriveling in the steamer like an old man’s penis in an icy lake, the steak is spattering hot grease with the violence of a solar flare, Thing 7’s art pieces are solidifying on the counter like fiberglass stalactites and the gravy has the consistency of something I’d expect to come out of the La Brea Tar Pits.
After the meat pounding and potato peeling, the girls lost interest and I’m alone in our small kitchen. It looks like a grizzly crime scene and smells like a truck stop diner that failed it’s health inspection. I open all the windows to air out our high-rise dorm room but it’s 34 degrees outside and the girls lips start turning blue as they struggle to ladder up to the next level of Donkey Kong with numbing fingers. Actually, I have no idea what game they’re playing because… well…. I’m very out of touch.
It’s T-minus 00:40 minutes until bed time and dinner is finally served. The only positive thing I can say is that all the items on plate approximate the shape and color of the target recipe. After that, nothing tastes remotely edible and I realize this only makes my effort marginal better than the blue soup scene in Bridget Jones’ Diary. The star of the show, the steak that is fried like a chicken, is so salty that it could survive four months at sea on the Mayflower with a barrel full of dried cod. The kids are supportive and to their credits take a few conciliatory bites before asking for Raisin Bran.
It’s finally quiet and I think I pulled a muscle cleaning the kitchen counter. I’m sitting alone, sipping some tequila to wash away the taste, smell and failure of the evening, when Thing 9 comes out and asks me for some more water. Even a couple bites have left her parched. She returns to bed and I settle in for a well deserved episode of Homeland. I saw somewhere that Manny Patinkin, who plays Saul Berenson on the show, is a fantastic cook. I call my friend in Austin and ask him how long Texas was it’s own country.