“I don’t know where I was when they were passing out patience. I must’ve been behind the door somewhere, because I don’t have any.” – Leah Chase, Chef and Owner of Dooky Chase
I feel you Leah, I feel you. With Halloween basically here I thought I’d give you a somewhat scary story with a golden nugget of wisdom hidden in the center. Here we go.
When I was younger, I’d say from the ages of 9-14, I baked as often as possible. Cakes, cookies, brownies, cupcakes, muffins, cinnamon rolls even. If it was sweet and went in the oven, I was on top of it. One of my favorite things to make, because we almost always had the ingredients in the house, was pound cake. Pound cake amongst the women of my family is somewhat of a trainer for further culinary exploits. Understanding your own rendition, its strengths, its weaknesses, is part of growing up as a young lady in the kitchen. I was well on my way to having my own defined version of pound cake. It couldn’t compete with my grandmother’s or my great aunt’s (my family often gets into yelling matches over slices of the latter) but it was mine and I loved it.
One Friday afternoon I was endeavoring to make a pound cake while also relaxing and watching tv with my brother (this was during the phase of my life when my parents only let us watch TV on the weekend, and even though I was baking I held fast to my 3:00pm call time in front of the TV). Like most young chefs, mis-en-place and all other preparation eluded me. I preferred to fly by the seat of my pants and make my way through all recipes like that. Thus, of course, I hadn’t pulled the butter out of the fridge the night before in order to let it soften. In fact, it was in the freezer. I did what I had done what felt like a million times before, I got out a tiny pan to melt the butter on the stove (a phase in my life when we did not have a microwave as well). However, this time, instead of using the normal mini cast iron pan I always did, I instead used a thin tin cup, the kind cowboys cook their coffee in in movies. I stood up the butter in the cup, the two sticks reaching far above the top of the cup, set the flame to full force (because EFFICIENCY) and went back to enjoy my tv show.
I came back a couple minutes later to what can be called a truly beautiful grease fire. The tin cup was holding 2 foot flames that reached the hood of the stove in vibrant blues, yellows, and oranges. For a moment I stood and thought “hm. Well this is quite a predicament you’ve gotten yourself into”, then I leapt to action. I was able to turn off the flame on the stove, grab a potholder, grab the tin cup, carry the flames over to the sink and dump water all over the situation. Luckily this was a small grease fire so the water succeeded in smothering the flame but it should be noted: DO NOT ATTEMPT TO PUT OUT GREASE FIRES WITH WATER, SMOTHER THEM OR DUMP BAKING SODA ON THEM. I was but a child and did not know the rules of grease fires and thankfully got lucky. I let the tin cup cool, washed it out, melted some more butter (without leaving the kitchen), and returned to the living room shaken up, but more wise. The funniest thing about this story is that no one knew. I didn’t scream when I got to the kitchen so my brother in the living room had no idea and my parents weren’t there. To be honest, I think reading this post will be the first anyone in my family hears of it. Surpriiiiiise.
But now for the nugget of wisdom: patience and preparation matters in cooking. People who remember to pull out their butter and eggs the day before so they can come to room temp, make better cakes. Those who measure out all of their ingredients and read the recipe over a few times before diving in, make better food upon the first attempt. I am impatient person learning patience and the kitchen is a great teacher. Things of great beauty, often take time. So yes, you could feasibly cook a chicken in half the time if you roasted it at 500 degrees, but it would be dry and sad. So while I agree with Leah, I know she is patient where it matters: with food and not people. And while I will never blame you for throwing together a meal; the thrill can be addicting, I will always think you are so cool if you prepare first.
And if you don’t throw water on grease fires.
Now eat happily and be good.