April 19

Suddenly, I’m Paulette Prudhomme

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For my whole marriage, I have been the secondary cook. So secondary it’s really more like the relief cook. I did the Italian, and he did pretty much everything else. He’s always been very kind about it, heaping embarrassing amounts of praise on my efforts, to the point where I’ve wondered if he was poking fun at dishes that amount to “various items breaded, fried and smothered.” But he swears he’s sincere.

However, given my druthers, my idea of dinner 9 times out of 10 is “what’s quickest and easiest to clean up?” The first time I had to feed him, I took out a frozen, dump-it-in-the-skillet meat/veggies/starch all in one bag. He was a good sport about it, and only much later on did it occur to me that it’s amazing he wanted another date after that.

Now that time and circumstances have changed, I’m responsible for more of the food procurement. While a LOT of it remains the quick and easy variety, there’s one area where things have suddenly reversed: work.  Also: Crock Pots.

There are many times where work has a “food thing.” Most of the time it’s a fund raiser for the employee charity fund, or the party fund or whatnot. Occasionally it’s something else, but it’s turned into a command performance, and that’s a very new thing for me.

First came the roast beef debris for po-boys for a sandwich day fundraiser. I thought this would be a safe bet, and a little outside of the norm. It was, and it smells amazing…but it was also expensive to make, and set the bar a bit high.

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Yeah. That was pricey. It went over very well, tho, so that the next time I was asked if I wanted to make it again, I said that I’d think of something else. People acted disappointed, so I swore it would be just as awesome. Then I came up with a New Orleans’ style chicken and rice. It was cold, winter, and hey, it was a comfort dish that didn’t cost too much.

The problem was that it went from this:

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To this:

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In about half an hour. It was long gone before I even got to my lunch break- and I got no sympathy whatsoever. “Get a bigger crock pot” was the advice given, although someone else commented that “we’ll eat that, too, of course…”

By that time, Mardi Gras was coming, and I’d been a bit (okay, a lot) mopey because I wasn’t able to go home for carnival, and my social media was chock full of friends having fun. Asked what I was going to do about it, I threw my own little Fat Tuesday celebration with King Cake and Jambalaya. It went over a little too well, given that I put a freaking SIGN on the pot in the morning saying “NOT DONE COOKING. DO NOT EAT. RAW CHICKEN AND PORK!” and when I went back to stir the pot, it was already half gone.

Seriously, people? Does no one ever cook for you, that you’d be willing to risk salmonella?

I do have to admit that the food since the move has been seriously on the bland side, so maybe this is all just a cry for help.

The latest was last Friday, when I made a Cajun Porky-Mac to thank a vendor to coming in and helping me when I was slammed. Turns out word has gotten around, and even though I made special arrangements to hide the Crock Pot in a locked office, AND we were having a seperate fund raiser where you got a baked potato bar with all the fixins’ for $2, the locusts found the pot, much to my boss’ annoyance. It was only supposed to be for our department, and she’d been looking forward to leftovers the next day, but whoops! All gone. She held a small interrogation, but no one copped to it and she stayed hangry. Thankfully pork loin is cheap, so I can do that one again pretty easily.

This rather minor bit of food fame has been a little strange- not one bit of it has been Italian, my usual domain. All of it has been made up to one extent or another, and I live in fear, knowing that at some point the law of averages tells me I’ll strike out. I’ve been wondering what these Yankees would make of crawfish, but I think that might be my undoing. Also: expensive.

Truth be told, Mr. P is getting anxious about this, and is starting to want to reclaim his mantle. I once wrote up one of his recipes for Squidoo (R.I.P.), and I’ll have to see if we can convert it to a crock pot-friendly version so the cooking balance can be restored.

Until then, I’ll try to enjoy it and wield my Slap ya Mama cannister with abandon but wisdom as long as I can.

 

April 8

The Youngest Assistant

Stain & Paint Key

I looked down into the eyes of a miffed young lady as she tugged on my apron. “Well, hello there.” I said cheerfully.

“He,” she said, stabbing a finger toward a coworker who was pointedly avoiding her glare, “won’t let me make paint. He says it’s not allowed, but I don’t believe him because you’ve already let me!”

That got my attention and I examined her more closely. She didn’t seem familiar in her pink corduroy overalls, close cropped hair and deadly serious expression, but it was true that if we weren’t too hectic, I’d invite kids to come back behind the paint  counter and “make” their parents’ paint. Looking around, I didn’t see a grownup who seemed to belong to her, so I asked where they were and what paint they needed today.

She explained that they didn’t need paint of their own, but while her mother was looking at carpets she’d decided she would come over to help at the paint desk because it was a busy day and we had a lot of customers. Trying to contain a grin I told her that I was sorry, but the store would only allow me to make her own paint and no one else’s.

She scowled. “I’ll be right back,” she said, striding off.

A few minutes later she’d returned, a quart of tintable wood stain clutched in her hands, towing her mother in her wake. “I read the sign,” she said, “and we want to make Rosewood color.” Her mother shrugged,mumbling that they kind of needed it anyway, then nodded as I stepped up to the computer and her daughter came around behind the counter.

As I started to type, the girlie cleared her throat. “I want to do it all,” she said, politely but firmly.

“This part you can’t,” I said, unaware that this would be the only battle I’d win against the world’s cutest bulldozer. I entered the data and sent the label to the printer- it was in her hands before my fingers had even left the keyboard.

She tore it oh-so-carefully, peeling it away from the backing and saying, “I’m putting it on the can where it doesn’t block the instructions, see?” I praised her forethought while automatically moving on to the next step, but gasped loudly when a small hand grabbed my boob as it reached for the tool to open the can, which dangled from a leash on my apron.

“I know how to use this,” she said, not registering my surprised chest rubbing. “I made my dad show me. I can be careful.”

“Um, here’s the problem,” I said with genuine nervousness. “Stain is very different from paint- it’s super thin, for one thing. It’ll splash everywhere if we don’t pay close attention.”

Her little face was staring so intently at the can it wouldn’t have surprised me if the lid popped off through sheer force of will, but she asked no questions and made no comment, only bent to her task, carefully prying the lid with the key and spilling not a drop. She looked up and said, “Now it’s the dots, right?” I nodded, impressed, as she maneuvered the can under the tint dispenser, trying to get all three laser pointers to reflect off the tint so she’d know it was properly aligned. The quart sized cans have almost no room for error, and I’d never allowed a kid to even try one, but I stayed quiet and watched her work at it until she’d found the sweet spot.

She exuded determination, and had a slightly odd, clipped way of explaining out loud what she was doing. It could have been offputting, but somehow it wasn’t. She had a piece of work to do, and she was going to do it.

And so she did, shooting the gun at the UPC symbol to start the tint flowing, accepting minimal help to hammer the lid on, working the shaker and taking it out. I congratulated her on a job well done which she took as her due before heading off with her mom.

I looked up to see that the line had gotten backed up and headed toward the next customer but a tap on my shoulder turned me around to find her mom looking furtive.

“Thank you for that,” she said quietly. “I can’t even guess how many times she’s watched that video – totally obsessed.”

“Video?” I asked, dumbfounded.

“It’s silly, I know, but I recorded it with the phone when she helped you the first time because it was so unusual for her to want to talk to a stranger – she’s mildly autistic of course – and you talked to her the whole time, so she knew why you were doing what you were doing. A hundred times, minimum, she’s watched it. Are you a teacher? Because you should be a teacher,” she said before rushing back to her daughter who was carefully examining the lollipop display at the checkout line.

I started to take the next customer’s order but after a few seconds excused myself and darted toward the cashier. It suddenly seemed very important that I find out her name, this little girl whose first visit I didn’t even remember, and whose autism I hadn’t registered, but she was already gone.