I was already in bed and mostly asleep when my son had the sudden urge for an omelet. He’s not been feeling well lately, so I was glad he had an appetite and more than happy to venture into the kitchen for an attempt at cooking.
Problem was, I had already taken a sleeping pill. My doctor-prescribed Ambien was cutting in with a vengeance as I stumbled down the hallway and into the light. I’ve read the pharmacists’ warnings about the dangers of “sleep-driving,” “sleep-eating,” “sleep-investing” and “sleep-presidenting” while using the drug, but I didn’t remember anything about hazards of cooking under the influence of this hypno-sedative. I should’ve known better, though. I’m dangerous enough in the kitchen when I’m stone-cold sober, so you can imagine the high state of alert my household assumed as I fired up the grill.
Even the cats kept their distance. We’ve all heard the stories about wild animals sensing earthquakes and other natural calamities before they happen. I guess the same applies to domestic pets who see me holding a cooking implement.
Rob didn’t need anything fancy, just a simple cheese omelet. I’m not sure I’d ever made an omelet before, though I remember hearing somewhere that it involved eggs, a frying pan and the application of heat. Throwing cheese into the mix couldn’t complicate the process that much. It was basically a matter of lumping four things together in approximately the correct order.
I knew enough to set the burner for “on” and to spray the pan with Pan (obvious even to me). I cracked two eggs into a bowl and stirred them vigorously until they only vaguely resembled mucus. The pan appeared hot by now, so I poured the egg in and waited for an omelet to appear.
As the yellow blob started smoking, I figured I should poke at it with a stick or something. I saw a tool that looked like an ice-scraper in my wife’s collection of utensils — I learned later this was the much-talked-about “spatula” — and began turning the egg over onto itself so it would be receiving an even amount of heat. What had started out looking like a proto-omelet had now devolved into scrambled eggs. I sprinkled in the grated cheese and called Rob over, warning him first that the scene could be disturbing to sensitive viewers.
“It’s not really an omelet, is it?” I asked.
“I don’t know, it looks okay to me,” Rob said generously. “It smells good.”
“I think I’m going to call it a ‘scromblet,’” I joked. “Half scrambled eggs, half omelet.”
“Sounds like something from McDonald’s,” Rob said. “Except they would have to call it the ‘McScromblet.’”
“And they’d have to drop it on the floor before they served it to anybody,” I added. “I think they have that as a rule.”
My history of food preparation is not anything to be proud of, so this latest chapter hardly injured my self-esteem. My mother was an excellent cook while I was growing up, so I never learned much more than how to assemble a glass of milk. Every other recipe had basically a two-step set of instructions: (1) yell “Ma!” and (2) add “I’m hungry.”
When I went off to college, I relied mostly on the university meal plan for my nutrients. I’d occasionally get inventive by enrobing my french fries in tartar sauce, or dropping a dollop of chocolate ice cream into my coffee, but other than that I basically ate what was issued to me.
After I moved out of the dorm and into an apartment, it was Ragu and rigatoni that became my bread and butter (bread and butter became my salad). I didn’t own a strainer so I’d slosh the excess water out of the pasta as best I could before adding the canned tomato sauce. The result was a little damp but not bad if you ate it with your eyes closed while imagining that spaghetti soup was a thing. For a change of pace, I’d occasionally set an open can of Dinty Moore beef stew directly on the burner (an earlier experiment using a still-sealed can ended disastrously). This saved on dirty dishes while adding a distinctive metallic flair to a flavor-challenged mass of potatoes and beef and, I hope, carrots. It also put some nice burn stains on the label that I could imagine were Dinty’s sideburns.
When I settled down into married life, I was blessed to find myself with not only a wife who was a fine cook, but also a modern new appliance called the microwave oven. The latter had a revolutionary impact on my food preparation skills, as I soon discovered that virtually everything tasted better after being heated to several thousand degrees. Potato salad, bagels and ice cream were among my favorites to irradiate. Leftovers of the excellent meals my wife prepared could also be warmed quickly, though to this day Beth and I disagree on the best way to do this. She insists that everything be reheated in five-second increments, with careful testing of the food after each cycle. I’d rather go with the automatic five minutes for everything, and if solid transforms into liquid and then into gas, so much better for my calorie-counting.
The birth of my son in 1991 stimulated my provider instincts to the point where I nearly lactated. I wanted to participate in his meal times as much as possible. However I learned that burning-hot strained vegetables were offensive on so many levels that I’d do better to stick to the snacks. When he was old enough for solids, I used to carve apples into thin oval slices, then fashion letters out of these so I could create fun phrases of encouragement. “Good boy,” I wrote once, and another time “eat apple”. The need to choose circular letters limited my messages significantly, but at least I was doing something I knew how to do, even if it was more like type-setting than cooking.
Now my son will soon be leaving home so I cherish the last few opportunities to cook for him, even in an Ambien-induced haze. I’d prize the remembrance of Monday night’s well-intentioned attempt to create a nourishing late-night meal for him, if the sleeping aid hadn’t wiped my memory clean. I only vaguely recalled anything about it at all the next day because of the eggy coagulates still sitting in the sink.
If only I could’ve shaped the scromblet into letters reading “food,” I might’ve made something I could be proud of. Maybe even the cats would eat it, assuming they can spell.