Well, I started my cooking lessons this week.
Things didn’t go quite as well as expected.
I met Pierre, the French chef on Monday morning. This kitchen was top of the line—the very best of everything. I’m sure that that kitchen equipment cost more than my house…and your house…put together. I entered with hope in my heart and a song on my rather chapped lips.
I’m so silly sometimes.
“So, Ms. Buckingham, you have decided to learn how to cook. Bon.”
“I’m so excited to be here.”“As well you should be. I have instructed completely hopeless cases and zey have come away with zee ability to cook alongside zee greatest chefs in zee world.”
“Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s get started.”
“You are eager. Zis is a good thing.”
“Yeah. It’s nice to be able to do cook again without having to worry about the consequences.”
A cloud passed over his Franco-American features. “Quelle?”
“‘Quelle’ indeed. You do have fire extinguishers, yes?”
“Mais oui. It is required by law,” he said and pulled one out to show me.
I laughed hysterically. “That little thing? At home we have industrial ones that are four times the size of that. I can barely lift them.”
“You have had occasion to use such a thing, zen?”
“But today we have no worries. Today you are to learn zee simplest, most basic of tasks. I shall teach you how to correctly boil an egg.”
“If you say so.”
“But I do say so. Now watch me carefully.”
He pulled out a small pot that probably set him back six or seven hundred dollars, filled it with spring water, and turned up the gas.”
“A gas stove? Do you really think that’s wise…I mean…today?”
“It is zee only stove I use. Gas allows an even heating.”
“I wish I had one of those when I was dealing with that three-storey loaf of bread I made. But the flamethrower seemed to work out okay, too.”
Another dark cloud.
“Eh…” He turned back to the stove. “And voila, we have boiling water. Now to add our egg.” With a pair of tongs, he lightly lifted the egg from the carton and gently placed it in the water. “You may never use zee fresh eggs for zis purpose—zey will not peel properly. You must use zee eggs that are seven to ten days old, so that zee egg shrinks away from zee shell slightly. Our egg will be a twelve-minute egg. We now turn off zee heat, set zee timer and allow nature to take its course.”
The next twelve minutes were spent creating darker and darker shadows as he questioned me about my past adventures in cooking.
He was finally saved, so to speak, by the bell.
“And our egg is finis.” He then reapplied the tongs and set the egg into a cold water bath with six ice cubes floating on the surface. “You must leave zee egg in zee cold water for at least three minutes before peeling. A hard-cooked, peeled egg may be stored in zee refrigerator for several days before eating. Or, you may eat it immediately, of course.”
After three minutes time, he peeled the egg effortlessly, and handed it to me. “Taste it.”
I took a bite—it was the best, most perfect egg I’d ever eaten. My excitement grew. Maybe cooking wasn’t as hard to master as I thought, if making something this delicious was so easy.”
“Great. I think I’ve got it.”
“Tres bien! Your homeworking assignment is to cook zee perfect egg and bring it with you tomorrow, so we may, as zey say, be crossing it off our list and trying something more difficile.”
“Perfect! See you tomorrow.”
I skipped home happily, since the cooking school was not far away, daydreaming about all the culinary masterpieces I would shortly be creating. I burst in the door.
“So, how did it go?” Stij asked, warily.
“It was great! I don’t know why I didn’t do this sooner!”
“Possibly the previous lack of a lawsuit threat?”
“Hey, look, those cookies I gave Karen across the street were perfectly fine!”
“Their dog doesn’t share your opinion.”
“How’s he doing, by the way?”
“Karen said he’s still in intensive care and his spleen and gall bladder may have to be removed. Oh, and his tail, too. It’s turning green and getting ready to fall off.”
“But that’s all in the past! This teacher I have is really great. He makes everything so easy for me.”
Stij finally managed a smile that looked insultingly relieved around the edges. “So what did you make?”
“Well, he showed me how to make the perfect hard-boiled egg. My homework assignment is to bring him one that I cooked the same way tomorrow.”
“You didn’t try making one there first?”
“No. He didn’t even suggest it.”
“Apparently, your reputation has preceded you.”
“Gee, Stij, that was almost like humor.”
“All right, all right. So fill a pot with water and show me what you got.”
“Fine. Then you’ll see.”
First, I prepared the water bath. I figured that if I loaded it with three or four trays of ice cubes and a little water, the egg would be ready to eat faster. After the water bath was set, I put tap water in the pot and set it to boil. Once that happened, added the egg (without tongs) and turned off the heat.
Then the phone rang, and it was on old friend I hadn’t heard from in a long time. I was knee-deep in conversation when Stij stuck his head into the living room.
“What’s that smell?”
“Oh, shit! The egg!”
“Jesus Christ, are you cooking again?” my friend cried.
“Call you back.”
I ran to the kitchen. I hadn’t turned off the burner, I had mistakenly turned the one next to it on. All the water had boiled out of the pot, and what was left smelled like the bowels of Hell and looked like a golf ball that had seen better days.
Stij shook his head. “I’ll call Ralph.”
Ralph is the fumigator that Stij keeps on retainer.
I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to duplicate Pierre’s perfect egg. I ended up with an egg that froze solid in the water bath and shattered on the floor when it slipped out of my hand. I got an egg that, of course, exploded. I got an egg that, for some strange reason, attracted hundreds of earthworms to our front and back doors. I even got one that made a weird kind of screaming noise.
“Ready to call it a day?” Stij asked me at 2:00 that morning.
“Never say ‘die.’”
“Then don’t give anybody your hard-boiled eggs.”
“Tee hee. Go back to bed. I’m going to give it one more shot.”
Finally,the egg was perfect! It peeled just fine and was completely unblemished. I reverently stored it in the fridge, then went to bed myself, confident that I would impress the hell out of Pierre the next day.
“Oh ho! You have made zee nice-looking hard boiled egg!” He took a bite.
Or tried to.
His teeth couldn’t penetrate it. He removed it from his mouth and there wasn’t a mark on it. He threw it on the floor, and it bounced right back up into his hand.
He looked at me, as only the world-weary French can. He sighed. He examined the egg. He sighed again.
“I really don’t know what happened,” I said. “I did exactly what you told me to do.”
“You did not, by zee slightest of chances, boil zis terribly abused egg in zee vinegar?”
“I didn’t have a choice! There was a water main leak and the town shut off the water from the street while I was practicing. It won’t be back on again until they fix it.”
“Zey could plug it up with zis egg and zee problem would be solved! Besides zis tragic fact, you should not have required tap water at all! Did you not realize zat I used bottled spring water in which to cook zee egg?”
“Oh, I guess that makes a difference.”
“Vive la difference!” he shouted, throwing up his hands, as only the world-weary French can. Then he sat down, put his apron over his head and wept.
I think I’ll look around for an instructor who’s Italian. These French people get way too emotional about hard-boiled eggs.