Well, last week didn’t go so well, as you know. After a little thought, I had decided to give the French cooking instructor one more try, but then I heard that he’d been institutionalized after being found in the fetal position on the floor in the corner of the kitchen, where he’d placed 257 perfectly hard-boiled eggs in front of him, like a defending infantry. They finally had to put him in restraints when he began throwing the eggs at the medics, screeching, “Zey do not bounce! See? See? Zey do not bounce!”
This only serves to prove my point that the French are far too emotional to be cooking instructors.
This week, I have twenty-five year-old Chef Chickie Malduno as my instructor, and trust me, he looks just like whatever picture your mind conjures up upon reading his name.
“Hey, goodameecha!” he exclaimed around the lit cigarette hanging from his rather sizeable lips. “So ya wanna learnta cook ‘talian, huh?”
“Good! Let’s gegoin den!”
I didn’t know if his accent was Brooklyn, Queens, Jersey, or a hideous mélange of all three. If Springsteen had an affair with Edith Bunker, this is probably what would have resulted.
“What are we going to be cooking today?” I asked foolishly.
“Today is…what is today?”
“Right! Since taday is Sattidy, let’s make spaghetti and meatballs like my mama usta make!”
“Why ‘used to’? Doesn’t she still make spaghetti and meatballs?”
“Nah. Not since she choked on sausage and croaked. She had too much wine dat night while she was cookin’ and ate it before she ’membered dat her teeth were still sittin’ in da glass onna nightstand inna bedroom. Swallowed that sucker whole, but it didn’ go down widout a fight.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry!”
“Ehhh, whaddyagonnado? Was a shame, dough. Nobody in da house could eat sausage again for a long while, and by da time we could, da sausage place at da enda da block had closed up. Best damn sausage in da woild. Whadda waste!”
“If the sausage was so good, why did it close?” I asked, desperate to get off the topic of dead mothers.
“Ahhh, dey had rats or bugs or rabid bats or somethin’ livin' over dere. Whole colonies. Dunno how da the kitchen staff coulda missed 'em. Health Department went in wid exterminators and Sigfried & Roy—just in case, y’know?”
“Really? How long did it take?”
“What? Before dey gave up, ran screamin’ inta da street and burned da place to da ground, ya mean?”
“I withdraw the question.”
“’K. Let’s get started den. I heard about ya previous adventures with boilin’ water, so I already tookcara dat. What we’re gonna do now is make da meatballs.”
“Okay. What do I do?”
“Ya pick up da meat dat’s onna plate and putitinna dat bowl.”
He peered over the side of the aluminum bowl and studied my transfer of the ground beef for an exceedingly long and, I thought, insulting, amount of time. Finally he looked up.
“Good! Good job!” he said.
I felt like slapping him until my hand fell off, but compliments directed my way in a kitchen are rarer than discovering oil while installing a septic tank, so I grab them where I can. “Thank you. What now?”
“How’re you wid a knife?”
“I don’t know. Stij won’t let me near them anymore.”
“So dat’s a big NO to handlin’ any’ting sharp. But yer in luck! I gotta industrial food processor here ta do all our cuttin’ for us. So, first t’ing ya do, ya dice a onion.”
“I’ve never used a food processor before. How do I do that?”
“I got da dicin’ blade in dere awreddy. Peel da onion, den putitinna top here.”
I peeled the onion in a flash and tossed it, whole into the machine. Heady with success, I switched it on.
The onion was launched into the air, and traveling about 60 miles per hour, smacked Chickie in the forehead—dead center.
He went down like a bag of wet pasta…and remained down.
After first establishing that Chickie had not joined Julia Child, I decided to take matters into my own hands and finish up. After all, he said I was doing great. Confidence is a really good thing.
I gazed at the ground beef. He said I needed onion for it, so I bent and retrieved the previous onion from the dent in Chef’s forehead, and tried again, this time closing the top of the processor. Worked like a charm! I love this machine!
But what else? What other ingredients?
I pondered my dilemma for a few moments, trying to remember the various flavors in meatballs I’d had in the past. Then, between the dicing food processor and the herbs and spices I found in the cupboard, I set to work.
By the time Chef Chickie finally came to, the meal was done…and I mean that in the most final sense of the word.
The water that had previously filled the stockpot had boiled away completely and the pot was glowing red and smelling kind of odd, so I ran it under cold water and it exploded. The shrapnel missed me completely, but the majority of the pieces embedded themselves in Chef’s left calf.
This is what brought him around, I think.
The meatballs looked pretty good, though. After stopping Chef’s bleeding (I’ve become rather good at this with all my kitchen experience), I helped him to his feet. He was still a woozy enough from his head injury to ask to taste the meatballs.
He didn’t have to ask me twice.
He took a bite. He chewed…and chewed…and chewed. “Congratulations,” he said. “Ya mada meatball dat’s got no flavor whatsoeva! What da hell you put in dese?”
“Well, I used the onion, some tomatoes, and there was some fish thawed out in the fridge, so I assumed you wanted that in there, too…”
“Dere is NEVER fish in meatballs. Dis is da very first Commandment on da third tablet dat Moses brung down widdim an’ accidently dropped. Ya got meatballs and ya got fishballs—NEVER da same t’ing. What else’s innere?”
“Well, by the time I put all the breadcrumbs…”
“How much breadcrumbs ya use?”
“The whole canister. Was that wrong?”
“For one pounda meat it is! There’s twelve cups in that cannista!
“Yes, well it did seem kind of dry, so I thought, ‘What do I need to do to hold the meatballs together.’ Then I remembered about how sausages are made…”
“But I got no sausage casins here today.”
“I know. I cut the fingers out of two dozen rubber gloves.”
He reached over and pulled a meatball out of the skillet then threw it on the floor. It rebounded back up into his hand.
He glared at me. “Whaddizit is it witchoo and bouncin’ food?”
“Oh, you heard about the hard-boiled egg, I guess.”
“You would be guessin’ right.”
“Okay, so what’s my homework for tonight?”
“I dunno. I suddenly got a strong urge to take da redeye ta Sicily ta’night and look up some professional people I know. When are you most likely to be home and what did you say your address was, again?”
I walked home rather dejected. The only thing keeping me going was the hope that Week T’ree—I mean, Three—will turn out better.
It’s probably the only thing keeping Stij going, too.