With fiction, I generally read one book at a time. Nonfiction is different; I might have half a dozen (or more) books going at once. One of the books I'm currently reading is Don't Try This at Home: Culinary Catastrophes from the World's Greatest Chefs.
It's a collection of essays by famous chefs about occasions when things went terribly wrong in their kitchens and restaurants. Many of the stories end happily with the chef pulling off a victory of which they're justifiably proud.
I'm reading it because there's a story idea about a food critic percolating in the back of my brain that I need to feed, but as I'm reading, I realize that I have my own near-disaster culinary story that I thought I'd share with you. And Thanksgiving being just past, it's the right time of year.
When I was 19, I wanted to get out into that wide world, but I wasn't brave enough back then to just pack up and go someplace new without a job waiting for me so, much to my mother's dismay, I joined the Army. (In retrospect, this was the best decision of my life.) To my dismay at the time, as soon as I finished training, I got orders sending me to Europe. (I wanted to experience the world but I wasn't sure I was ready to go that far afield.) Again, in retrospect, this was a great adventure and built my confidence beyond anything else I can imagine doing.
I was stationed in the small berg of Baumholder, Germany. I say "small" because if it weren't for the military base, that's what it would have been--a little German town--but it was also one of the largest U.S. troop concentrations in Europe. I have no doubt that Americans troops and their dependents easily outnumbered the German residents. Just as the single men outnumbered the single women there by an insane ratio. I arrived there in May. By October, my boyfriend and I had moved out of the barracks and into an apartment onto "the economy." (Also, on our dimes.) With Thanksgiving coming up, we decided to invite several of the single guys from his artillery unit who had no place special to go for dinner.
Now I have to tell you that as far as my culinary skills went, every meal was a first for me. The first meal I made for my boyfriend and me was chili, and I made enough to feed the entire 8th Army. We ate chili for a couple week, and bless his heart, he never complained. He also never figured out what a guinea pig he was.
As you've guessed by now, I had never cooked a turkey in my life, but it looked easy. Unfortunately, I waited too long to buy it. With no turkeys left on base, I had to buy our sacrificial bird in a German store. The weight was in kilos. (I don't remember how many kilos, but the bird was HUGE.) My cookbook was in pounds. My oven was centigrade. My cookbook was in Fahrenheit. Everything was a guessing game.
Thanksgiving morning, I got up at 6 am, stuffed the bird, put it in the oven, and went back to bed. A couple of hours later I got up to check on it only to discover I'd forgotten to turn on the oven.
It's true. God takes care of children and fools. Never since have I made a more perfect turkey. The skin was beautifully browned and crisp. It was still huge, however, and when the six of us were kicking back and surreptitiously unbuttoning our jeans, you could turn the cut side of the bird away and it looked like it hadn't been touched.
And yes, my boyfriend and I were eating Thanksgiving leftovers for weeks.
And God bless him, he didn't complain about that either.
Hope everyone had a fantastic Turkey Day, and I'd love to hear about any culinary disasters (or near-disasters) you've had.