Friday, October 23, 2009

Joy of microwave cooking

This weekend, I have to fend for myself when it comes to making meals. No Louise. Meaning, no home-cooked chicken with South African potatoes. No hamburgers made better than any restaurant or any backyard grill master. No steaks. No salmon. No pasta. 

No vegetables (it's not all bad).

In these situations, I'm almost like a feral child, only a literate one. If a social services worker wandered through our apartment and saw me eating three more chicken burgers on top of two from the previous night, they might haul me away, either immediately or after a brief court hearing. In my single days I ate fast-food at least once a day, and by once I mean twice. That all changed with marriage, thankfully. My taste buds and internal organs have benefited equally.

When I'm on my own now, I stick to what I know: the aforementioned chicken burgers, French fries, nuggets, cereal (can be a dinner in addition to a breakfast and snack). 

And the microwave. Louise cooks up pounds of barbecue before leaving, assuring sloppy joe's for as long as I can handle them. She'll make chili. Taco meat. She leaves me with a freezer and fridge so stocked that they'd be the envy of any Y2K survivalist nut.

All I have to do is heat the items up.

I don't pretend to be a cook. In fact, I can't even fake being a good cook. Some elementary knowledge would be required to pull off any charade. I did bake a cake for our anniversary a few years ago. It turned out surprisingly well. Haven't made one since. Figured I should retire on top.

But I know how to make certain things, items even a master chef like Louise struggles with. TV dinners, for example. There's an art to knowing just how long the Swanson's chicken meal should be in the oven. How long do you leave it in to get the brownie just right? No one wants a blown-up treat covering the potatoes. What's the exact right temperature for getting that corn to taste so delicious? And when do you take it out to assure that the two pieces of chicken - white, always white pieces with Swanson's - do somewhat resemble chicken? A person who deals with real meals their whole life struggles. A master of these foods owns perfect timing.

But the best weapon in my arsenal is the reliable, forever-present, what-was-life-like-for-bachelors-and-people-who-can't-cook-before-this-was-invented microwave. The small pizzas, two in a box, are my favored pieces, presented with a side of chips and a glass of 2009 Dr. Pepper, lightly chilled. It's a balancing act, knowing just when the cheese has melted enough but not too much. Leave it in for 2 minutes and 30 seconds and you have a perfect meal. Leave it five seconds too long and it can all be ruined. Then the only alternative for dinner is Cap'n Crunch. 

Easy Macs are anything but for those who know their way around a kitchen. But for someone with just a rudimentary understanding of cooking, Easy Macs are a reliable source of...not nutrition. Vitamins, no. I guess they are a source of food, in the strictest sense of the word. But it takes skill and experience to know just how much water to put in the plastic container. It takes a watchful eye to know when the noodles can be removed so they're perfectly prepared and not overdone.

Some people grill hot dogs. Others use the dirty-water technique. I've always nuked 'em. People say they don't want to know what's actually in the hot dogs? I say I don't want to know how much radiation I've consumed over the years with my hot dogs. But with our beast - a red machine affectionately called Lola - you have to know when to hit the stop button. Otherwise an exploded hot dog makes a mess of the insides. Then you see what's inside a hot dog, even if you still won't know what it is.

For a snack I might throw in some microwavable popcorn. Louise has attempted to microwave popcorn on four or five occasions. Not one of those bags survived. The smell of burnt kernels permeates the apartment every time she makes another attempt, choking us. We toss the blackened popcorn into a plastic bag. The charred remains sit there, taunting Louise and her real cooking skills. I've got it down to a science, listening for the famous few seconds before pops, which indicates it's time to pull the bag out. Throw on some butter and it's just like movie popcorn.

I'm going to miss Louise's cooking the next few days, but I'll survive without having to invade McDonald's more than two times. But if the microwave ever dies? If the microwave ever dies?

No, it's a future too terrible to contemplate.


Jerry said...

This sounds all to familiar, though I have become somewhat proficient at both Tuna Helper and Hamburger Helper. And if the microwave dies? There are things called stores that do sell them. The only problem is learning the new one will be much more powerful than the dead one so some period of adjustment is needed.

Dad said...

That is absolutely true. Learning a new microwave can be tough--don't know if it is as tough as real cooking because I can't do that.