Like most home cooks, my kitchen is organized based on how I use it. Things are placed where they are easily accessible and where I can find them quickly. Since I cook so often, nothing is labeled—I just “know” what everything is. This system works just fine for me, but in the event a guest chef makes an appearance (like my Mom recently did), things can get a little…well…mischievous.
Naturally, my Mom was the catalyst for my love of cooking. When I was a kid, our pantry was simple—no olive oil, exotic herbs, or five different types of vinegar—just the basics. But like most good Southern cooks, that’s all Mom needed. She taught me how to make corn bread in a cast iron skillet (is there any other way?), squash casserole, and turkey & dressing—yes, that’s dressing NOT stuffing…damn Yankees!
She also taught me a lot—like how to tell the difference between all-purpose flour and self-rising flour. Self-rising flour already has the salt and rising agents added. If you don’t know which is which, just taste a little. If it’s salty, it’s self-rising flour. This taste-test is a nice trick—you’ll see why in a minute.
Recently, Mom stayed with Ray and me while my father had a long stint in the hospital. Most days I would come home from work and make dinner for the three of us, kind of like what Mom used to do when I was a kid. I even made her eat vegetables instead of the bag of chips she had stashed in her purse from lunch. It was a reversal of roles, and it was kinda fun.
But one night I had to work late, so I called Mom and let her know what was in the pantry and fridge so that she could make dinner for the three of us. She was delighted, and got to work preparing beef patties with gravy and roasted asparagus. Ray and I came in and the house smelled like home. The aroma of beef patties seared in a cast iron skillet filled the air. I felt like a kid again. I went to the kitchen to give Mom a hug and comment on the how amazing everything looked. She beamed. She got to cook for her little boy again.
We got the plates and were ready to serve when Mom mentioned that I needed to replace my all-purpose flour in the jar; it was old and it didn’t thicken the gravy. With an arched eyebrow I asked, “What jar of flour?” She padded off to retrieve the jar, but I knew immediately what happened. In my pantry, there are three jars—all the same size—and all containing a white powder-like substance. The poor woman only had a 1 in 3 chance to pick the right jar.
She returned with the jar. I immediately recognized the unlabeled jar. My poor mother didn’t follow her own advice. If she had only tasted the flour to see if it was all-purpose or self-rising, she would have discovered that what she was dumping into the gravy wasn’t flour at all—it was powdered sugar! So instead of making a tasty beef gravy, she made more of an interesting beefy glaze. Was it good? No. Was it terrible? Honestly, not really. Let’s just say we won’t be seeing it prepared on the Food Network anytime soon.
Even the most seasoned home cook has their bad days – whether it be mistaking sugar for flour, or dropping two whole eggs (shell and all) into the Kitchen-Aide mixer and pulverizing them at max speed (yes, another mom story). But at least Mom can’t say I don’t learn from mistakes, whether they’re mine or not. I’m off to Best Buy to shop for that label maker.