It all started with the meatballs. Plump, round, rolled portions of ground beef, coated with a generous glaze of that All-American, all-purpose sauce, ketchup. Let me see now, when was that? It must have been sometime during the early years of our marriage. So long I can’t remember, but it was long, long ago.
We were newlyweds, blind in love, the typical Leave it to Beaver scene in which I would come home from a hard day’s work to the luscious smells of Katrina’s culinary delights in the kitchen. She wooed me this way you know. On our first date, I took her out to eat. On our second date, she cooked me dinner at her place, which concluded with a homemade cherry pie. I knew I was in for a life of wonderful food when she placed that pie in front of me with the shape of a heart etched into the hand-rolled crust. I can’t even tell you what else we had, but that cherry pie will forever be etched in my memory.
Katrina and I pride ourselves in being fantastic cooks. Our mothers taught us well, not to mention a lot of trial and error. Our menu includes a wide variety of foods that we dish out to our family on a regular basis as we tag-team in the kitchen, each of us having our own specialties. We are both fairly cross-trained on many meals, but the kids are always quick to point out that “Mommy doesn’t do it that way, Daddy.”
I’m the gravy chef, a pretty lofty title for a southern boy. Gravy is a staple food in the South, at least in our house it is. While the South is usually known for being the Bible-belt, it’s also known for its gravy-gut, mine included. Many times we start our day on the weekends with sausage or chocolate gravy for breakfast poured over steaming hot hand- crafted biscuits. While many folks are frequenting restaurants for Sunday dinner after church, we usually walk in the door at home to the aroma of a nice roast in the crock-pot. As Sunday dinner progresses, I pour the beef broth from the roast and create a masterpiece of brown gravy to bathe our roast and homemade mashed potatoes with.
Katrina definitely carries the title of Dessert Queen in our palace. Her extra level of sweetness must be the extra ingredient that I don’t possess, because she can work magic with a batch of chocolate chip cookies that I can’t replicate. She doles out apple, peach, and blackberry cobblers and pies complete with hand-rolled homemade crust. She is the legendary cake-maker for birthdays, creating a large variety of artistic masterpieces that the nine birthday parties a year for our children demand.
Remember when I spoke of trials and errors in the kitchen? Well, several years ago, Katrina made an error, and put us through a trial. Now before I travel down this path, let me make one thing clear. On the rare occasions that things don’t quite measure up at the dinner table, Katrina and I have our longstanding rule of politeness that if something is wrong with the food, we just grin and bear it, chew fast, and swallow hard. Nothing gets said unless the creator of the food speaks up first (unless a rude child speaks out who hasn’t learned the lingo yet), at which time it is fair game to add an additional comment such as “Yes, I believe that could stand to have a little more salt.”
Now, back to those meatballs. Being the risk-taker that Katrina is in the kitchen, she decided one evening that meatballs would be the main course on the menu. She had found a recipe in the cookbook that sounded pretty good, so she went out on a limb on behalf of all of our stomachs. I came in from work, pleased to smell that dinner was cooking, and soon Katrina had our feast laid out on the table.
As our two oldest boys and I came in for dinner, we discovered that tonight was experimental night and that we were the guinea pigs. We were welcomed to the table by the brightest red meatballs we had ever seen, bathed in a generous portion of ketchup sauce. Katrina was excited to introduce us to her creation, and we all loaded up our plates.
Using the grin-and-bear-it method mentioned earlier, we all chewed our way through the wonderful texture of the ground beef mixture. About half-way through the meal, Katrina blurted out, “How can you stand to eat these? These are terrible!” The boys and I were relieved that she had let the cat out of the bag, and as we all cleaned up our plates of everything but the meatballs, Katrina gave us all an extra helping of dessert, and the dog an extra helping of meatballs.
Now I’m not quite the risk-taker that Katrina is, but I’ve had my share of mishaps in the kitchen as well. I’m also the pizza chef at our house, but becoming skilled at it has not come without pain in the process. One of my creations included a double crust pizza pie. My theory for making just about anything is that if you add enough layers of cheese and meat, anything can taste good. Wrong! As we suffered through my creation of double-dough pizza, the runny dough on the inside did not exactly do much for the palate, so I was quick to point out my failure, much to everyone’s relief.
Our latest mishap occurred a couple of weeks ago. Katrina got the urge to create after dinner. Now when Katrina gets her mind on something, especially dessert, there’s no talking her out of it. If you can, imagine one of those scenes from a movie where the police are trying to talk someone down from jumping off of a building—that’s us. When she gets the creative juices flowing, look out. It’s usually me trying to talk her out of it, like when we’re too busy or something. I’m Mr. Practical, she’s Ms. Spontaneous.
That night it was popcorn balls. She had it on the brain, and I had to help her. I popped the popcorn while she created the candy glaze. Simple enough, right? Well, as we continued to read the recipe trying to understand the best method for creating these, the corn-syrup concoction in the pan kept getting hotter and thicker. Katrina had made different kinds of candy before, but never poured onto popcorn. As she boiled, stirred, and tested the candy mixture repeatedly, I looked on with dread. Something didn’t seem right. But she finally got it to the “hardball” consistency that the cookbook prescribed.
After Katrina spread out the popcorn on a large flat pan, she poured the fiery hot liquid over the popcorn. As the crowd of onlookers (the kids) watched in awe, Katrina molded the popcorn mixture into large balls, working diligently not to scald the flesh off of her hands. Walla! The masterpiece was complete. All we had to do was wait a few minutes for them to cool.
Soon we all began munching on the sweet treats, but then almost all of us at the same time discovered that the candy coating was quite durable. In fact, after about three bites from mine I abandoned it in hopes that my fillings were still intact. Katrina and I simultaneously warned the kids that they should go easy on them to keep from pulling their teeth out.
While the taste was great, the consistency was not. I recommended that tomorrow would be a good day to feed the squirrels. Always hesitant to throw out anything, Katrina let the kids have a little more the next day, but then conceded to provide a feast for the squirrels after all.
If the squirrels around our house could pay money, it would have likely been a windfall for a local veterinary dentist. Oh, well. Maybe our toothless squirrels will give the birds in our bird feeders a break for awhile.
Footnote: This story has been approved by the head chef, my best friend and lovely wife Katrina. Early on in our marriage this might not have gone over so well (when the meatballs were created!) but as we age and grow together, we learn to laugh at life, not to the extent of criticism, but to help keep our sanity as we blunder through life loving each other.
Written by David Steen, with God smiling, January 23, 2010