Some of you have noted the title of my blog and its cooking inference and surmised I might be a gourmet chef, or at least have a fair degree of competence in the culinary arts. Alas, that is far from reality. In the past, I have attempted to join the ranks of the culinary elite, but due to past failures, the Surgeon General has requested my kitchen display a sign usually intended for most heavy-industrial zones: a flip board with changeable numbers indicating the days elapsed since the last on-the-job accident.
Not so long ago, I decided to tempt fate and invite my mother over for a simple dinner of stir-fry vegetables and rice. As the Hour of Reckoning neared, I came to my senses and realized that I shouldn’t attempt this escapade alone. I decided to invoke a little Help from Above by praying to the patron saint of cooking.
Let me share my philosophy on patron saints. In my conversations with friends, I have come to realize that everyone approaches the well-known, popular saints for help. Worried about a hopeless situation? Pray to St. Jude. Lose something? St. Anthony is your man. Problem with a pet or wildlife and who you gonna call? St. Francis of Assisi to the rescue. I imagine these busy, oft-beseeched saints in heaven, scurrying around like delicatessen counter workers on a Saturday morning, frantically calling out numbers and slapping prayer orders onto wax paper while their customers impatiently mill about. Personally, for help with my own struggles I’d rather look to the lesser-known men and women of God, the ones perhaps with a little more time on their hands. Imagine them up in heaven, singing God’s praises during choir practice, and being constantly interrupted by the incessant “When the Saints Go Marching In” ringtone trumpeting from their more popular compatriots’ cell phones. The “A” list saints roll their eyes, pat the hidden pockets of their robes, then wearily apologize, “Sorry, I have to take this call.” Their less popular brethren, though having attained everlasting life and adulation, feel neglected and check their own celestial Blackberries for messages to no avail.
So, in order that my prayer request not reach an overwrought heaven-dweller but instead jump to the head of the line, I tried a modern-day solution: surfing the Internet. Aha, here it is. The patron saint of cooking is… Martha! I should have known! The poor woman who bustled about preparing the meal for Jesus while her sister Mary lolled at his feet and half-heartedly offered to phone for take-out food. Okay, St. Martha will be tonight’s new sous-chef.
I poured about two tablespoons of oil in the wok, covered it, then confidently turned the knob on the stovetop all the way up. I then took the bag of stir-fry vegetables from the freezer, set it to defrost in the microwave, chopped some red peppers, started the rice, set the table, and sat down to have a chat with my mother. Finally remembering the wok, WHICH HAD BEEN COOKING ON HIGH THIS WHOLE TIME, I turned around… and heard the smoke alarm in the hall go off. This happens so often that I think of it as dinner music, so I was not yet worried. I shooed Mom into the hall with a dishtowel to wave over the beeping unit to silence it. Okay, let me just lift the lid and toss in a little semi-defrosted water chestnut to see if the oil is ready…
WHOOSH!! Giant orange flames LEAPT from the wok, thus indicating that prolonged multi-tasking is not the wisest thing to do while cooking. I screamed and slammed the lid onto the wok, hoping to quell the fire. An orange glow emanated from under the lid, one much like the ancients probably saw while fleeing the volcanic eruptions of Mounts Vesuvius or Krakatoa. Meanwhile, the kitchen filled with billowing grey smoke and the upstairs smoke alarm joined its downstairs cousin in shrilly chanting, “Chris is cooking again! Chris is cooking again!” I clicked off the burner, turned the exhaust fan on high, and ran out the back door until the smoke cleared. (At this point, I am sure St. Martha was overwhelmed and beckoned St. Florian, the Patron Saint of Firefighters, for his assistance.)
When the flames had quieted and the smoke dissipated, I looked at my scorched wok. I thought, “Why can’t I just remove the burnt oil and start again?” Now that I definitely had St. Martha’s attention, she would most likely redouble her efforts to help me achieve a delightful culinary experience. I grabbed a sheet of paper towel, wiped the bottom, then noticed it came away thick with black goo. Looks like the Teflon had burned right off the wok. Not a problem: Teflon is probably carcinogenic anyway, and I can try cooking on the bare metal. When dinner was served, Mom did remark about the “interesting black flecks” in the meal, but I assured her they were just spices I had added when she hadn’t noticed.
A few hours later, while tossing and turning in bed, I dreamed that St. Martha had called her wireless provider to install call blocking against my number. Arising after a fitful night’s sleep, I had reason to surf the web once again and check the trusty “Saints and Angels” section….for the patron saint of abdominal pains. Hmm, God must really have a sense of humor: this malady’s saint is St. Erasmus, also known as St. Elmo (of St. Elmo’s Fire fame). Well, he’s probably not too busy except on Thanksgiving…