Saturday, October 16, 2004

Yesterday was Tim's birthday. Since I had already bought him a gift and have given it to him, I decided it would be nice to cook him a nice dinner so that he would have something nice for his birthday.

Only problem: I don't cook.

But I was going to try. I was very determined. So I went through a cookbook my friend Mark gave me, and found recipes for an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert that I thought I could cook.

Next I went shopping for all the ingredients. This became quite the ordeal because, since I never cook from scratch, I had nothing. The only thing I didn't have to buy was tomatoes, since my mom grows them in her backyard and she had given me tons. The rhubarb for the pie was the biggest pain in the butt since rhubarb is now out of season. I called 4 different stores until I found one that had rhubarb. I also went to an Asian market, a liquor store, and made two trips to the supermarket.

Not only did I have to buy all the ingredients, but I also had to buy some cooking utensils. With all the money I spent I could have bought Tim an additional gift, but a lot of the ingredients I will have for a long time, such as flour, cornstarch, sugar, brown sugar, wine vinegar, and oils.

When I decide to do something new I go all out. A perfect example is the scarf I knitted Tim for Christmas last year. It was the first thing I ever made, and it was a pretty detailed pattern. I did the same thing here. I made everything myself with the exception of buying a frozen pie crust instead of making it from scratch and buying a bag of lettuce already cut up. However, this was counteracted by the fact that I couldn't find superfine sugar at the store, so I had to put regular granulated sugar in the blender to make it finer.

I started my day yesterday by setting the table nicely, using plates and bowls and cups and saucers that all matched. I don't think I have eaten at my dining room table for at least 3 years. Anyone who has been in my apartment knows that it's usually covered in crap. It's one of my hot spots, the sort of place that as soon as one thing is out of place it becomes completely covered in no time.

I made the dessert first. It was rhubarb and orange merengue pie. I was surprised how easy it was. I learned that grating the zest of 3 oranges make my entire apartment smell like fresh oranges. It was my first experience separating egg whites, and much to my surprise I was successful. The pie baked up and seemed fine.

The next step was to make a paste that would be the main ingredients for my appetizer (fish cakes) and main course (pasta with shrimp). This is where the problems started. The recipe said to put all the ingredients in a food processor until it came out as a coarse paste. So that's what I tried to do. The blender, however, had other ideas.

First, I must say that my blender is really old. It was my grandparents', and it became mine after they passed away. I have no idea how long they had it. It worked really well for making the sugar superfine. However, it didn't like making paste. It made something, but it definitely wasn't a paste. I don't know what it was. It tasted fine, but for some reason it wouldn't make the right texture. A big part of the problem was that after the blender would grind down some of the ingredients it wouldn't do the others. It's like an air pocket formed around the little things that spins around so that none of the other ingredients could get down there.

This was disaster because I needed this paste for 2 of my dishes. What would I do now? It was around this time that I noticed that the pie was leaking, and that there was a sticky fluid all over my stove.

I was not a happy camper, but I carried on. I had to wash out the blender in order to prepare the fish to make them into little cakes. This worked eventually, but I was having some of the same problems as I did with the paste. This time I sort of mixed all the ingredients in a bowl with my hands before putting it in the blender 1/3 at a time. It sort of worked. The fish was no longer in chunks, but some of the green onion was still in bigger pieces than I would have liked. But I was able to form little patties.

Next I had to prepare the shrimp for the pasta. I was supposed to marinate the shrimp with the paste for 2 hours before making the sauce. How was I supposed to do this with non-paste?

Meltdown.

I started sobbing uncontrollably. I called Tim (I'm surprised he was able to understand a word I was saying) to tell him I ruined his birthday, that I tried hard and failed, and that we would probably have to go out to eat. He was very kind, saying it couldn't be as bad as I was making it out to be and that everything would be fine.

I was seriously considering dumping all my food at this point. I had non-paste and a leaky pie. But I carried on. I made the dipping sauce for the fish cakes, and it actually turned out really well. I learned that my blender works for sugar and dipping sauces, but not so much for actual food (even though it has a chop function; not so much). So if anyone in my family is reading this, a food processor would make a wonderful Christmas present. So would a slowcooker.

But I digress.

My spirits were lifted a bit when the dipping sauce turned out well. I decided to prepare the shrimp with the non-paste by using it as a rub, hoping that some of the flavor of the non-paste would get on the shrimp.

Tim arrived and assessed the situation. He said the fact that I had non-paste wasn't my fault because the blender didn't work the way I wanted it to, and that the fish cakes looked normal. The thought the dipping sauce looked and smelled yummy. So I finished cooking. I made the pasta sauce, but I needed Tim to help me open the bottle of wine I needed for the sauce, since I can't do that. I made the sauce and started cooking the fish cakes. I started preparing the salad, but I left the cutting of the carrots to Tim. He loves carrots, and I let him cut them so that he would have as many carrots in the salad as he wanted. Okay, really I had him cut them because I was trying to do about 3 things at once (I was also making coffee) and I needed help. He did that, then opened the bottle of wine for dinner since I don't know how to work my corkscrew.

Then it was time to eat. I was nervous because I thought everything would taste like crap. But it was good. All of it was pretty good. I really liked the pasta sauce, even though I had non-paste so that those flavors didn't get into it much. It was still really good. And even though the pie had been leaking before, it wasn't runny or liquidy. It was actually good. The only thing is next time I won't use as much orange zest. It was a little overpowering. But it was still good.

So even though I thought it was going to be awful and that we would both be sick today because I knew I would do something horribly wrong, everything turned out decent.

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