I love to cook. It's probably one of my favorite things to do. But, I am a disaster in the kitchen. My recipes come out tasteless, burnt, or esthetically unappealing. In other words, my attempts at delicious dinners are pathetic.
Of course there are exceptions, and I do have some merit in the kitchen. I'm a fabulous helper, sous chef, whatever we call an assistant. I chop, peel, mince, mix, and clean up, to perfection. I'm lauded for those skills. And, when I'm performing helper duties, I'm ecstatic. I work efficiently and quietly, only every now and then asking, what's next?
I eagerly await the next task, lovingly preparing the food that will become part of the larger picture.
I have two dishes that can be relied upon to serve to my guests.
As an extra precaution, should my dish fail, I pepper the pre-dinner session with as many interesting nibbles as I can, in order to fill my guests before dinner. It works, because cheeses, spreads, dips, smoked meats and fishes, exotic crackers, and wine can make it all ... almost right.
But, really, the important thing is the fellowship and connection with friends and family. That's really what it's all about, though a tasty dinner couldn't hurt.
Well, there was one memorable disaster that keeps haunting me, though admittedly, it has been replaced with a few others.
This one took place in France, several years ago. I visit there every summer, and I'm lucky to have a wonderful friend, Janine, who has a large and beautiful home near Bordeaux. She occupies this home from May to October, during which time the house is filled with relatives and friends.
Of prime importance are the large and tasty dinners the guests help prepare.
I, of course, use my skills as helper and am found quite useful in that capacity.
Janine, with other guest-cooks, will start recipes from scratch, using food bought that day, or brought by the local farmer.
Everyone is put to good use, as I am, and the final product, usually eaten under the large maple trees, on the beautifully manicured grounds, is a gourmet's delight.
One week, when we had two visiting couples, whom I knew well, I decided to cook one of my signature dishes. I chose my chicken in orange sauce, an easy and, I thought, a tasty dish.
Janine and I discussed its creation. I would need a chicken, orange juice concentrate, though Janine didn't quite know what that was, and, of course, garlic and ginger.
I thought I would find the orange juice with frozen items, and ginger root would be with vegetables. Janine didn't understand the word ginger, so I said it louder. That didn't help but a visit to the dictionary, gave me gingembre, which clarified that.
A trip to several supermarkets proved futile for the orange juice concentrate. I'd squeeze oranges. The chicken, purchased at the market, was chopped, massacred, for me, and I would have to make do, with the parts cut in a rather odd fashion, but nevertheless, still chicken.
The only easy part of this recipe was mincing the garlic, and sprinkling salt and pepper on this creation.
I squeezed many oranges, realizing this wasn't going to be perfect, but it still might pass. I combined my mixture and marinated it for the required time, dear Janine murmuring words of encouragement.
Then, we put it in the oven. I think I inhaled the scent of the garlic but little else.
We prepared a salad, cut the crusty bread, bought that day, and set the table. Too cold to eat outdoors, we ate inside in the big 15th-century kitchen, recently renovated to look like a lovelier, more efficient 15th-century kitchen. The new stove was worthy, but, the cobbled floor was still shiny with age, and the old stone walls still held earthernware, pottery and shiny copper pots.
The dinner was a dismal failure, the orange juice too watery to make a good sauce, the ginger too spare. It just didn't work. It was merely tolerable, if that.
My dear friends smiled, and bravely ate on, rather quietly, somewhat cheerfully, one friend even making a heartfelt, though not gustatory compliment.
They were, after all, friends, and they cared more for my feelings than my culinary competence. I realized later, their caring was my gift, and the seasoning was in the their love.
Gloria Cohen is a native New Yorker who lives in Charleston. She is a registered nurse with an interest in children, nutrition, literature and travel. Her first novel, "Straw Dreams," was recently published.