The spring before I graduated from high school I got engaged to a nice guy (L.) who I married six short months later. During the months between meeting him and marrying him I tried to learn some “wifely” things like cooking. His mom was an excellent cook, having mastered meal preparation for a family of seven children and a husband, not to mention numerous ranch hands over the past several decades. I knew I had a lot of learning to do if I was going to ever be able to produce even one meal like hers.
Feeling like there was no time like the present to start learning, I decided that I would go to my fiancé’s house and fix him a nice dinner.
I decided on a menu of round steak, mashed potatoes and gravy and peas. That didn’t sound too difficult to this 18 year old whose previous specialty was Hamburger Helper. Best of all, L.already had the steak in the freezer.
I started with the meat, thawing it in the microwave until I could pry the semi-frozen pieces apart with a table knife. Then I got out a scraped up, formerly Teflon© frying pan from underneath the stove and turned the gas burner up, on high of course. I splashed in a good amount of cooking oil and let it heat until there was a little smoke coming out of the pan. I plopped the two steaks into the boiling oil, getting popped and splashed by fiery droplets of oil. Finally, I managed to get close enough to turn the burner down, just a little.
I proceeded to set the table. Nice new dishes that my grandmother bought me for my high school graduation gift adorned the little laminated table, along with some silverware that I scrounged from the drawer in this bachelor’s kitchen, positioned on a couple of paper towels for napkins. Candles that I brought from my room at my mom’s house completed the table decoration. Overall the effect was nice.
I smell smoke…THE STEAKS!!!
I rush to the stove and turned them over, once again getting spattered with hot oil. Relieved that they don’t look TOO burned (just VERY dark brown), I start peeling the potatoes.
I chopped the potatoes into a Dutch oven, covered them with water and set them on the stove’s back burner to cook…on high.
By now the other side of the steak was a matching VERY dark brown and I reasoned that it was probably done. I moved the steaks from the skillet into a cake pan and put it in the oven on low to keep warm until dinner.
Prior to coming over to L’s house I had purchased a 5 lb. bag of flour and a gallon of milk, knowing that I would need these ingredients to make the gravy. I had watched my mom, grandmother, and future mother-in-law make gravy, so I didn’t think it would be too difficult. I turned the burner down a little bit and tossed about 1/3 of the bag (yes, 1/3 of the bag!) of flour into the pan. I stirred and stirred thinking that it should be absorbing the oil left from frying the steak…and then it dawned on me that I didn’t have enough oil in the pan so I added some more. I scraped and tossed and stirred until I finally had most of the flour and oil combined.
Then I added milk. And I stirred…and stirred…and stirred. The concoction formed into this thicker-than-kindergarten–paste ball, so I added more milk. I was rewarded with an even bigger gluey ball of goo so I added more milk, hoping that this mess would start to resemble gravy pretty soon. I was running out of room in my skillet.
I kept adding milk and stirring but this stuff had taken on a life of its own! I had created the BLOB!! I grabbed a pot holder and carried the pan to the sink and proceeded to take out more than half of the creature that was supposed to be my gravy and washed it down the drain.
I carried the pan back to the burner and poured more milk into the mess and kept on stirring. MY GOSH! This stuff is taking over the kitchen! The pan is full again and I can stand a spoon up in the middle and it will not budge! I’ve used ¾ of the gallon of milk and I still have clay!
I do the sink routine again and then poured the remaining ¼ gallon of milk into the pan and continued to stir. I scoop some up in the spoon, turn it upside down and it will not drop! My arm is aching and this stuff is still thicker than Hunts Tomato Paste!
Uh oh, what’s that smell? Oh no, my potatoes have boiled dry! ARGHH!
I turned all the burners off and scraped the scorched potatoes into a bowl and proceed to mash them (without milk as I used it all in the “gravy”).
I opened the can of peas and placed them on the stove just as L. came in the door.
He seemed pleased with my effort, looking at the nicely set, candle lit table. And despite the scorched potatoes and overdone meat, it didn’t smell too bad.
I got the peas off the stove and into a bowl. Then I placed the rest of the food on the table and sat down with my husband-to-be.
I was completely distraught as L. tried valiantly to stab a piece of the leathery meat with his fork but ended up picking it up with his fingers and placing it on his plate. I started to get tears in my eyes.
He looked suspiciously at the potatoes but spooned some onto his plate and made a little lake in the middle for the gravy. Then he took the bowl of paste-like glop and scooped up a rather large dollop and shook it out into the cavern in the potatoes. It didn’t even conform to the shape of that little pond…it just sat there defiantly, like a ball of play dough. More tears.
He spooned up a serving of peas and then picked up his steak knife to cut a bite of meat. It wasn’t budging. He sawed and sawed at that little brick and just couldn’t cut through! He picked up the steak and tried to just bite it off by yanking at it with his hands and couldn’t get more than a few charred flakes of meat.
He starts to chuckle, then to laugh. I’m crying my eyes out and he’s about to fall off his chair belly laughing so hard that if I had any milk left for him to drink it would be spurting out his nose by now!
Seeing that I am sobbing, he finally gains control of himself and tried to console me saying, “That’s okay, you really tried. It could be worse.”
“How could it be worse?” I bawled. “The meat is like an old boot, the potatoes are scorched and you could shape cowboys and horses out of the gravy!! How could it possibly be worse??”
“Well,” he offered, “you could have scorched the peas. I HATE scorched peas.”