My March Break Cooking Experience

I've never had all that much success cooking. I mean, I usually fooled myself into believing that I was at the very least competent at this traditional home craft. All those previous incidents, like the time I cooked a plastic cover along with a batch of cookies, were just an incredible streak of bad luck, right? My Dad generally thought otherwise, tending to avoid my experiments like the plague. As for myself, I had faith that I would be able to survive on my own cooking if circumstances forced me to, and so left it there. This past March break, I had opportunity to see whether this was true or not.

After hearing that the cafeteria would only be offering one meal per day, lunch, which was also the one meal per day that I skipped, I decided I was in need of a shopping trip to Andy's Market. Once there, I went through possible dinner selections, and finally settled on Rice-A-Roni, something that I was familiar with, and something that I would not need to make massive purchases or accommodations to prepare.

I purchased several boxes, enough to last March break, and picked up the margarine that was also necessary, and went back to the dorm to await the commencement of the grand experiment.

I began on Friday evening, my first evening without a cafeteria supplied dinner. Beginning at around 5:30 or 6:00, my usual supper, I read the directions, then emptied the contents of the box into a microwave-safe Tupperware container. I got two tablespoons of butter, and placed it on top of the rice. Then, I microwaved the container for the required four minutes. How hard was that?

Apparently, it was quite hard: upon pulling the container to the front of the microwave, I noticed a burnt smell, and that some of the rice had managed to escape the container. At first, I queried how rice could have possibly escaped the container when the mixture did not boil sufficiently to catapult the grains over the edge. I then noticed that the bottom of the container was partially covered by a sticky mixture of rice and butter, and picked up the container. When rice began pouring out of the container onto the floor, the source of the problem was found: I had burned a hole through the bottom of the container. "But this was a microwave-safe container!" I protested to my amused roommate, something that I stopped questioning when I saw the words "glass casserole dish" in the instructions.

Not finding any such dish, I thought for a moment that I might have to resort to using the dorm kitchen by the lobby until I remembered that I had a jar of peaches in the fridge, a gift from someone who had employed me in yard work the previous day. I emptied out the jar into a Tupperware, eating the extra peaches and enjoying every bit of it. I then repeated the process again, with a new container of Rice-A-Roni. Seeing that I had only filled a small portion of the jar, I quickly added another one, hoping to be efficient.

The first step went relatively fine. I then added the water and the seasoning, bringing the mixture two-thirds of the way up the jar. I grew slightly uneasy, but still thought little of it and began the required 18 minutes in the microwave.

After a few minutes of cooking, I decided to check up on my meal, and noticed that the water level had risen a bit, from the rice expanding, and perhaps from the water warming up. Soon, it rose to about a centimetre-and-a-half from the top. Then, it started boiling. Now, I got nervous.

After seeing the churning water vary in height about an inch, the apex being a full half inch over the height of the jar, I hit the stop button hoping to prevent a spill. However, there was ten minutes yet to go in the cooking process. After a brief respite, during which the water returned to serenity, I began cooking again. However, this time it only took a half minute before spill danger occurred. The next time it was only fifteen seconds! And so my evening progressed, stopping and starting the microwave continuously for about an hour and a half, before I realized that I had guesstimated far too much water, and that it wouldn't evaporate further.

The rice pudding I had that evening was delicious! The texture wasn't quite right, I admit, and I've never eaten rice pudding warm before, but to a starving soul, it was delicious!

The next evening, I grew wise and decided to use the kitchen facilities in the dorm. I took a good book with me to read while I cooked, and this time, all went fairly well, besides the cooking time of one hour, and that I put in too much water yet again creating a slightly soggy rice mixture, though compared to the previous night, the texture was perfect.

I had no more problems with rice that week, besides burning a batch, and another soggy batch, so having conquered one problem, I went to the grocery store to purchase more rice packets, since I had destroyed the first two. I passed by the Jell-o on the shelves, and a thought entered my mind, which should be obvious to the rest of you. I purchased three packets of Jell-o, and went back to my dorm room.

That evening, I boiled some water in my roommate's kettle, and prepared the Jell-o. I had high expectations: after all, who could screw up Jell-o? I admit, I was also the person who screwed up Kraft Dinner on a camping trip, but really, those were the old days. History doesn't repeat itself, does it?

I followed the directions on the box, and poured in what looked to me to be about 2 cups of hot water, and then I stirred the mixture. After five minutes of stirring, I could still see powder, so I poured in a little extra hot water, figuring that I would make up for it with a little less cold water. However, when the powder still hadn't completely dissolved, I gave up, poured in the cold water, and then refrigerated it.

The next morning, or whenever it was that day when I remembered that I had Jell-o in the fridge, I pulled out the treat, my taste buds eagerly anticipating the sweet taste on my tongue, my sweet tooth aching for a long-lost friend. I dug my spoon into the gelatinous mixture and partook of the food, and.... it was delicious! I quickly remarked to my doubtful roommate that I actually had a success in the cooking department, to which his quick reply was that making Jell-o isn't cooking--it doesn't take skill, talent, or wits--it's Jell-o already! My next words must have been rather funny at this point: Ewww, what's this?

I soon discovered that my Jell-o was not homogenous. I had created a Jell-o with two layers: a watery, soft top layer, and a leathery, firm bottom layer. It did taste good, but the texture wasn't quite there. All this meaning, yes, I had actually screwed up Jell-o.

Experience is often said to be the toughest and most reliable teacher. What did I learn from my cooking experiences?

Well, I did eventually get the Rice-a-Roni to work, and I was soon a master of making Jell-o, even being able to control the texture, and manipulate the substance in order to get more. However, these have little value in life. It isn't likely to change the result of what happens when I first attempt lasagna or vegetable dip. There are some important lessons I can take from this.

First, I need a wife. I do not wish to be called chauvinistic for implying here that a woman should do the cooking. There may actually be men out there who can cook. However, in these special circumstances, I think that whenever a special someone arrives, it would be to the good health of both of us if she handled the food department.

Second, do not be quick to boast to your roommate. Especially if your roommate is quick on their feet and witty. That is, unless you don't mind being repeatedly humiliated, which I don't, usually, depending on the audience size, but... it is doubtful that such reoccurring events could be handled if repeated ad infinitum.

Will I ever attempt to cook again? Probably. Will I screw up again? Very certainly. Will I ever learn that I can't cook? Probably not. However, the more incidents I can get myself into, the more wisdom I can gain, and so I will continue to offer my taste buds as burnt sacrifices in the pursuit of knowledge. In the meantime... Mmmm.... cafe food!

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