- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 15, 2007

We now stand in solemn silence and pay homage to great kitchen disasters. The dishcloth is at half staff, a hush has fallen over the pantry. Soon, there will be a 21-pot salute for every scorched, rancid, dessicated, curdled, grainy, imploded, freezer-burned, undercooked, over-salted culinary mishap ever known.

Think of it. Just consider our assorted food follies: The mysterious rubber chicken a la something, the vol-au-vent served to Aunt Madge’s bridge group in 1958 that they never quite forgot. The seven-layer cake that became five layers somewhere between the counter and dining room, the bobby pin in the Caesar salad, the mousse au chocolat that went nova without warning.

We laughed. We cried. We called our mothers.

“Oh. Oh. Ma-ma. Mamie Eisenhower’s recipe for puff pastry was a dee-zaster,” we whimper in little halting tones.

The rest of our personal disasters flash by like an end-of-life experience: the burned cookies, stringy stroganoff and unctuous sauces that are born once naive ambition is combined with inexperience. This is a phase in which amateur cooks believe they can produce things such as fondant and chaudfroid.

Then there is the sobering category of disasters we could have avoided but didn’t — foolishly heeding the siren call of bogus recipes and questionable ingredients, or believing that no one will know if we make some handy-dandy substitution in the kitchen, with only the dog as witness.

“Don’t tell anybody, but I’m just going to use some ketchup here in place of the wine,” we whisper, handing the dog a meaty bribe.

Yeah, right, the dog thinks.

But he takes the bribe, knits his brow in sympathy, then wonders if there’s some patsy at the dinner table who will slip him a tidbit of, say, filet mignon.

Meanwhile, the subsets of kitchen nightmares go on. There are some that center around faulty equipment (“Honey, I told you to throw that thing out last year …”), or the proverbial slippery floors, threadbare potholders and trembling gateleg tables. Food in this case either plummets dramatically to some unknown destination, or is launched skyward. There are also moments that are beyond our control, like when the electricity goes out, the cat has kittens in the guest bedroom or there is news that alien life has been found in Chevy Chase.

“I lit my cookbook on fire once,” noted Angelina, a friend who also survived the inexplicable burning of chicken curry as 36 guests sat on velvet cushions just outside the kitchen door, waiting for an exotic feast that included multiple chutneys and garnishes.

“Hey, honey? Everything all right in there? Did you have an electrical fire?” Her husband had called out helpfully.

Well-versed in disaster preparedness, Angelina’s best friend Amy discreetly slipped into the kitchen and saved the curry with much grated garlic, lime juice and a judicious splash of cream.

“Next time,” she told Angelina, “Use two pots, not one giant one. Low heat. Stir often.”

Angelina herself admits that the torching of her cookbook would warrant a higher score on the disaster meter, though.

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