January 26, 2015


As you know, if you’ve been reading the Weekly Rant for the past few weeks, I am enrolled in a local cooking school. 
This was the Christmas present Stij gave to himself.
And I haven’t been having much luck.  So far, my culinary triumphs have consisted of bouncing hard-boiled eggs, bouncing meatballs, and getting beaten up over a pie.
In other words, bupkis.
But, since I had just gotten out of the hospital (see last week’s Rant) I gamely (I am nothing if not game) gave it another try this week. 
I limped into my classroom with some degree of trepidation, and was greeted by a youngish fellow, who appeared to be Irish.  I will not write this in dialect this time.  You’d never be able to understand him if I did, his accent was so thick.  I was there and I had trouble.
“Well, good morning.  You must be my pupil.”
“Uh, yes, I am.”
“And your name is…?”  
Geez, they were even afraid to give these instructors my name now.
“Carson Buckingham.”
“Carson Buckingham…Carson Buckingham…now where have I heard that name before…?”
Oh, God.
Unwilling to let him think too hard about it, I said, “So, what are we making this week?”
“We are going to make bread, my darling.”
Uh oh.
“Gee, I’ve tried making bread and I’m really REALLY not good at it.”
“This bread is foolproof.”
“Shall I have that inscribed on your tombstone?” I muttered.
“Beg pardon?”
“Nothing.  Are the fire extinguishers fully charged?”
“Why of course.”
“Okay then, let’s break out the flamethrowers and get going,” I declared.
“You had to be there.”  Then, a way out suddenly hit me.  “Besides, I’m highly allergic to yeast.”  That oughta do it.
“No worries.  This bread doesn’t require yeast.  It’s my mam’s Irish soda bread recipe.  Let’s get started.  You’ll do great.  I have every confidence in you.”
Only because he didn’t know me.
He led me to a mixing table.  There were only four or five ingredients there, so maybe this would work out, after all.
“Just put all those pre-measured ingredients into that aluminum mixing bowl.  I’ve preheated the oven, so as soon as these are mixed together fully, we can bake the bread.  You don’t have to knead it at all.
“Oh, but I do need it.”
“No, you don’t knead it.”
“Then why am I here?”
“Look, you don’t knead the bread.”
“Who’s on first?”
“Second base.”
He shook his head like a dog clearing water from his coat. “I don’t know…”
“Now, just get that pitcher over there…”
“No, today!”
“The Catcher!”
“I told you—on Second!”
“Oh, he’s in left field.  How come you want that pitcher, anyhow?”
“Centerfield.  Can we please get back to cooking, now?” I asked.
“Yes, please!”
I sifted in the dry ingredients, then added the eggs and buttermilk like a champ.
“Very good!  You’ve done this before, then?”
“Up to this point in the recipe, I’ve done this quite a lot.  It’s results that are fraught with peril,” I replied.
“Hmmmmm. All right, now scrape the dough ball onto this baking sheet, and form it into a circle.  Good.  Now into the oven it goes.”
There was a long, uncomfortable silence while the bread cooked.  About ten minutes in, he turned on the oven light to check on its progress.
A look of horror passed over his chiseled features.
I bent down and looked for myself.
“Should it slither like that?”
“Of course not!”
“Do you want me to take it out?”
“‘Taking it out’ are the operative words here,” he said. He then ripped open the oven door, lobbed in a can of Raid, then slammed it shut again.  “And this concludes our lesson for the day.”
“Shall I come back next week?”
“I don’t give a darn.”
“Shortstop!” I said.
I was halfway home before the explosion that chain-reacted through every gas line in the school burned the place to the ground.  I received a somewhat terse Restraining Order a couple of days later banning me for life from even walking through the charred remains.  I could also be jailed for just thinking about the place.
When last I heard, they had brought in a Navajo who camped out there for three weeks straight, praying and sowing the earth with salt.
Burning effigies were also involved.





January 20, 2015


        On Saturday morning, I made my way to the cooking school, only to discover that the instructor I had last week, Chickie Malduno, had left the country and was in a psychiatric hospital at a secret location somewhere in Palermo.

I wished him well.  I had no idea that chefs were such delicate people.

However, it was a new week, with new challenges to be met, and I walked into my classroom with my head held high and a song in my heart.

And no, the song wasn’t “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” 

“Well hi there, y’all!” a Paula Deen knock-off exclaimed.


“Just guess what we’re gonna do today, sweetness!” she burbled, in a voice that could open clams at twenty paces.

“Cook something?”

“Better than that!  We’re gonna bake somethin’.”

“Uh, did anyone tell you anything about me, yet?” I asked.

“Why, no, they din’t.”

“It’s probably better that way.  So what are we baking today?”

“What are we bakin’?  Why we’re just gonna bake the most delicious apple pie the world has ever known—that’s all we’re gonna do!”  She followed this with a hearty slap on the back that sent me careening across the room and into the pantry, where, on impact, a canister of flour tipped over and covered me head to toe with its contents.

I tottered back out. 

She took one look at me and exclaimed, “Why you look just like my Uncle Goober!”

“Your Uncle Goober?”

“Sure!  He usta put on them robes and go out a’marchin’ and a’burnin…”

“Could we just get going on the pie?”

“Well, bless your little heart, a’course we can!  What we’re gonna do is, we’ll both make a pie!  You’ll just copy ever’thin’ I do and you’ll be just fine!”

I really wished she’d get a grip on the exclamation points.

“Sounds like a plan.”

“I’m SO happy!” she screeched, patting my face in a manner which I’m sure she thought of as affectionate, but caused my head to spin 360 degrees like Linda Blair’s in The Exorcist.

“First, we make the pie crust!” she howled.


“THAT’S the spirit!” she shrieked, lobbing a mixing bowl at me.  It bounced off my shoulder and dislocated my jaw.

“Uh, cownamda doemadnkea?” I asked, as clearly as my jaw would allow.

“Oh, honey, lemme just fix that fer ya!” she bellowed, lumbering at me like a rabid musk ox.  She grabbed my face and twisted it.  She relocated my jaw, but now my right ear was where my nose used to be.

I just chalked it up to the hazards of cooking and tried to pay attention.

“Now let’s just get the flour into that there bowl of yers!” she yawped. “I don’t never use no measurin’ cups ‘er spoons!”  And with that, she dipped two hands the size of dugout canoes into the 50 lb. bag of flour she’d brought (or, as she says, ‘drug’) out the pantry, and threw it into my bowl. Flour filled the air. By the time she got through, I expected to see the Donner Party stumbling through the kitchen.

I couldn’t help but wonder, as I drifted in and out of consciousness, how I was supposed to learn this stuff, if she was going to do it all for me.

“Now we’re gonna put in the eggs!” she caterwauled. “When I put in eggs, I like to put one hand over my eyes, make a wish, then break ‘em with the other hand!  Why’nt YOU try it?”

“Okay,” I replied.  I closed my eyes and felt for the bowl rim and…

“No, honey, not like THAT!” she screamed.  “Like THIS!” She clapped her hand over my eyes and launched me backward into the next room where the all the students were bowed down before an altar to Jacques Pepin, offering a bound and gagged Gordon Ramsay as a human sacrifice.

They ignored me.

I crawled back into the kitchen.  Chef Banshee grabbed me beneath my arms to help me up and threw me through the ceiling in the process.

By the time the ambulance arrived, I was breathing on my own again, after CPR administered by you-know-who.  The final tally:  6 broken ribs, a fractured skull, a broken shoulder, two black eyes, a broken nose on the wrong side of my face, and smallpox.

“Don’t worry, hon!” she brayed as they loaded me into the ambulance.  “We’ll finish the pie next week!”

Y’know, cooking is turning out to be a lot more dangerous than I thought it was.

January 12, 2015


Well, last week didn’t go so well, as you know.  After a little thought, I had decided to give the French cooking instructor one more try, but then I heard that he’d been institutionalized after being found in the fetal position on the floor in the corner of the kitchen, where he’d placed 257 perfectly hard-boiled eggs in front of him, like a defending infantry.  They finally had to put him in restraints when he began throwing the eggs at the medics, screeching, “Zey do not bounce!  See?  See? Zey do not bounce!”

This only serves to prove my point that the French are far too emotional to be cooking instructors.

This week, I have twenty-five year-old Chef Chickie Malduno as my instructor, and trust me, he looks just like whatever picture your mind conjures up upon reading his name.

“Hey, goodameecha!” he exclaimed around the lit cigarette hanging from his rather sizeable lips. “So ya wanna learnta cook ‘talian, huh?”


“Good!  Let’s gegoin den!” 

I didn’t know if his accent was Brooklyn, Queens, Jersey, or a hideous mélange of all three.  If Springsteen had an affair with Edith Bunker, this is probably what would have resulted.

“What are we going to be cooking today?” I asked foolishly.

“Today is…what is today?”


“Right!  Since taday is Sattidy, let’s make spaghetti and meatballs like my mama usta make!”

“Why ‘used to’?  Doesn’t she still make spaghetti and meatballs?”

“Nah.  Not since she choked on sausage and croaked. She had too much wine dat night while she was cookin’ and ate it before she ’membered dat her teeth were still sittin’ in da glass onna nightstand inna bedroom.  Swallowed that sucker whole, but it didn’ go down widout a fight.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry!”

“Ehhh, whaddyagonnado?  Was a shame, dough.  Nobody in da house could eat sausage again for a long while, and by da time we could, da sausage place at da enda da block had closed up.  Best damn sausage in da woild.  Whadda waste!”

“If the sausage was so good, why did it close?” I asked, desperate to get off the topic of dead mothers.

“Ahhh, dey had rats or bugs or rabid bats or somethin’ livin' over dere.  Whole colonies.  Dunno how da the kitchen staff coulda missed 'em.  Health Department went in wid exterminators and Sigfried & Roy—just in case, y’know?”

“Really?  How long did it take?”

“What?  Before dey gave up, ran screamin’ inta da street and burned da place to da ground, ya mean?”

“I withdraw the question.”

“’K.  Let’s get started den.  I heard about ya previous adventures with boilin’ water, so I already tookcara dat.  What we’re gonna do now is make da meatballs.”

“Okay.  What do I do?”

“Ya pick up da meat dat’s onna plate and putitinna dat bowl.”

“Okay.  Done.”

He peered over the side of the aluminum bowl and studied my transfer of the ground beef for an exceedingly long and, I thought, insulting, amount of time.  Finally he looked up.

“Good!  Good job!” he said.

I felt like slapping him until my hand fell off, but compliments directed my way in a kitchen are rarer than discovering oil while installing a septic tank, so I grab them where I can.  “Thank you.  What now?”

“How’re you wid a knife?”

“I don’t know.  Stij won’t let me near them anymore.”

“So dat’s a big NO to handlin’ any’ting sharp.  But yer in luck!  I gotta industrial food processor here ta do all our cuttin’ for us.  So, first  t’ing ya do, ya dice a onion.”

“I’ve never used a food processor before.  How do I do that?”

“I got da dicin’ blade in dere awreddy. Peel da onion, den putitinna top here.”

I peeled the onion in a flash and tossed it, whole into the machine.   Heady with success, I switched it on.

The onion was launched into the air, and traveling about 60 miles per hour, smacked Chickie in the forehead—dead center.

He went down like a bag of wet pasta…and remained down.

After first establishing that Chickie had not joined Julia Child, I decided to take matters into my own hands and finish up.  After all, he said I was doing great.  Confidence is a really good thing.

I gazed at the ground beef.  He said I needed onion for it, so I bent and retrieved the previous onion from the dent in Chef’s forehead, and tried again, this time closing the top of the processor.  Worked like a charm!  I love this machine!

But what else?  What other ingredients?

I pondered my dilemma for a few moments, trying to remember the various flavors in meatballs I’d had in the past.  Then, between the dicing food processor and the herbs and spices I found in the cupboard, I set to work.

By the time Chef Chickie finally came to, the meal was done…and I mean that in the most final sense of the word.

The water that had previously filled the stockpot had boiled away completely and the pot was glowing red and smelling kind of odd, so I ran it under cold water and it exploded.  The shrapnel missed me completely, but the majority of the pieces embedded themselves in Chef’s left calf. 

This is what brought him around, I think.

The meatballs looked pretty good, though.  After stopping Chef’s bleeding (I’ve become rather good at this with all my kitchen experience), I helped him to his feet.  He was still a woozy enough from his head injury to ask to taste the meatballs.

He didn’t have to ask me twice. 

He took a bite.  He chewed…and chewed…and chewed.  “Congratulations,” he said.  “Ya mada meatball dat’s got no flavor whatsoeva!  What da hell you put in dese?”

“Well, I used the onion, some tomatoes, and there was some fish thawed out in the fridge, so I assumed you wanted that in there, too…”

“Dere is NEVER fish in meatballs.  Dis is da very first Commandment on da third tablet dat Moses brung down widdim an’ accidently dropped.  Ya got meatballs and ya got fishballs—NEVER  da same t’ing.  What else’s innere?”

“Well, by the time I put all the breadcrumbs…”

“How much breadcrumbs ya use?”

“The whole canister.  Was that wrong?”

“For one pounda meat it is!  There’s twelve cups in that cannista!

“Yes, well it did seem kind of dry, so I thought, ‘What do I need to do to hold the meatballs together.’  Then I remembered about how sausages are made…”

“But I got no sausage casins here today.”

“I know.  I cut the fingers out of two dozen rubber gloves.”

He reached over and pulled a meatball out of the skillet then threw it on the floor.  It rebounded back up into his hand.

He glared at me.  “Whaddizit is it witchoo and bouncin’ food?”

“Oh, you heard about the hard-boiled egg, I guess.”

“You would be guessin’ right.”

“Okay, so what’s my homework for tonight?”

“I dunno.  I suddenly got a strong urge to take da redeye ta Sicily ta’night and look up some professional people I know.  When are you most likely to be home and what did you say your address was, again?”

I walked home rather dejected. The only thing keeping me going was the hope that Week T’ree—I mean, Three—will turn out better.

It’s probably the only thing keeping Stij going, too.

January 5, 2015



Well, I started my cooking lessons this week.
Things didn’t go quite as well as expected.
I met Pierre, the French chef on Monday morning.  This kitchen was top of the line—the very best of everything.  I’m sure that that kitchen equipment cost more than my house…and your house…put together. I entered with hope in my heart and a song on my rather chapped lips.
I’m so silly sometimes.
“So, Ms. Buckingham, you have decided to learn how to cook.  Bon.”
“I’m so excited to be here.”
         “As well you should be.  I have instructed completely hopeless cases and zey have come away with zee ability to cook alongside zee greatest chefs in zee world.”

“Well, what are we waiting for?  Let’s get started.”
“You are eager.  Zis is a good thing.”
“Yeah.  It’s nice to be able to do cook again without having to worry about the consequences.”
A cloud passed over his Franco-American features.  Quelle?”
“‘Quelle’ indeed.  You do have fire extinguishers, yes?”
Mais oui.  It is required by law,” he said and pulled one out to show me.
I laughed hysterically. “That little thing?  At home we have industrial ones that are four times the size of that.  I can barely lift them.”
“You have had occasion to use such a thing, zen?”
Mais oui.”    
“But today we have no worries.  Today you are to learn zee simplest, most basic of tasks.  I shall teach you how to correctly boil an egg.”
“If you say so.”
“But I do say so.  Now watch me carefully.”
He pulled out a small pot that probably set him back six or seven hundred dollars, filled it with spring water, and turned up the gas.”
“A gas stove?  Do you really think that’s wise…I mean…today?”
“It is zee only stove I use.  Gas allows an even heating.”
“I wish I had one of those when I was dealing with that three-storey loaf of bread I made.  But the flamethrower seemed to work out okay, too.”
Another dark cloud.
“Eh…” He turned back to the stove. “And voila, we have boiling water.  Now to add our egg.”  With a pair of tongs, he lightly lifted the egg from the carton and gently placed it in the water. “You may never use zee fresh eggs for zis purpose—zey will not peel properly. You must use zee eggs that are seven to ten days old, so that zee egg shrinks away from zee shell slightly.  Our egg will be a twelve-minute egg.  We now turn off zee heat, set zee timer and allow nature to take its course.”
The next twelve minutes were spent creating darker and darker shadows as he questioned me about my past adventures in cooking.
He was finally saved, so to speak, by the bell.
“And our egg is finis.”  He then reapplied the tongs and set the egg into a cold water bath with six ice cubes floating on the surface.  “You must leave zee egg in zee cold water for at least three minutes before peeling.  A hard-cooked, peeled egg may be stored in zee refrigerator for several days before eating.  Or, you may eat it immediately, of course.”
After three minutes time, he peeled the egg effortlessly, and handed it to me.  “Taste it.”
I took a bite—it was the best, most perfect egg I’d ever eaten.  My excitement grew.  Maybe cooking wasn’t as hard to master as I thought, if making something this delicious was so easy.”
“Great.  I think I’ve got it.”
Tres bien!  Your homeworking assignment is to cook zee perfect egg and bring it with you tomorrow, so we may, as zey say, be crossing it off our list and trying something more difficile.”
“Perfect!  See you tomorrow.”
Au revoir.”       
I skipped home happily, since the cooking school was not far away, daydreaming about all the culinary masterpieces I would shortly be creating.  I burst in the door.
“So, how did it go?” Stij asked, warily.
“It was great!  I don’t know why I didn’t do this sooner!”
“Possibly the previous lack of a lawsuit threat?”
“Hey, look, those cookies I gave Karen across the street were perfectly fine!”
“Their dog doesn’t share your opinion.”
“How’s he doing, by the way?”
“Karen said he’s still in intensive care and his spleen and gall bladder may have to be removed.  Oh, and his tail, too.  It’s turning green and getting ready to fall off.”
“But that’s all in the past!  This teacher I have is really great.  He makes everything so easy for me.”
Stij finally managed a smile that looked insultingly relieved around the edges. “So what did you make?”
“Well, he showed me how to make the perfect hard-boiled egg.  My homework assignment is to bring him one that I cooked the same way tomorrow.”
“You didn’t try making one there first?”
“No.  He didn’t even suggest it.”
“Apparently, your reputation has preceded you.”
“Gee, Stij, that was almost like humor.”
“All right, all right.  So fill a pot with water and show me what you got.”
“Fine.  Then you’ll see.”
First, I prepared the water bath. I figured that if I loaded it with three or four trays of ice cubes and a little water, the egg would be ready to eat faster.  After the water bath was set, I put tap water in the pot and set it to boil. Once that happened, added the egg (without tongs) and turned off the heat.
Then the phone rang, and it was on old friend I hadn’t heard from in a long time.  I was knee-deep in conversation when Stij stuck his head into the living room.
“What’s that smell?”
“Oh, shit!  The egg!”
“Jesus Christ, are you cooking again?” my friend cried.
“Call you back.”
I ran to the kitchen.  I hadn’t turned off the burner, I had mistakenly turned the one next to it on.  All the water had boiled out of the pot, and what was left smelled like the bowels of Hell and looked like a golf ball that had seen better days.
Stij shook his head.  “I’ll call Ralph.”
Ralph is the fumigator that Stij keeps on retainer.
I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to duplicate Pierre’s perfect egg.  I ended up with an egg that froze solid in the water bath and shattered on the floor when it slipped out of my hand.  I got an egg that, of course, exploded.  I got an egg that, for some strange reason, attracted hundreds of earthworms to our front and back doors.  I even got one that made a weird kind of screaming noise.
“Ready to call it a day?” Stij asked me at 2:00 that morning.
“Never say ‘die.’”
“Then don’t give anybody your hard-boiled eggs.”
“Tee hee.  Go back to bed.  I’m going to give it one more shot.”
Finally,the egg was perfect!  It peeled just fine and was completely unblemished.  I reverently stored it in the fridge, then went to bed myself, confident that I would impress the hell out of Pierre the next day.
“Oh ho!  You have made zee nice-looking hard boiled egg!”  He took a bite.
Or tried to.
His teeth couldn’t penetrate it.  He removed it from his mouth and there wasn’t a mark on it.  He threw it on the floor, and it bounced right back up into his hand.
He looked at me, as only the world-weary French can.  He sighed.  He examined the egg.  He sighed again.
“I really don’t know what happened,” I said.  “I did exactly what you told me to do.”
“You did not, by zee slightest of chances, boil zis terribly abused egg in zee vinegar?”
“I didn’t have a choice!  There was a water main leak and the town shut off the water from the street while I was practicing.  It won’t be back on again until they fix it.”
“Zey could plug it up with zis egg and zee problem would be solved!  Besides zis tragic fact, you should not have required tap water at all!  Did you not realize zat I used bottled spring water in which to cook zee egg?”
“Oh, I guess that makes a difference.”
Vive la difference!”  he shouted, throwing up his hands, as only the world-weary French can.  Then he sat down, put his apron over his head and wept.
I think I’ll look around for an instructor who’s Italian.  These French people get way too emotional about hard-boiled eggs.