I am the youngest child of six children in my family. My mother was an amazing cook. She was one of those cooks who could really cook anything. She shared her recipes and taught my older sisters and even my brothers to cook. She taught me how to set the table.
I was working full time before I graduated college and, like most ambitious people, I focused on my career and chasing that American Dream. I worked very hard to have a nice home and beautiful things. My home was clean and organized, mostly because I didn’t have time to enjoy it. I wasn’t exactly domestic in those days.
Then I turned thirty and decided to learn to cook. About time, right? Well, I am an all-or-nothing kind of gal, so I didn’t start with a simple dish appropriate to my skill level. No, I went full-on Martha Stewart!
I decided to use a Martha Stewart recipe to make these beautiful chicken pot pies you bake in real pumpkins with a pastry top. Now I had a well-equipped kitchen, top-of-the-line cookware and gadgets. Pristine really, because those gadgets had never been used.
I went and bought the best and freshest ingredients and planned it all out perfectly. Or so I thought. I made no accommodations for the fact I had no skills in the kitchen and no idea what I was in for. I actually invited my family over for dinner!
One of my sisters asked what I wanted her to bring. I told her I was cooking. The phone went silent, but I could still hear her trying to think of a gracious way out of my invite.
I called one of my brothers to invite him and he asked what I wanted him to bring. I told him I was cookingeverything. My brother has never been one to spare my feelings, and then he began laughing uncontrollably and said he wouldn’t miss my meal for the world. He also muttered something about this being his Christmas card that year.
Well, I did not let any of this dissuade me. I was so determined.
You know how on television you watch chefs chop and dice and make it look easy? It’s not. Clearly it was divine intervention that I made it through chopping onions with all my fingers intact, and in under an hour.
I began with homemade chicken stock. By the time I cut the vegetables and herbs and got the chicken and spices together and measured, I was two hours in. Next I made the dough for the crust. Seemed simple enough. It wasn’t. I didn’t know any of the tricks I know now about chilled butter in small pieces and iced water and even chilling the flour and cutting it all together. I used a room temperature whole stick of butter and a spoon and … let’s just say it didn’t go well.
Then came the pumpkins. I bought pie pumpkins and cut them and cleaned them. That took about two more hours. You had to roast them a bit first and then add the chicken pot pie mixture and pie crust for baking. I thought I had it all under control. I didn’t! The dough kept sliding off the pumpkins and sinking down inside. I tried to make more dough, but it was awful. I finally ran to the store and bought ready-made pie crust (Martha, forgive me) and began to fashion a topper for the pumpkins. Nothing worked. By this time the pumpkins were starting to pucker and wrinkle. It was hideous.
There is no happy ending to this story. It gets worse.
I actually served what was, at this point, toxic waste to my snickering siblings. Did I mention they were evil? They have never let me live that disaster down, no matter how many of my culinary triumphs they’ve devoured since.
That fateful night we ordered pizza and I endured the ridicule and the subsequent therapy that would follow.
But my table setting looked beautiful. Martha would have been proud.