“It’s crunchy! Why the hell is it crunchy?!”–Me (circa 1995)
Hey all! Some time ago I shared with all of you an unfortunate story involving me, two of my collegiate friends and our collective ineptitude in the kitchen. If you are unfamiliar with that story then you need to check it out first then come on back just so you’ll have a point of reference as to how I dealt with goings on in the kitchen as a younger man. Go ahead and read it, I’ll wait…
(Burt Bacharach music plays softly in the background)
Okay so now that you know that my culinary background is shameful and heart-wrenching you will understand where I’m coming from with my next episode of “Skrap Had No Idea What To Do With Food In College”.
A college friend of mine, a lovely young lady who we’ll call Mya for purposes of anonymity, treated me to dinner one night. She prepared a meal at her apartment and we ate and talked and watched a movie and all the other stuff that early twenty-somethings do when they have a crush on one another (except that *grumble*). After our evening was concluded and good night kisses were exchanged she looked at me with her big brown eyes and flashed a smile that said “I Have The Potential To Be Very Naughty” before saying, “Now you’re going to have to cook for me one day soon.” Of course I said I would; I mean, there she stood in her curve hugging jeans and blue Georgia Southern University hooded sweatshirt looking about as good as any woman had looked to me that semester making request. Who was I to deny her, especially since cooking for her would likely be the impetus to move us beyond first base? So obviously I told her that I would…and the panicking began soon after. I was only a few months removed from the chicken wing incident and thoughts of flaming oven mitts and screaming friends were still fresh in my head. Yet and still I had to compose myself and turn myself into a chef somehow. I determined that I would keep everything simple, cook stuff that’s near impossible to mess up and, obviously, not fry anything. About a month had passed since the initial dinner at Mya’s house which she took time to remind me of on one of our phone calls; I told her that I would cook for her that week.
I only had one class on Thursdays that semester so that made it the perfect day to go to the grocery store in preparation. I picked up some chicken breasts, some spinach, some broccoli and some rice, the really fancy kind of rice that has all the little herbs and whatnot mixed in it like they served at the fancy restaurants. I started cooking close to 6:00 after pretending to study for a Theater exam; chicken in the oven, veggies on the stove all simmering to perfection, I saved the rice for last because it wouldn’t take long for it to cook. I mean, all rice takes about 10 minutes to cook, right? Based on my timing I’d be putting food on the plate as she walked in the door which I’d told her I’d left open so she could come right in. About 6:50 I started my rice, it didn’t come in the bag like the other rice I always bought, no this rice was fancy, it was even yellow. I put it in the boiler and let it go to work; I’d cooked rice before so there was really no need to read any instructions.
As if on cue Mya knocked at the door a little before 7:00pm and then pushed it open as I advised her to so that she could see me in all my culinary glory standing over the stove. She walked over to the kitchen, about three steps from the front door, and looked over into the pots and noted on how good everything looked and it did. My chicken was right out of the oven and nice and brown, veggies seasoned just like my mother told me to when I’d called her earlier that day to ask her how, and the water had just started to roll in the rice which meant it was about done. She gave me a hug and then a kiss on the cheek before going to sit in the big comfy chair in my little cramped den to wait on her plate. Everything was great until I went to drain the rice.
Now, before this particular day I had always bought the rice in the little yellow box that said “Success” and “Only 10 Minutes” on the front of it. When you’ve done that for so long you start to think in your stupid just out of teenage brain that all rice regardless of the packaging that it is contained in only takes ten minutes from start to finish to reach its maximum rice potential. Not so. With this beautiful young lady sitting 6-7 feet away I poured the water and rice into my strainer and the sound that came back was akin to pouring cereal into a bowl. “Fluffy rice doesn’t make that sound”, I thought to myself. “Is this a special trait of ‘fancy’ rice”, I reasoned. I grabbed a fork from the drawer and took a few pieces of rice and sampled…and nearly chipped a tooth.
“Oh sh*t! It’s crunchy! Why the hell is it crunchy?!” That’s the thought that was screaming through my head as I tried to hide the panic from my eyes. Mya looked in my direction and asked if everything was okay and as coolly as I could I replied “Yes”. I couldn’t very well admit that I’d messed up the rice right? I mean, who jacks up rice?
No problem right, tell her that you need a few more minutes, make small talk about class that day, watch something on TV while the rice reaches maximum non crunchiness. But I couldn’t keep her waiting, I mean look at her, she’s gorgeous and you don’t keep a gorgeous woman waiting, so instead of starting the rice up again I made a plate with just the chicken, the broccoli and the spinach with a nice glass of juice, in a real glass, not my usual plastic tumbler. She smiled in approval and then asked, regrettably, “the rice looked good, I can’t have any?”
“The rice didn’t turn out that great so I left it off.”
She relented, “Boy, please. I want to try it.”
“Really, you shouldn’t.”
Then she got up from the chair and walked to the kitchen. Seems she’d had quite enough of me saying no so, much to my dismay, she got up to get it herself. I’d wanted to tackle her for weeks but this tackle wouldn’t be in the throes of passion as I’d hoped, this tackle would be in order to keep her from knowing a man that didn’t know that all rice didn’t take 10 minutes to thoroughly cook; yes, this would be a tackle to save her dental work and whatever money her parents had spent on braces during her high school years. But all the while I was thinking about why she needed to be tackled she already had a spoon in hand and was going in for a scoop.
“Really, you shouldn’t do that”, I cautioned.
“I already am”, she answered as she scooped a spoonful onto her plate before returning to the big chair in the den.
The grace that I prayed over that meal before we ate was likely the most sincere prayer that I have offered in my life. Ever. Reading between the lines it would have sounded like:
Dear God, bless this food that we are about to receive, especially this rice that I royally jacked up. Let the grains of rice that she scooped onto her plate be supernaturally cooking on her plate right now as I pray this prayer. I pray in advance for everything else on the plate to be so delicious that she completely forgets that my rice was crunchy. Amen.
I couldn’t even eat and of course the first thing she goes for is the yellow rice with the herbs and whatnot mixed in. My heart sank as she placed the fork in her mouth. She took a half bite down on the rice and stopped chewing almost immediately and I thought, “Damn, I’ve already destroyed one of her molars.” Her eyes narrowed a bit as she tried to continue chewing, more so in an effort to not have me further embarrassed than out of pleasure for the taste. The look in her eyes specifically said, “Is this rice crunchy?” She took a swallow of juice to wash down the rice she hadn’t already choked down. Then she moved on to the chicken to which she immediately said, “this is great!” God had heard the second half of my prayer.
She never mentioned it to anyone that I knew of. I never spied a stray glance from any of her friends on campus or caught any of her sorority sisters giggling at me as I walked by between classes. We still remain friends to this day and never once has she ever mentioned anything about the rice and though she hasn’t it is also notable that every time we’ve hung out since that day we always go out to eat. I guess that gesture speaks loudly enough.
~thanks for reading. 🙂
Join the party at: