Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ruby Thewes, you are a C-A-T-A-S-T-R-O-P-H-E.

I wish I could say that I am completely composed when cooking dinner for guests. I wish I didn't doubt myself at every turn. Sadly, the added apprehension of cooking for an audience is just like being back in Spanish class in 10th grade. I do my homework, I know the lessons. But God help me, when the teacher asks me a question in front of the rest of the class, she might as well be speaking Martian, because all I hear is an anxiety-inducing string of vowel sounds. I'm not particularly proud of this behavior. Therefore, let me preface my holiday recap with the caveat that this entry fits more readily into the cautionary tale category of my gastronomical education.

The big show: Mom's side of the family comes over for Christmas Eve dinner.   (Can Moms set up a sweet Christmas buffet or what? Well, I mean, we haven't actually served anything in this picture, but you get it).We usually serve a traditional Christmas ham. However, after a family meeting of Mom, Dad, the Mayor and me, we came to the conclusion that none of us are really wild for ham. After a few days of brainstorming, Mom and I decided to change things up with a Ginger-Marinated Pork Tenderloin.

The day-of everything started out swimmingly. I made the marinade that morning and tucked my ziplock of marinating meat into the fridge for a few hours. The relatives arrived a few hours later and we all sat schmoozing, catching up and absolutely devouring my aunt's superb hors d'oeuvres, until Mom and I excused ourselves to get on with the cooking.

Usually I can reign in my culinary insecurities, because as Julia teaches us, no one knows what goes on in the kitchen. However, just as I was browning my pork, a string of aunts, uncles and cousins came traipsing in and out of the kitchen. Bahh! Nervous! I managed to brown the meat and pop it in the oven without having a conniption, but little did I know, our dear, old GE had suffered a permanent fatal error. I guess the previous week of cheesecake, rolls, puffs and gifts breads were just too much for the old girl. And in my hour of need, she left me holding the bag and clutching at bits of my sanity.

Over the next forty-five minutes (!!) I periodically pulled out the pork, tested the temperature, doubted the thermometer, cut off a few slices, tossed the slices back in the roasting dish, drank two healthy-sized glasses of wine and almost ran up to my childhood bedroom crying. Almost. Instead, I paced, cursing the food gods for abandoning me and playing visions of everyone getting stricken down by salmonella from my undercooked meat in a loop in my head. Granted, I had just finished Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone, in which her mother accidentally poisons an entire engagement party. Maybe my judgement was impaired. Regardless, all I could see was the phone ringing all night with ill and irate MacKenzies, demanding my debarment from the kitchen. It didn't help that my side dish, sauteed brussels sprouts, received a lackluster reception. (They were pop-in-your-mouth scrumptious; I swear!) After working myself down a very deep shame spiral, the pork was finally done and I mustered every shred of self possession I had to sit and eat nonchalantly with the rest of the family.

What lesson did I learn? Well, first, the pork had a great ginger-garlic flavor, despite that fact that it tasted like failure. It was tasty, but after all that frazzle, I couldn't bear eating it. Second, after the family left and I had time to process, I realized it was not the food gods that had abandoned me, it was my nerve. In no functional kitchen on the planet should a skinny little pork tenderloin take 45 minutes to cook in a 425-degree oven. I know this; you know this. I should have said to myself, "Gee, I know how to cook a pork tenderloin," and "Hey, there must be something wrong with this oven." At dinner, I should have heard all my family's compliments for what they were, rather than translating them in my head into condolences. I should have trusted in my abilities and understood, once upon a time, my Spanish teacher was simply asking, Como estas? If I had, I would have been able to reply: Bien, pero necesito mas confianza.

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