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Magma mama

Mt. St. Helens erupted in my microwave this morning.

It was merely the culmination of a string of unfortunate events. What originated as the seed of a good intention quickly germinated into a snafu and sprouted into a full-blown mess. It was the kind of thing that frequently prompts my daughter to ask me if I’m getting senile. Yes, Angie. Yes I am.

Let me first explain that I am the kind of person to whom cooking comes neither naturally nor pleasurably. I can follow a recipe to the T and still have it come out tasting like a plateful of yuck with a side of what-is-it. In the nearly 30 years we’ve been married, the hubster has never ceased to marvel at my inability to “just think of what sounds good together” instead of always going by the book. I tried that once. After he had reminded me for the bazillionth time that his mother cooked for nine children plus a husband and never once used a recipe, I was determined to Be Like Rita. So I made up my mind that I would whip up my first ever recipe-free Mexican culinary masterpiece — a little dish my family named “Barf-a-ritos.” I didn’t hear much prodding about trying to cook like Rita after that.

In point of fact, my own mother is as close to being a gourmet cook as one can get without formal training. She doesn’t use recipes either, so you would think that at least a tiny crumb of culinary talent would have been passed down in the genes. Unfortunately, what was passed down was my paternal grandmother’s uncanny ability to botch just about every dish she ever attempted. To this very day Mom gets the biggest kick out of telling how Grandma would always take the pan of biscuits out of the oven halfway through the baking cycle, spank the bottom of it for some naughty deed that it had evidently committed in the oven,  then put it back in the oven to finish baking. Why she never figured out that this pounding did not make them rise nice and fluffy like she intended but instead turned them into hockey pucks always remained a mystery to our family. It’s a wonder Grandpa never broke a tooth.

Then there was the time we were over at their house for Sunday dinner and she had my mom help out by making the mashed potatoes. Grandma had stationed Mom at the sink with the pot of boiled and drained Russets and a hand mixer. While Mom mixed, Grandma peeled the hard-boiled eggs that she always sliced up as a garnish for the creamed spinach (her specialty). Without thinking, she took the peeled eggshells and tossed them to the sink — and right into the pot of potatoes. Of course, Mom’s reflexes could never have been quick enough to turn off the beaters before a good portion of the eggshells had already been incorporated into the mixture. Naturally Mom began to look for a place to dump the mess and start over. Everyone knows that there would be no way to fish all of those wee white flecks out of the whipped white spuds. Well, everyone, that is, except Grandma. Never the one to be wasteful, she told my mom to pick out as many of the shells as she could and then just use the mixer to pulverize the rest. I can still remember my mom protesting, but Grandma would have none of it. It would be fine, she said. No one would notice, she said.


The roast beef was sliced, the creamed spinach garnished, the biscuits pried from the pan, and the mashed potatoes whipped into glue. A quick prayer went up, and it was time to chow down. Now it’s normal for it to get quiet around the dinner table once everyone starts digging in. But not this quiet. I was just a kid, but even I noticed how everyone seemed thirstier than usual. Grandpa, who was always one to finish one thing on his plate before starting in on another, finally got to the white, pasty mound. In one of those funny slow motion moments you never forget, he took his first hearty mouthful, gave it one chomp, and froze as he tried to make sense of the strange combination of textures he had just put in his mouth. Without swallowing, he looked at my grandmother and yelled, “(Bleep) (Bleep) Martha!! What did you do, put eggshells in these potatoes??” This is what I inherited.

I do take some slight satisfaction, however, in never having had a reaction to my cooking quite like my friend Shawn did one time. Shawn was a bona fide country cook to the core. Whenever the guys heard that she’d be the one preparing the afternoon dinner after a full morning of sorting and shipping cattle, there was no lingering around to compare horse and cow tales before heading to the table. So when she told me this story, I tried not to be delighted. But I was.

For supper one night Shawn had made a big pot of chili for her large family. I no longer recall what she did that caused it to be different from the other times she’d made it, but after one bite the entire clan staged a hunger strike. Rather than wasting the entire meal by discarding it in the trash, she put it outside to feed the passel of puddies that are always lurking around when you live in the country. The next morning, Shawn went out to retrieve the empty pan only to discover that rather than eating the chili, the cats had covered it up.

Which brings me back to this morning. Since the animals actually did eat my mistake, I take consolation in the fact that it could have been worse.

Trying to get an early jump on finishing an article I’d started several days before, I wound up running a bit late on my usual morning chores. In an effort to save time and footsteps (I certainly wouldn’t want to expend any more energy than was absolutely necessary) I decided I would make a pitcher of pink lemonade and the hubster’s bowl of Quaker Oats at the same time. For some inexplicable reason, the thought fleetingly crossed my mind that this might be ill-advised; but I quickly told myself how good I was at multi-tasking other things and that this would be no different. No, I had taken the helm and this ship was going to sail.

After realizing that I had inadvertently put the Crystal Light in the oatmeal measuring cup instead of the pitcher and convincing myself that the hubster wouldn’t detect the slightly tart flavoring or the pinkish color, I tsk-tsked myself, did my best to correct the blunder, and moved on to preparing the oatmeal. I didn’t actually discover that something was seriously wrong until I stirred the boiling water into the bowl of dried flakes and they just floated on top of the water. Why wasn’t it turning thick like it always did? Oh. Right. The water is supposed to be stirred into the Quaker Oats before putting it in the microwave. Since I had only made about a jillion bowls of it prior to this one, I chuckled at my flub and decided that since the pink lemonade had been mostly salvageable, the oatmeal would be, too. The hubster would be none the wiser.

This is where Grandma would have been proud. Instead of starting over, I came up with the brilliant idea to put the bowl back in the microatmeal fail1owave but to reduce the cooking time from a minute and 45 seconds down to only a minute since the water was already hot. All I would have to do would be to stir it an extra 45 seconds when it came out and Voila! the total time would be the same and it would turn out like nothing unusual had ever happened. Never having been a particularly astute student of science, I was truly amazed to learn that only one-half cup of raw oats contained enough expansion capability to coat the inside of a cooking appliance. Suffice it to say that for those of you with middle schoolers, this would make a fabulous science fair project. You could call it something catchy like “EarthQuaker” or “Quaker Shaker” or “Edible Lava.”

Well, the hubster, who was still patiently waiting in the living room for his breakfast, began to utter expressions of justifiable concern over my sanity when he realized I was in the kitchen laughing so hard I was crying — all by myself. I’m pretty sure he was probably also somewhat apprehensive about what his meal might look like. So while the dogs licked up the first batch, I started over and served up a perfect piping hot dish on the second try. As he was finishing up his last bite, I asked him if he would like the tray with the neatly folded napkin I’d left sitting on the kitchen counter. Yes, Angie. Yes I am.

Over the years I have come to terms with the fact that I will never be a perfect cook. I’ve made many culinary blunders and suffered more than a few embarrassments when friends have come over for dinner. In spite of my mistakes, or perhaps because of them, I’ve been able to pass down some of my tried and true cooking – and living – recipes for success to my daughter. Things such as:


♥  Cooking an egg in its shell in the microwave is exceedingly unwise.

♥  The true wisdom necessary to face life’s trials is found only in God’s Word. When you ask Him for it, He will give it in abundance [James 1:5]


♥  Failure to follow the directions by using pan sizes smaller than recommended usually results in disaster.

♥  God wants us to put shoes on our faith. He blesses those who persevere in following His commands [James 1:20,25].


♥  Most dishes are very forgiving if you remember that gravy covers a multitude of sins.

♥  Never are we more like God than when we forgive. As Christ’s love covered a multitude of our sins, so should our love for others [Ephesians 4:32; 1 Peter 4:8].

Train up a child in the way he should go,
And when he is old he will not depart from it.
Proverbs 22:6

P.S. – And NEVER EVER put a spaghetti squash in the microwave without first piercing it with a fork!

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