Courtesy of Chelsea’s high school Home Economics teacher
1/4 cup plain flour
1/2 quantity cooked bolognese sauce
9 dried lasagne sheets
1/3 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 human placenta
I am somewhat familiar with culinary experimentation. After my parents divorced my siblings and I began to stay with Dad on the weekends. During these times he would do his best to feed us something other than scrambled eggs, nachos, or corned beef fritters. I don’t think Dad even owned a cookbook after the divorce, so he can’t be judged too harshly for slicing up chunks of kabana meat and tossing them into a bowl of canned pea soup to feed his children. From then on, each weekend, for many weekends, Dad would try to cook up some new terrifying meal. They were the kind of meals we didn’t have words for, and so were unable to express to Mum what was happening to the colour of our poo.
Given this traumatic history, I was somewhat surprised to discover that over the years I too have inherited an unusual penchant for dramatics in the kitchen. I like to cook, especially bake, and I’m even competent when I follow a recipe exactly. But the final product never satisfies me the way that it should, even if my dish turns out looking as good as the picture in the cookbook. I have my father’s gene, that same tendency to deviate from recipes, or avoid them altogether and just start pulling things out of the pantry at random before I even know what it is I want to cook.
This habit has never led me to any good. I have never invented a dish or modified a recipe with enough vision or skill to warrant making it again. I blame my ignorance of basic foodstuffs. I insist that plain flour will do the same job as the self-raising kind, and that cornflake biscuits made with Special K still qualify as cornflake biscuits.
My disease reached critical levels this week when my friend Chelsea came over to watch Masterchef with me. This show has done nothing but feed my habit. Watching attractive men make attractive food to feed to unattractive men has encouraged me to cook what always turns out to be unattractive food for no men. When the episode was over I remembered that I had a box of pavlova nests in
the pantry and a box of frozen berries in the freezer. I figured that was almost a whole dessert – it was just missing the cream to go with it.
We could only find one recipe on the internet for cream that didn’t list “cream” as one of the ingredients, so we decided to copy the essence of it. We brought butter and milk almost to the boil and then removed it from the heat. It felt a little crazy to stick electric beaters into almost-boiling liquid, but that’s exactly what we did. Worse than the pain of those initial burns was the impatience we suffered as we waited and waited for our liquid to turn white and fluffy. Its yellowness concerned us both.
When it finally thickened, I took a tentative lick from the beaters to taste. It tasted like butter, just butter, which of course is what you get when you churn milk. We had added butter to essence of butter and what we’d made was more butter. It was soft enough that Chelsea suggested it could be ‘butter mousse’ and that we should fill the frozen berries with it then serve it to our friends.
I left the dishes in the sink as despair settled in. I had really thought we were going to make cream. Instead I now had to come to terms with the fact that I shouldn’t audition for Masterchef next year. Seeing my prolonged distress the following morning, Chelsea did two things to cheer me up. First, she showed me where she’d changed my contact name in her phone to ‘Butter Mouse’, because that’s how we’d thought ‘mousse’ was spelt the night before.
Then Chelsea told me the true story of her high school Home Economics teacher who once baked a lasagne with her own placenta inside of it. The teacher then ate the placenta-lasagne, the nutrients from which evidently gave her enough strength to share this story with her class of grade ten students many years later.
And while I don’t think I’m in any danger of accidentally giving birth and dropping my afterbirth into an Italian dinner, I have decided that one less person experimenting with food in the world might not be such a bad thing.