This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

Milo’s birthday party was Saturday, and I kept it simple: grilled chicken legs and farfalle tossed with homemade pesto, feta, and cherry tomatoes. And cake. A vanilla cake with raspberry filling and chocolate frosting that had a bulldozer on it. Which I did not make. I don’t do cakes. If you search very hard, you might find a blog or two out there that touch occasionally on desserts, but this ain’t one of them. I make about three desserts, and I am OK with that because they are very good, and include pie and ice cream. Actually, I busted out a pretty badass pumpkin panna cotta for Thanksgiving a couple years ago, and have been known to make a sex-inducing molten chocolate cliché from time to time, so I’ve got that going for me.

Which is nice.

I’ve also got this wonderful family, without whom I would doubtless dine on nothing but sad bachelor sandwiches moistened with lonely, lonely tears.

I’ve been sleeping particularly horribly of late, so by the time dinner rolled around (or, rather, by the time I got busy and made dinner) I was fully beat. Also, there was lots of screaming- and a little crying- as a horde of kids rampaged through the house and after four or five hours of that most of my neurons felt like they’d been scoured with a wire brush. I had some grandiose plan for a fabulous meal that I was going to cook for all the adults who had come for the weekend, but it degenerated into a low-budget slasher production that verged on the comical.

It started off all right, with kebabs of cubed swordfish and hokkaido pumpkin from the garden (The two small specimens represented about a third of our total crop this year). I love the gradient at the edge of the squash, and the way they sweat when you cut them:

I relit the grill, still warm from lunch, and set them to doing their thing, surrounded by a bunch of our poblano chiles stuffed with polenta enhanced by the addition of parmigiano and water from the tub of feta I used to make the pasta for lunch. The peppers charred up pretty well, aided by slipping some maple bark through the grill to goose the BTUs of a flagging fire, and the fish cooked in no time. The problem was the pumpkin. I cut them too thick so they’d hold together when I skewered them, and they did, but they were much too big to cook through by the time all else was ready to eat. So I rushed back inside and dumped all the pumpkin hunks into a saucepan along with a little water and cider vinegar, and steamed them hard for a few minutes so they’d soften. Wet heat can be a wonderful thing sometimes.

We served it on a bed of steamed kale, and with a salad, and it tasted pretty good. The issue was visual, mostly; char-grilled peppers turn black, swordfish turns milky grey, and grilled squash that is then sloshed around in boiling liquid trades its sexy grill marks for a patina the color of an orange magic marker tip that’s been carelessly dragged through a big area of black magic marker- by, say, a five-year old. So the resulting plate looked like something only a North Korean could love, and the ugliness was only accentuated by the ring of nasturtiums I hastily threw around it. I should have picked more, along with the lily pad-sized leaves growing from the one in the compost, and covered the whole damn thing with them.

Behold:

Be honest, now- it looks like Wild Tofu Surprise™ made by your useless stoner college roommate when it was his night to cook, right? Perhaps after a long night watching kitchen gadget infomercials? Prepared shirtless, with that fucking Phish bootleg warbling the whole time? Of course it does.

In a couple of days I promise there will be a post that redeems the execrable fail of this one.

7 comments to This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

  • jlhpisces

    might not be as photogenic as you wanted but I'm sure it tasted good. Any Fail is reversed by description of college roommate. ;)

  • ALB

    Is it wrong that I actually sort of like the color scheme of this meal? Maybe I just = that useless tofu surprise stoner. Hopefully it's the nasturtiums.

    Your family is lovely.

  • Jana Martin

    doesn't sound so bad whatsowhomever, however. You might want to give props to madame le baker, as she's a local somewhat unsung and tres talented foodie..

    jana

  • Zoomie

    Pity the parents of a kid who has a birthday party – no wonder you weren't at the top of your game after that.

  • denise

    The nasturtiums look lovely (smile).

  • The Spiteful Chef

    I missed a word in my paragraph, so here is what I originally wrote, with the extra word included so the sentence makes sense:

    It's really ugly. But sometimes things are really ugly, but still a total miracle. I give you, for example, newborn humans. I bet your guests weren't complaining. In my experience, the palate of the American hoi polloi has been so dumbed down by a combination of Tostinos party pizzas and high-dining at Applebees that they feel grateful and impressed any time they're served something that doesn't come with fries and a Starlite mint.

    Your pumpkin is not a pumpkin. It's a squash. A beautiful, shapely squash, but not a pumpkin. Everyone knows pumpkins are orange. Now where's my Tostinos?

  • peter

    jlh: Thanks for reading and commenting. Two fails make a win.

    ALB: Nasturtium flowers cover a multitude of sins.

    Jana: I forgot their names.

    Zoomie: Mr. T couldn't have said it better.

    Denise: Thanks. I'll tell them you said so.

    Kristie: YOU wouldn't have eaten it, though.

Yours Truly



I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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