by a thread

These days, I’m failing at life right and left. As proof, I give you the evidence, cold and hard and ruthless…

1. First, there was the pork loin that I over-smoked by five degrees. You know what happens if you overcook pork? It gives you cotton mouth, as in, take a bite and you feel like you’re chewing on a cotton ball. So we passed it on to my brother’s house. Feel free to throw it out, we said. They never told us whether or not they ate it, and I haven’t bothered to ask.

2. Then there was the fresh ham, the one that I dry-rubbed, injected with a carefully-researched brine, and then proceeded to oversmoke by a good thirty degrees.

So distraught was I that for days I couldn’t even talk about it. The morning after, I sat in church stewing in self-pity and rage, desperately attempting to use the scripture (sermon, hymns, anything) to self-soothe. Oversmoking a ham by, oh, SIX HOURS did not mean I was a bad person. Just because I’d spent an entire day and part of a night nursing a hunk of meat that no one would be able to eat didn’t mean anyone loved me less. The smell of smoked meat would eventually dissipate, and so would the sting of failure. People mess up, life goes on, we shall overcome, yadda-yadda.

But still, I was mad.

3. Then this week I overcooked a pot roast that I’d been carefully, tenderly marinating in the fridge for several days.

“Is the meat supposed to be this dry?” the kids asked.

“No,” I snapped. “I overcooked it.”

“I hope this isn’t a new pattern,” my husband said, not helpfully.

4. There’s been a noticeable dearth of bread in the house. I keep whipping up little batches here and there, but then the family scarfs it before I can turn around. Then a couple days ago, my younger son approached me with a plan. “You have to make, like, eight loaves at one time,” he explained. “Then we keep two loaves upstairs and the other six go in the freezer.”

So the next day I made a big batch of brown bread. Everyone was like, Great! and, FINALLY. Except then they went to cut it. What kind of bread is this? they asked. Is it supposed to be so crumbly?

So maybe I went a little overboard with the chickpea flour, oat bran, and amaranth, grumble, groan, gr.

5. I was excited about the tiramisu. I ordered the lady fingers and went to an out-of-the-way store for the seven-dollar pound of mascarpone cheese, and then did a bunch of research to make sure I didn’t botch things. No matter, I still managed to screw it up.

Apparently the coffee-rum mixture must be cold or it will turn the lady fingers into a soggy, watery mess? I did not know that, but whatever. By now, so accustomed was I to failure that I hardly even flinched. A fancy dessert trashed? OH WELL.

6. Tonight I made a turkey dinner. Turkey, now, I can do. Turkey is safe. But ten minutes after I popped the bird in the oven, while I was peeling potatoes at the sink, I smelled burning chemicals. Smoke was pouring out of the oven, what the—? I yanked open the oven door to discover the roasting bag melting all over the top heating element, OH FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.

The turkey ended up just fine, slightly overdone — of course — but edible. As for the family, they thought they’d died and gone to heaven. Probably from shock.

PS. In other news, writing isn’t going well either.

I’m hanging on by a thread, people. By a thread.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (12.3.12), Friday variety, Mom’s new and improved cabbage salad, beef bourguignon, potatoes in cream with gruyere.


  • Lana

    I have to say that one wonderful thing about being empty nesters is that there are no kids to scarf down all the bread or desserts! I recently passed my half sheet cake pan on to my neighbor who has five kids too. Now maybe cake can last more than one day at their house, or not. I am only doing tried and true now that it is holiday time. Mealtime failures I cannot endure in December.

  • Margo

    Oh, you made me laugh!!! (in sympathy, dear Jennifer) And I have frequently self-soothed by turning my failures into blog posts, which you did with vicious humorous success! So, not all your writing is going horribly 🙂

  • beckster

    I go through these periods myself, but for me, I can relate it to abandoning completely what I know I cook well and cooking only things that are new to me. When it happens, I think the best cure is to step back and cook familiar things for a while. It's hard to cook unfamiliar things with unfamiliar methods. It requires intense focus while you are cooking, which is hard to sustain when a lot of things are going on in the house. Don't scream, Jennifer, but are you using a remote thermometer when you smoke the meat? I think it is essential for consistent success. Don't worry, all this will be moot soon, and you will be putting your usual delicious meals on the table.

    • Jennifer Jo

      You are right about the remote thermometer. I bought a meat thermometer, and I use it all the time, but now that I know more about meat (and how ridiculously easy it is to botch it), I think I need to upgrade to a remote one. In fact, just the other day I told my husband that I was going to buy one. Hopefully making that change will help.

      Also, I agree that a good solution is to switch back to cooking the familiar. So…oatmeal for breakfast and popcorn for supper. I'm on a roll!

  • Crystal

    Since you seem like Wonder woman in the kitchen,this made me feel like I could relate to you a bit more. I've had a lot of kitchen failures lately too.
    We just had our seventh baby and are surviving on simple meals. I am looking forward to getting back in real "cooking mode".
    And I totally understand about the bread. They eat how ever much I make. It never seems to be enough.
    I love reading about your tried recipes that worked and even the ones that don't 🙂

    • Jennifer Jo

      Congratulations on the new wee one!!! Newborns and simple meals go hand-in-hand, for sure…. You'll get back to cooking soon enough. In the meantime, soak up that new baby smell. I miss it.

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