That’s what my mother used to say at the dinner table, as she glared, if any of us dared to intimate even the slightest dissatisfaction with any meal. I’ve adopted that phrase this week as the Thanksgiving equivalent of Scrooge’s “Bah, humbug!”
Food has made me cranky lately. I don’t want to buy it, cook it, or eat it. And this week, I can’t seem to fire up enough energy to cut artistic patterns into a piecrust, grate fresh ginger into cranberry, let homemade rolls rise, or exhibit any of the Thanksgiving food flourishes that my friends describe. I guess it was a form of mutiny to buy a box of Hamburger Helper, fling some flesh into it, and serve it for dinner last night. I am not a gourmet cook by any means, but this was a new low even for me.
David sat down and asked, “May I inquire politely what the yellow stuff is?” “That’s the cheese sauce,” I replied briskly. Christopher merely said, “I’ve never had a Hamburger Helper before.”
I remember cooking a lot of Hamburger Helper in the 70s in my mother’s electric skillet, the little glowing orange eye telling me when it was hot enough. It’s the same salty, gooey, dun-colored stuff that it was back then. We ate it in silence.
My last foray into real food came a couple of weeks ago when one of my tutoring students canceled her morning session, and I decided to use the unexpected couple of free hours to make a Mississippi Mud Cake from scratch. I thought I was getting my food mojo back, because I enjoyed doing it.
After I let it cool in the pan, I tried to invert it on to a plate. I’ve made this cake many times, so there wasn’t anything new or tricky about this step. But this time the cake pan flew from my hands, bounced on to the edge of the counter, and hit the floor where it exploded into a pile of hot chocolate crumbs.
I had followed my mother’s command and thrown it on the floor, but I didn’t step on it. I stared in shock for a few seconds, then picked it up and arranged the mess on a cake plate. I left it on the counter for a few days, not quite able to throw out the wreckage of all those expensive ingredients. By way of explanation, I said I had tried to take it out of the pan when it was too hot, not entirely untrue, but missing the bit about the floor.
Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving meal won’t be a Hamburger Helper reprise or another busted-to-bits cake. I’ve already stuffed and cooked the bird. We’ll carve it up in the morning for sandwiches, and take a picnic on a hike to Echo Mountain. At the top of the trail, there’s the last vestige of a luxury hotel that stood there in the early 1900s. Along with the dance hall and tennis courts, I’m sure there must have been an elegant dining room where none of the dishes included the word “Helper” and all the cakes were intact.