His annual foray into the kitchen goes awry

Tom WestAAbout once every year or two my wide-ranging reading habits get me into trouble. A newspaper or magazine will publish a recipe, and I think to myself, “That sounds good,” or “I can do that.”

Then, without too much thought, it is off to the kitchen I go. It always works better if I consult the Secretary of Health and Human Services at our house first. That way, if the recipe calls for a teaspoon of vanilla, which we may or not have, I don’t have to run to the store after cracking two eggs into the flour.

Over our many years of married life, our kitchen etiquette has evolved quite nicely. I am allowed to go into the kitchen to make the coffee and fix my own breakfast in the morning, I am allowed to go in there to make a lunch of leftovers, and I am also encouraged to help with the dishes..

Otherwise, the message is, “Stay out of the kitchen because you’ll just make a big mess.”

Nevertheless, as I said, every year or two, the urge comes over me. This year, the urge came with an excuse. The staff decided to have a holiday bake sale this week to raise funds for the Community Affairs Council.

One of the core operating principles on which our parent company, ECM Publishers, operates is that we will give back to our community. Each year, the Peach’s Community Affairs Council (CAC) gives several thousand dollars in grants to local non-profit organizations. (This past year, we gave out over $5,000.) The funds come from both a share of the company’s profits each year as well as local fund-raisers held by each newspaper’s staff.

Because I’m considered management, I am not allowed to participate in those decisions. It is the local CAC, comprised of several Peach employees, who decide which grants to make. Nevertheless, I fully endorse the process.

That’s why I decided to make another foray into the kitchen. My intentions were noble.

The next step was coming up with a recipe. A few years ago, somebody gave us a recipe book by Mrs. Fields, the renowned cookie maker.

So I went through the book, looking for a recipe that was fairly simple and holiday-ish. I found one for toffee.

I had never made toffee before, but it is basically butter, sugar and water. What could go wrong?

This particular recipe also called for two teaspoons of coffee liqueur. Because I consulted the Secretary first, I managed to go to the store before bringing the concoction to a boil. I bought a bottle of Kahlua which set me back $16. At the rate we use coffee liqueur at our house, I think we have at least enough to last until the 22nd century.

I mixed the ingredients, brought them to a boil on the stove, and, when the bubbling mixture turned golden brown, poured the contents into a baking dish to cool.

The recipe also required that a half cup of chocolate chips be melted, and then, using a fork, drizzled across the top of the toffee after the toffee had set.

So I poured the chips from a bag into another pan while the toffee was cooling, and put it on a burner. The chips quickly turned mushy, and I kept stirring them with a fork. However, they didn’t liquefy. Instead, they began steaming.

The more I stirred, the more they steamed. Pretty soon, I could barely see what I was doing through the fog. Far from liquefying, the chips seemed to be drying out. Then they started to turn from brown to black.

I finally decided that was as melted as they were going to get. So I took the fork and tried to “drizzle” the dried out mush on the toffee.

I generally try to put a good face on things, but I have to confess on this one. It looked like somebody spread yesterday’s coffee grounds over the toffee.

About that time, the Secretary came into the kitchen to see how I was doing. My first observation was that it is hard to have a meaningful conversation with someone who keeps rolling her eyes.

She took one look at my creation and the first words that came out of her mouth were, “You are not selling that at any bake sale.”

I thought if I scraped off the chocolate that the toffee would still be edible. Possibly, said the secretary, but not saleable.

Then she said, “You know, I thought it smelled like something was burning down here, but I figured if there were a fire, you’d yell ‘Fire’ or something.”

I admitted that I may have muttered “something,” but I didn’t yell.

Five days later, the smell of burned chocolate began to recede from our happy abode.

The bake sale came off in fine style. My contribution was a candy cane pie. It is so simple that even someone like me can make it in five minutes.

All you need are a graham cracker crust, two 6-inch candy canes (preferably those with both red and green stripes) and a box of instant pudding. I used cheesecake, but reviews were mixed. Nobody died or even had to make an ER visit, but now I think vanilla or banana cream would taste better.

Crush the candy canes. Spread a third of the crushed candy over the crust. Make the pudding and pour it in. Then, about an hour before serving, sprinkle the rest of the candy over the pudding. You’ve taken a simple pudding pie and made it into something festive and a little pepperminty.

However, if you want to do anything even a little more complex, the advice here is, “If you don’t know what you’re doing, stay out of the kitchen at least until after the holidays.”

Merry Christmas to you all.

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