AUTHOR: Beth TITLE: DATE: 7/23/2004 08:55:00 AM ----- BODY:

Beth Attempts to Cook Chicken: A Riveting Tale of Action, Adventure and the Triumph of the Human Spirit

Grangerry would be ashamed. This woman, my Grandmother Geraldine, is to the kitchen what Picasso was to painting--inspired, and with her own quirky compositional flair. I would swear she thought of making cookies and brownies with applesauce instead of sugar long before it became a diet craze among the Martha Stewart set--and probably not because it would reduce any calories. Recipes? Bah! She scoffs at the notion. She's the kind of natural cook that will tell one of her fumbling granddaughters, "Now put just a pinch of that in, not that much." If the events of last night are any indication, I remain on the shallow end of her gene pool when it comes to culinary skill. Yesterday Steve, playing house-husband, did some grocery shopping while I was working, and among the things he bought were some chicken breasts so that we could embark on the fascinating journey of Cooking Dinner Ourselves. I know vaguely how to cook a few of my mother's recipes, and so with my mother on the phone I set out to broil some marinated chicken. The first steps are simple: slap cold, clammy raw chicken breasts in a Corningware dish. Slather with Italian salad dressing. Find chips or something to eat while you wait for them to marinate for an hour. I managed not to mess that part up. Then it came time to broil the breasts meat I can't think of any phrase that won't sound dirty. I removed the chicken from its oily bath (holy crap, what is with my perverted mind today?) and slapped it on the tinfoil-lined cookie sheet I had, of course, prepared ahead of time, since I have no broiling pan. I don't have a lot of things, come to find out. A plastic or wooden spoon that won't scratch my pots and pans. More than one mid-sized Corningware casserole dish. A Dutch oven. Now a broiling pan. So I put my makeshift broiling apparatus in the oven. My mother, via the phone, warned me not to move the oven grate too high. "You don't want the chicken touching the broiler unit," she cautioned. "You don't want it too close, either." Remember this. My mother specifically told me not to put the chicken too close the broiler unit. But how close was too close? I had two options: the highest rung or the second-highest. I figured a broiling pan was supposed to go directly underneath the broiler unit at the top of the oven, so the highest one was better. Plus it wasn't that close. The chicken wouldn't be touching the broiler--the rung was only about two-thirds of the way up the oven. An aside: I hate reaching into the oven. Especially when it's on, but even when it's not. Actually grasping the oven rack with my bare hands--despite the fact that it was cool to the touch at that point--gave me the shivers. Just another one of my weird complexes, I guess. So, the oven rack now painstakingly positioned, I sent my little raft of chicken on its journey to broiled perfection. I left the door about an inch open, as my mother specified, turned the oven knob to "BR" and went to watch more of the baseball game. After a little while something popped with an eerie flash of light in the kitchen. After a few seconds, there it was again. The just-ajar oven door showed a strange orange pyrotechnic display happening inside, as the glowing broiler coil reflected off the tinfoiled cookie sheet like a blast furnace. Pop, and bright yellow lit up the oven. Pop. Flash...Pop. Flash. "Um..." I asked my dad when he answered the phone. "Is the chicken supposed to be, like...popping?" Then I turned around and saw the flames. The oven was on fire. The oven was on fire. Usually I have a clear head in an emergency, but here I stood rooted to the linoleum, flashes of explaining to angry firefighters, my landlord and my neighbors as we stood next to the burned-out shell of the house that I hadn't listened to my mother and put the broiler pan too close. "Close the oven door!" my dad hollered into the phone, snapping me out of my trance and possibly saving my life. Whimpering, I slammed the door closed and pressed it shut with my hands as if to emphasize that I wanted the fire out. Out, out, out. When I peeked a few seconds later flames licked out at me again. Now I pictured the oven exploding while I tried to hold it closed, blowing me out the hallway window onto the lawn, where I would probably crush my neighbor's motorcycle that he keeps parked there, lovingly covered with canvas. Poor guy would lose his bike, all because some dumb bitch was a terrible cook. "Is it out?!?" my father brought me back to reality again. "Um," I peeked. Black smoke billowed out of the oven toward me, but there was no more flame. "I think so...why is there so much smoke?" With the situation under control, my father could now laugh at me, which, of course, I deserved. "Cause you set the damn oven on fire!" he chortled. So there you have it. We ended up having to bake the chicken the rest of the way, and it ended up as dry and rubbery as all hell. I also managed to almost fuck up the Rice-A-Roni, but that's another story for another time.