Yesterday's Magazette

6 – My Family Studies Fiasco

My Family Studies Fiasco

Story and Art by Richard Ong

   I studied the crumpled paper in my hand, faded with age, and laughed. The shopping list was buried at the bottom of the shoebox, amongst letters, postcards and assorted greeting cards, remnants of the ghosts of past friends and casual acquaintances. I nearly lost my balance as the memory flooded back like it was yesterday. The recliner saved me from an embarrassing fall to the floor—not that anyone was around to witness it. I held the lined paper closer to the fading glow of the hearth and read the words on the list. The years peeled back each time I uttered the ingredients out loud, and the living room dissolved into the spacious school kitchen of my Family Studies class in senior high.

I was sitting on a stool in front of a counter and sink with my stocky friend, Jay Banguero, breathing down my neck. 

“Dude, stop that,” I said.

“Stop what?” Jay asked.

“Your breath seriously stinks.”

“Phfff.” Jay sat on his own tool and crossed his arms to stare at me.

As I grabbed a knife to slice the broccoli, the chopping board began to vibrate and inch its way towards the edge of the counter.

“Jay! Will you please stop shaking your leg for five minutes for crying out loud? I’m trying to concentrate on this dish!”

“Richard, do you know what you’re doing? I don’t even know where to begin. I’m supposed to be your partner and all I can think of is that you’ll slip and slice off your fingertips! Cooking is dangerous, man. That’s why I let my mom do all the work.”

I slammed the flat of the blade on the chopping board and stared at my friend while trying to control the exasperation in my voice. “Listen, Jay. The point of this class is to teach us life skills and cooking happens to be one of them. Our parents will not always be around to cook for us, you know. Besides, we need to pass this class or we’ll flunk. Family Studies did not turn out to be the bird course we thought it would be. Now, come on. Let’s do this together okay?”

“Fine. If I lose my digits . . . .” Jay didn’t get to finish his sentence. We caught a whiff of perfume and both heads turned as one as if on cue.

“Hey there, you two. What are you making?”

I wiped Jay’s drool with the apron and smiled at the dark-haired Asian beauty in front of us. Her scent was unmistakable and the longing she stirred in me took a great deal of effort to control.

“Hey there yourself, Jeni,” I said. Jeni Harada looked gorgeous in her trim white blouse and jeans that appeared to be sculpted around her hips. She’d make a lovely dancer someday. “Jay and I were about to attempt to make a delicious serving of broccoli and cheese supreme.”

“Really?” Jeni peered over our shoulders and lifted one corner of her mouth. Her lips pursed into a smile. “Mmm-hmm. Do you need help chopping the broccoli?”

“Ahh, are you volunteering?” 

“Stand aside boys and let me show you how it’s done.” She took the apron from Jay and tied the strings around her waist. She grabbed the knife and turned the broccoli around several times on the board while slicing the vegetables so fast that we barely saw her elbows move. In a matter of seconds the poor plant was in pieces with the floral heads separated on one side of the board and the tiny stalks on the other. There was not a scratch on her hands.

“Whoa!” Jay and I gushed. “You’re a miracle worker.”

“Well, don’t get used to it.” She winked and threw the apron back at me. “There’s the pot. Start boiling water, but not too much.” She turned around and walked back to where her partner, Brenda, was expertly chopping meat with little effort.

I threw the apron at Jay. “You heard the lady, Tonto. Giddyap and drop those broccolis into the pot. I’m grabbing the cheese to make the melt.”

The slab of cheese, rounded with a red thin plastic wrapping around, waited patiently on the refrigerator shelf. I shoved my right hand into my pocket and produced the folded paper, where I had written the ingredients and instructions the week before. I looked at the list, then the cheese on the shelf, and felt that something was wrong.

Mrs. Lewis, our matronly instructor, came up behind me and saw what I was looking at. “Gouda cheese. What are you two making?” she asked.

“Broccoli and cheese?” My voice sounded weak.

“This won’t do. It’s too strong and some people may not buy into the taste when used as a melt on broccoli. Try ordinary sliced cheddar. Here.” She reached into the fridge and lifted a small lid on the side of the door. Inside was an unopened packet of sandwich sliced cheese. “Use this. We had some left from the previous class.”

“Gee, thanks, Mrs. Lewis,” I said with a smile. “You’re a life saver!” I ripped open several slices of cheese and popped them into the microwave oven to melt inside a bowl. I sauntered over to where Jay stood near the steaming pot to see how the broccoli was doing.

There was a loud pop, and to my horror I saw the lid of the pot rattle and sway on the rim. Bubbles of water pushed the lid up and poured over the side of the pot and onto the stove top. The water sizzled into steam when it touched the heating element and billows of white smoke began to fill the kitchen. The remaining water dripped onto the linoleum floor with tiny pieces of broccoli decimated by the extreme heat.

“Jay!” I yelled. Before I could say another word, there was a loud bang behind me and I shut my eyes when I realized the fate of my cheese. I slowly turned around and saw a group of students standing next to the microwave. It was still on and I could smell cheddar. I ran and opened the microwave door just in time to see a boiling bowl of cheddar erupt and spatter half its contents all over the inside wall of the appliance. “Crap.”

“No kidding,” Jay said. “Brenda and Jeni ran over as soon as Mount Vesuvius blew its top and managed to save some of our broccoli. Jeni’s pouring the survivors into a strainer right now. I grab a wet towel and dishwasher detergent before your Picasso masterpiece becomes permanent. You know how Mrs. Lewis insists on maintaining a clean kitchen.”

I slowly walked toward the two girls cleaning up our mess. Brenda was wiping the floor dry with towels. The pretty straight-haired brunette looked up and smiled. She was such a trouper, always willing to help no matter what. Jeni shook the strainer over the sink and dumped the rescued broccoli in a large serving bowl.

“Your vegetable is ready,” Jeni said. “They might be a bit soft. But hey, look on the bright side. You won’t have to chew them!”

“Great. I don’t know what we would’ve done without you ladies. I’m sorry we took up so much of your time. If there’s anything we can do to help you with your pork chops . . . .”

“Err, no, thank you,” Jeni said.

Brenda stood up and brushed her apron. “We just need to baste the chops in the oven and we’re done. Thank you.”

“Okay. Well, thanks once again to you two.” I bowed with all the humility I could muster. “We shall endeavor to make sure that the cheese sauce is poured over our water-logged broccoli with as little incident as possible.”

Jeni laughed. “You go do that,” she said.

“And don’t forget to stir and mix the cheese in before it cools down,” said Brenda.

“Yes, ma’am.” I saluted.

I heard a familiar voice and saw Mrs. Lewis giving Jay Banguero the third degree while the poor boy scrubbed the cheese off the microwave.

I quickly ducked to hide behind the kitchen counter and waited until she was gone.    

Vol. 38 No. 3 – Copyright © Yesterday’s Magazette – Fall- 2011 

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