I may have mentioned before that Captain Might is a picky eater. I try pretty hard to please him, though, because otherwise he pouts. The best compliment he’s paid me was when I made no-bake cookies with cereal and corn syrup. “Delicious,” he said. But when he asked for pot pie, and I made chicken and dumplings, I got not a word of thanks. And when I made oatmeal peanut butter chocolate and cappuccino chip cookies, he looked at them as if I had just pushed writhing worms in front of him and asked if I had ever heard of Congo Bars. Apparently they are in the official Neverland cookbook. A previous cook used to make them.
The Old Cook Used to Make…
Now may be a good time to say a few words about The Old Cook (who we shall call “Toc” for short). I talked with Toc on the phone before I said yes to the job. I met her briefly in Boston. She seems cool. The kind of person I would want to go out for a beer with. And Captain Wright told me she had been to the CIA, so I knew when I took the job that I had some big shoes to fill. But damn, she must’ve been one helluva cook. In fact, she must have been a better cook than I will ever be. I am haunted by the feeling that nothing I do will ever be as good. Hell, it kinda males me wish she were my cook.
My own insecurity is unfamiliar and overwhelming. I keep telling myself that regardless of her education, I am older and have a lot more experience. I’ve eaten all over the world. Toc never made them Bibimbap. She never made no-bake cookies. She didn’t make popsicles (it’s on my agenda to buy those popsicle makers).
The Teenager, cont’. Or, A Word About Pick-eaters.
Perhaps my biggest hits thus far have been the variety pizza night, the bibimbop, the phad thai I made yesterday (Captain Wright said it was the best he’d had outside a Thai restaurant and I know I can do better, so I will – the noodles were slightly undercooked and the sauce should have been thicker; and I was missing a few ingredients). None of these meals were much appreciated by Captain Might. So here’s the deal: I customize my meals and cooking to suit him – pizza and pot pie and ribs, or I make food I know I love and trust that almost everyone else will love it, too. It’s a tricky business. But in the end, Captain Wright never mentioned that anything was off-limits; he asked today if I could do Greek. And he asked if I could sear some of the tuna on the day we caught the two fish and I made sushi (he said maybe some people couldn’t stomach raw fish and by some people I took him to mean Captain Might, though Too Nice also abstained).
In the end, I want people to be happy. I cook for them. For the praise. And so for a while I went out of my way to make things I thought Captain Might would like – or a second version of a dish (actually, often a third since I also prepare different versions for the vegetarians). On one such evening, I made chicken and dumplings. But I got not a word out of him. …So why should I go out of my way to please his palate?
Today when I put lunch on the table – homemade naan bread, samosas and chickpea dahl, Captain Might said, “What are samosas? I’ve never eaten this stuff before.” “Yes you have,” said Elise, “Toc made them.” “She did?” he said. Uh-oh. Suddenly he might have to like them – I mean, if Toc The Incredible made them…
You might suggest that I get in touch with Toc and get a few of her recipes – but I liken that to going to a restaurant to get the same dish you had there ten years ago. The chef has changed, and you’ve changed, too, but the dish is still on the menu and you order it. What are the odds that it will be the way you remember? Would he be happy if I cooked exactly what Toc cooked or is it really that he just wants Toc back? That his nostalgia for things past gets in the way of him enjoying what Captain Wright called this morning a new era. “I haven’t had chutney in a long time,” he said. “But you had it the other night!” “I mean, before you,” he said, “B.C.”