File this one under Holiday Cooking Disasters, or the year I learned that salad oil and cooking oil are not one and the same.
Was it a “Seventeen” magazine article that urged the reader to do some act of kindness during the holidays? More likely it was a church sermon aimed at 10-year-olds during the children’s mass. The source doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I tried never to forget this lesson when our daughter was learning to do what, to the eye of an adult, seemed obvious.
Let me back up a bit.
My mom was down the block, visiting a friend. I knew she’d be gone for a while; these visits, which usually involved at least a pot of coffee and the kind of conversation that only really good friends create, generally lasted at least two hours…more than enough for me to surprise her with (drum roll here) freshly baked home Christmas sugar cookies.
I found the recipe in her Betty Crocker Cookbook, circa 1950.
“Hmmm,” I said to myself as I read the ingredients list twice, “flour? Yup, got that; sugar, vanilla, eggs, baking soda, baking powder. And oil.”
“Oil?” I asked myself; I looked in the only place I knew Mom kept oil. Sure enough, there it was: salad dressing with oil.
(You know where this is going, don’t you?)
I carefully measured and sifted the flour with the other dry ingredients. I added the wet ones, including the cup-plus of Kraft Salad Dressing. I remember that it smelled a little odd, but I’d smeared Vicks VapoRub on my nose to alleviate my sniffles.
Rolling out the dough and pressing the cookie forms into it didn’t go well. Even to my apprentice cook’s mind I sensed something was wrong. But I soldiered on, knowing that, as I’d once heard Mom tell a friend, frosting could hide a lot.
I took the third sheet of cookies out of the oven just as Mom came in the back door. That’s when I noticed a thin haze of rancid smoke that hung in the air. My mother’s shriek pulled my attention away from the ceiling to her look of alarm.
“What’s going on here?!?” she shrieked. All of a sudden I saw the kitchen through her eyes: flour on the floor, egg slithering off the table.
I looked at my cookies, no longer seeing them as products worthy of a magazine shoot and instead seeing them for the over-baked, misshapen, thin spreads of flattened dough that they were.
And here is where my memory ends and where my “lesson” began: Best to leave fancy baking to the others and visit the local bakery. Barring that, teach your kid to bake.