The Attempt

The Attempt

It’s been a while since I’ve attempted a new recipe. And by recipe, I mean something with fewer than five steps requiring not more than one heating element. And five is pushing it. Three is more my speed…

But my appetite has tanked, and I really needed something different. I’ve tried new dishes at my favorite Mexican place where they treat me right and always wish me back tomorrow, but I want different different, not simply different.

The Cheesecake Factory comes to mind. They treat me right and top the meal off with chocolate, but the bill is high, and the nearest location is four counties away.

A bonus for my readers, not necessarily my stomach or my kitchen: My culinary attempts seem to put a smile on faces. I swear, with many witnesses and sometimes photos, I’m not making this stuff up.

I’m not trying to be daft.

I’m hungry and I want to eat.

But in my kitchen, stuff just... happens.

So, without further ado, here’s the rundown on this tired, hungry writer’s latest Attempt.

The Bright Idea I’ll Never Use

Weeks ago, I found a yummy-looking photo with the full recipe underneath the picture on Facebook. No need to click away to some food blogger’s site where I must wade through to find the recipe.

I took a screenshot. It has numbered steps—ten of them. But one is preheat, one is grease the pan, and three are just throwing things in a bowl and stirring.

The last step is “serve hot.” Even if I set the thing on fire, I can nail this step.

A week later, I remembered the photo when I was at the grocery and actually bought the ingredients—miracle of miracles.

This is the furthest I’ve gotten on an Attempt in a long time, but I figure the frozen spinach it calls for will probably suffer freezer burn before I ever use this recipe.

The Setup

I’m worn out. Like, rotten sleep or no sleep for several nights worn out. Like, the other night the cats woke me up for a little two a.m. snack and I accidentally threw my snacks at them instead of theirs. Like, something in my brain should’ve said, “Beth, this is not the week for an Attempt.”

But, alas, the something in my brain that reasons and performs higher logical functions is hungry, tired, and not reasoning or logical.

I scroll through my photos and find the screenshot of the recipe. I’ve cut the dish's name off, but it was something like Monterey Spaghetti. I don’t know. I had a half-hearted start to this Attempt a few days before but missed the part in the ingredient list where the spinach was to be thawed.

Writer Friend told me I could’ve nuked the spinach. I don’t think she understands my handicap, nor what would happen if I had tried such a feat without supervision.

Anyway, tonight’s the night.

I ran my idea for this Attempt by Writer Friend. I read through the steps, whittling down the ten it lists to about five in my head because all the mixing and the “serve hot” ones don’t count.

“The only thing I’m not certain of is if I have a two-quart dish. I have a 9 by 13. Is that a two-quart?”

She looked at me like I had a half-quart head.

(After writing the above sentence, I google how many quarts are in a human head? I don’t get a straightforward answer, but the brain usually weighs three pounds, and, by the dimensions given, it would fit in the dish I intend to use for this Attempt. But if you google quarts to pounds, you’ll discover that if I’d typed “two-quart head” in the sentence above, I’d have been complimenting myself, so I had to adjust the capacity down.)

Writer Friend told me they usually mean a casserole dish, which is deeper. “Don’t you have loaf pans?”

I laugh…

Then she grins. She knows me.

I remember my misstep with the pan size for Betty Crocker’s Angel Food Cake Mix and just hope for the best.

I do not print off the screenshot. I’m about to burn *another* printer up running off manuscripts to edit, and, well. I’m trying to be environmentally responsible. I leave the photo in the phone.

I do lay out the spinach in plenty of time to thaw out. I thought.

Prep Time

I’m proud of myself for catching the fact that the spaghetti noodles should be cooked before I start. But there goes my “no more than one heating element” rule because the thing will be baked. I think about ditching the Attempt, but I already have already-thawed spinach.

Three cats wail for their dinner. I oblige to keep them out of my way.

You should know that, out of habit, I leave open the squeaky drawer that houses the cats’ food cans because when I feed them early in the morning, I don’t want to wake the Hubs. This drawer is knee-high near the stove.

They line up against the wall on their mats, chomping on Chicken Feast in Gravy. I start the boiling water and empty the oven of its contents so I can preheat.

In my unload-the-oven-dance, I drop a heavy glass lid on the hardwood floor and must do kitty recon for two cats, coaxing them out of their hiding spots because the third cat is an opportunistic pig who would be glad to do their dishes.

The water’s boiling.

Put in the noodles to boil. Is it 4 ounces, is it 10? Who knows. I do my best.

I jiggle the phone awake. So many steps and I’m only at “beat an egg in a large bowl.”

Again with the size thing. How large is large? I glance through the ingredient list again, and remembering what happened with the angel food cake and not knowing if anything in Monterey Spaghetti will expand to four times its size, I pull out the largest mixing bowl I have.

Crack the egg over the bowl. I’m a little too rough, and raw egg white shoots over the edge, onto the counter, and down into the cat’s knee-high-to-me food drawer, and onto my socked foot.

Now I have a mess to clean up, a slightly damp sock, and no idea if I got enough egg into the bowl to count as a large egg.

Still don’t shut the drawer, and crack my knee on it.

Say a word and shut the drawer. At least I’m awake now.

But the phone’s not. I jiggle the phone. Get the sour cream out of the fridge and realize I can’t make this dish and the pork chops I wanted at the same time because there’s only enough sour cream for the spaghetti and not enough for smothered chops.

Get out the step-ladder to dig around in the nether regions of the cabinet to see what I can pour over pork chops to make them edible from the oven without using an additional heating element.

Italian dressing. That might work. Who knows. I do my best. Chops in the oven. Step ladder put away.

Jiggle the phone awake and realize I’d bought shredded parmesan instead of grated. This probably makes a difference. On my deep dive into the nether regions of the cabinets, I’d spotted some grated. I retrieve the step stool and the cheese. Miracle of miracles, it’s not expired.

I’m not pleased that my spinach is not completely thawed and wonder if this is gonna cause a problem. How thawed is thawed enough? I throw it in the bowl and discard the larger clumps of frozen greenery.  

Jiggle the phone (At this point, I contemplate printing off the recipe, but I’m too far in now to switch methods. It is what it is.) Double-check that I’ve got everything in the bowl. Missed the main cheese—the whole point of the dish and likely the recipe’s namesake, but I am pleased I don’t have to measure the Monterey Jack because it came in a two-cup bag.

No idea if I’m pouring this stuff into a two-quart dish, but here we go. Cover it. Throw it in the oven next to the chops.

And, from past experience, I know, beyond any doubt, I will not hear/respond to/care about the oven timer. I set a timer on my phone and retreat to my office, where another kind of Attempt is in progress… I have thirty minutes.

The Other Attempt

I’m worn out. Like, rotten sleep or no sleep for several nights worn out. Like, the other night the cats woke me up for a little two a.m. snack and I accidentally threw my snacks at them instead of theirs. Like, something in my brain should’ve said, “Beth, this is not the week for an Attempt.”

Yet, my brain won’t let me concentrate on anything I’m even remotely familiar with. Other stuff keeps “happening” when I sit down to write.

I get five steps into a ten-step fantasy process, and BAM! I’m done.

I get seven steps into a ten-step sci-fi process, and BOOM! I’m done.

My brain, tired as it is, wants—no needs—something different different, not simply different. So, I try to listen instead of arguing with it.

I open a blank page, stare at the screen, will Little Miss Muse to make an appearance... and the timer goes off.

Back in the Kitchen

The Hubs comes in the door from work as I pull out chops and the spaghetti thing from the oven. He’s watching. I’m worried. Now I have an audience and I’m positive he’ll say something about the green spinach (green and he are not friends) or that the state of the not-thawed spinach will somehow make this dish “not servable hot.”

“What are you making?” He asks this with curiosity, maybe a little trepidation. He knows me well.

I take the foil off the spaghetti. “I don’t even know. I’m attempting something new.”

His eyebrows raise. Like he knows me really well.

I stare down at the dish. I can’t remember what I was doing. That next-to-last step fell right out of my brain as he walked in.

“Where’s my phone?”

He grins. “Who you gonna call? Betty Crocker?” He thinks he’s clever and heads off to the treadmill. I think he’s not far from going hungry…

I retrieve the phone, jiggle it alive, and, oh, yeah. More onion crisp things on top, then brown it. Another timer. Another trip to the office, if only for five minutes, to stare at the blank page until the timer goes off.

Remove the food from the oven. It’s bubbling and hot now, but it won’t be by the time he gets off the treadmill.

He’ll have to nuke it at his own risk.

Back in the Office

I have a working dinner at my desk. A couple bites of the chops—they’re edible. Not El Caballo Blanco level, but not roadkill.

The pasta is surprisingly edible—not Cheesecake Factory level, but not Great-Value-in-a-Can, either.

Miracle of miracles, I think I like it.

I feel a little pompous in my eggy sock with my half-quart of brain power. My pan must’ve been two-quart after all.

I hear the microwave. Hubs is nuking something and declaring, “I could get sick on this.”

He comes around the corner. I stare at him as he shoves food in his face. I point out he’s eating spinach. He doesn’t seem to mind and shoves in another forkful. “I’m on seconds.”

“Now, we won’t know if it’s my cooking or your lack of self-control that puts you in the hospital.” He moves on to gorge. My pompous attitude is replaced by the knowledge that I’ll have to attempt this dish again with all those steps, step-ladders, and two heating elements.

I face the screen. Little Miss Muse shows up, her belly full of grape soda and cheesecake (I know now why it took so long for her to get here, from four counties away), and we dance. The words spill out of my fingers. A trickle at first, then that magic flow I’ve been longing for for so long.

My food goes cold and then forgotten. Little Miss is quickly forgiven for her solo romp to the Factory.

Because this Other Attempt is… different, like different different.

And, miracle of miracles, I think I like it.

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