17-multiskillingThey say that the man is always the last to know, and I have to admit that I was certainly caught by surprise. My wife and I had just sat down to supper when she sighed, placed her spoon back beside her bowl, and looked at me meaningfully. Then she sighed again and averted her eyes. Uh, oh. Whatever was coming, I knew it was going to be bad.

“Do you suppose…” she said, searching for the right phrase. The suspense was killing me. I leaned forward so the words would arrive sooner. “Do you think we could have something to eat one of these nights that hasn’t been cooked in the crock pot or heated in the microwave?”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “Is there something wrong with your beef stew?” My own portion had just come from the microwave, and I thought it was mighty tasty.

“It was great Tuesday. And it was still pretty good yesterday. But today, I just don’t have a taste for it.”  You can’t make some folks happy, and she didn’t even know that at the current rate of consumption, there was enough left for one more meal. We have a large crock pot, and there are just the two of us at home now that the children have gone their separate ways, so it generally takes three or four days to work our way through the entire entrée.

“Why don’t I make us some chili tomorrow?” I offered. I was sure that a couple of gallons of my world-renowned chili would improve her mood.

“We had chili for three days last week.” Ouch. I had forgotten.

“Well, how about a nice pot of beans?” This was actually the first dish I learned to cook in my crock pot, and I considered it to be an old standby.

“We had beans for three days the week before last, and then you made the chili out of what was left.”  That was a really big batch of beans.

“Vegetable soup?” I asked. All I had to do was dump a couple of bags of frozen vegetables into the remains of the beef stew, and presto, we would have vegetable soup.

“Uh, uh.”

“You know, there are starving people in China who would love to have a bowl of my vegetable soup right now,” I said, reverting to the time-honored comment made by insulted cooks everywhere, with the possible exception of insulted cooks in China.

KARIVAL38501WCOOKER__1I was in a quandary. Cooking has never been my strong suit, and I have always been a little lost in the kitchen. Then I discovered the dual miracles of the crock pot and the microwave. You can load several ingredients into a crock pot at the same time, pour in some water, and then ignore the whole business for the next eight hours. The result is hot, filling, and you get credit for cooking without having to cook. And the microwave is the electronic marvel that allows for unlimited easy reheating of previously-cooked food. For a man who had once burned water and who had to keep referring to the recipe when making toast, both of these handy gadgets were a godsend. But now, apparently, the good times were coming to an end.

Before discovering these two devices, my best dishes were Cheerios, ramen noodles, salad, and takeout food removed from its Styrofoam and paper wrappings and arranged on plates to look as if I had cooked it myself. Oh sure, like you’ve never done that. Around my house, the kids actually thought I had invented little breaded chicken pieces, until the oldest one learned to sound out the word McNugget phonetically.

“Daddy, look.  McDonald’s has chicken nuggets just like you make!”

“Shame on them. Now hush and eat that Whopper I cooked for you.”

Unfortunately, the crock pot has limitations. Slow heating over long periods of time only works for certain recipes, and that lack of variety was what my wife was sighing about. In my defense, I have tried to expand the repertoire, but my success has been limited. The bread crumbs slid right off of the poultry when I attempted to make Maryland fried chicken, the shrimp evolved into another life form and skittered away when I endeavored to make shrimp picata, and, sadly, I actually lost a crock pot the time I took a stab at making meat loaf. The substance expanded and hardened, and I had to have that crock pot put down as a result. It was a matter of mercy.

All of these thoughts raced through my mind the next day as I experimented with dish after dish in my attempt to get back into my mate’s good graces. Even though there was plenty of beef stew left, I had made the decision to expand my horizons and to prepare supper without the aid of my ceramic friend. That night, I was a bit nervous as we sat down to our meal. She took a bite, and then another. I watched as she slowly chewed her food. Finally, I couldn’t stand the suspense any longer.

“Well?  Do you like it?”

“It may be the best bologna sandwich I have ever had,” she replied.  “And the potato chips are superb.”  Who needs a crock pot, anyway?

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Raymond L. Atkins

Raymond L. Atkins

Raymond L. Atkins resides in Rome, Georgia. His stories have been published in Christmas Stories from Georgia, The Lavender Mountain Anthology, The Blood and Fire Review, The Old Red Kimono, Long Island Woman, and Savannah Magazine. His humorous column —"South of the Etowah" — appears in The Rome News-Tribune. His industrial maintenance column — "The Fundamentals" — appears in Maintenance Technology Magazine. His humorous column — "And So It Goes" — appears in Memphis Downtowner Magazine. His first novel, "The Front Porch Prophet," was published by Medallion Press in June of 2008 to critical acclaim and earned the 2009 Georgia Author of the Year Award for First Novel. His second novel, "Sorrow Wood," was released in June 2009 by Medallion Press and has been nominated for the 2010 Georgia Author of the Year Award for Fiction. Both are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine booksellers. His third novel, "Camp Redemption," will be released in August, 2011.