I don’t know why my cooking ventures turn out like something from the Twilight Zone. Every time I attempt it I can almost hear Rod Serling do the intro. In fact, when I did my brief stint as a TV show host, I went out one dark cold night a few days before Christmas to do an interview with our town’s legendary chef, who had studied in New York. The cameraman, Gibson, was my shadow. We set out to do a colorful Christmas cooking show. I was to interview said chef and his family in their lovely home. It was beautifully decorated. Great background. I was safe, I thought. I wasn’t even going to touch the stove, much less have a hand in the culinary part of the production.
The chef’s wife was courteous and cultured. His four-year-old son couldn’t pronounce courteous yet, much less know the meaning of the word. The little urchin had no difficulty opening up during the interview. Loudly and emphatically he would interrupt and let me know he wanted a TWAIN for Christmas. Over. And Over. Okay, kid, we got it. Now beat it. Shove off. He was cute . . . at first. And we filmed him. Got his cuteness on camera. But you know how quickly cute wears off, especially when you’ve got a job to do and limited time in which to do it. But I did a gritted-teeth smile and soldiered on. The editing guy would get it all smoothed out. Gibson was having a ball at my expense.
Now came the actual cooking part of the show. The chef (can’t recall his name), was going to show off by doing some kind of flaming thing to brighten up our holiday cheer. The kid followed us into the kitchen. And while I was throwing out my brilliant interview questions (um-hmm), the little rascal was tugging on my skirt hollering up at me — “I want a TWAIN, I want a TWAIN, I want a TWAIN”, over and over, with no parental authority to temper his unwanted outbursts and mauling. You should have seen me keep my cool. I didn’t kick him surreptitiously or anything. You would have been so proud.
Anyway, the irritating little darling aside, I think it was crepe suzettes the chef cooked, which, I understood, was done with liqueur poured over a fresh hot, sugared and caramelized crepe, and ignited. During this operation, as the chef was giving me the step-by-step procedure for my viewing audience, Gibson started hand-signaling.
Cut, I said.
We have a problem, Gibson said.
You are 5’2″. He is 6’4″. When I zoom in on him, all I see of you is the top of your head. When I try to get you in the picture, his head and torso are cut off. I can’t get both of you in the shot at once when I’m having to film the cooking, too.
I don’t know how we overcame the height obstacle, but the filming quickly went back to rolling. We were getting some good flaming footage, when, as soon as the fire burned out, the chef asked ME to do the taste test. Okay. I consider a taste test as dangerously close to actual cooking (I know this from experience), so the disaster was bound to happen. We weren’t disappointed. Here I am, doing my poised, ultimately together television schtick — face, voice, stance — the whole ball of wax that was as fake as a congressman’s smile. I bit into the culinary delight as daintily and as ladylike as I could manage. That’s why, when something goes wrong, it looks like slapstick.
Now let me back up. I don’t drink. I have had a drink a time or two, but I don’t like it. It’s bitter, tastes like something from the sewer, and I don’t have a head for it past a few sips. Okay. In this instance, the liqueur was supposedly evaporated by the time I bit into the fancy pastry. But . . . of course all I got was a mouthful of hot and strongly bitter, burnt liqueur. I choked on the crepe. And kept on choking. I couldn’t get any air into my lungs. The fumes and the flaky crust kept oxygen at bay. The chef was clapping me on the back and, when he saw I was going to live (barely), cracked a joke. Something along the line of, “Linda, you don’t want to get drunk on TV.”. Gibson was rolling and not just with the camera.
When the memorable evening ended, I told Gibson to just let the red-headed guy in editing (can’t recall his name, either) work his magic. Gibson. Thumbs up. Good to go. But what actually happened? I was clueless till I went out on the streets after the segment aired. The townspeople started looking at me with wide grins on their faces. Total strangers walked right up to me, laughing so hard they could hardly talk. Loved the Christmas show, they said. Funniest thing they’d ever seen, they said . . . Funny? I hadn’t seen it, yet. I was doing double duty as newspaper reporter and filming my TV show, both with the same boss/owner/editor.
Anyway, whoever authorized it found the show so hilarious they decided to air it as it was. It became one of the most talked about shows in the brief history of the station. I was a celebrity for a little while — to my chagrin. When I tried to explain to people it was not supposed to be funny, it made them laugh that much harder.
I hope the show was no reflection on the New York chef. But he did get more than his fair share of publicity. And as they say in the media — just so you get the name right. Right? As for me, I should have used a pen name. But, of course, I couldn’t do a thing about my perpetually red, and now recognizable face. Where were hoodies when I needed them? But . . . you won’t believe this . . . after the Christmas cooking disaster, and subsequent notoriety, my editor wanted me to do a weekly series for the paper. A cooking column.
Anyway. I’ll leave you with one recipe I can do right. It just takes time and patience. And even that’s in short supply these days . . . especially patience. It’s called Renate Candy. Why that name, I don’t know. I think one of my sisters-in-law gave me the recipe. What it is is chocolate covered peanut butter balls. Always a holiday favorite.
(Note: since I posted this I received this info from sis-IL Julia: “Frances (SIL) gave you this recipe and she got it from a friend when her husband was in the military. The friend’s name was Renate.”)
1 lb. margarine
2 ½ boxes of powdered sugar
1 lb. peanut butter
1 tsp. butter flavoring
1 tsp vanilla flavoring (I’ve been guilty of using a little more)
3 packages semi-sweet chocolate pieces
1/4 lb. paraffin
Mix and melt butter and peanut butter on low heat.
Sift powdered sugar into the mixture.
Roll the thick mix into small round balls.
Layer in a pan with the layers separated by wax paper
Chill two hours or overnight
Melt 12 oz package of chocolate pieces with 1/4 lb of paraffin
Put in small bowl
Dip the refrigerated balls into the chocolate mixture until well-coated
Lay out onto wax paper until hardened.
Serves about 200 pieces of delicious chocolate coated peanut butter candy.
It’s more fun to do this recipe if you have one or two friendly volunteers helping you roll the stuff. Which can get VERY tedious. Gabbing makes the time fly.