Making Breakfast Come Alive
| This piece was written in November 2000. To bring it up to date, my wife passed away in June, 2001. To her last day in this house, she thought I had become a wonderful cook. |
"You'll always be able to get a job as a cook", my sister told me on her recent visit, having just inhaled a spaghetti dinner. She was giving me too much credit. I was only following a recipe found in some old cookbook. And yet I do say, "Give me a 28oz. can of plum tomatoes and I can move the world".
Since she has been home, my wife has commented favorably on my cooking also, whether it be the simple grilled cheese sandwiches I make her for lunch, or the complex bean and kale soup that was a complete meal last night. Her only complaint comes when I make her eggs, and that is one of high church versus low church: Hard eggs versus soft eggs. She only eats the former while my feeling has always been 'what's a little salmonella among friends?'.
I must admit I enjoy my own cooking too, having put on five pounds or more since I moved to the kitchen, and the 'Minestra', as the cookbook called the soup, was my best yet. It was not on my menu for the week; the plan was to make a minestrone, but seeing kale at the supermarket led to a change in plans.
I suppose the soup could be made with chard or spinach, but they are too flat a green, and with edible stems. Kale undoubtedly is a Hungarian, or Serbo-Croat word for 'roughage'. It is escarole on steroids. Combined with liquid, cannellini beans, a little tomato paste, garlic and sage, it is pure heaven.
I did not have fresh sage. Apparently Down Staters with weekend houses who stock up on food up here before they go home do not even use it, for I have seen it only once. Our super market caters to these Friday to Sunday Warriors. It must. No one else can afford the tiny vials of saffron it sells, at eighteen dollars a pop, and it is not even kept under lock and key.
On general principle, I doubled the recommended dosage of dry Dalmatian Sage leaves, with wonderful results this time. I call this the "Burnett Corollary" after the cook in our Basic Training Mess Hall who believed in the hearty use of pepper. In 1966 the joke went we could end the war by dropping Burnett and his can of pepper on Hanoi. I had the chance to observe his culinary handiwork up close from the times I pulled KP in his kitchen.
It wasn't just his kitchen. He was one of four "chefs" to rule the KP's world. Three, including Burnett, were draftees or enlistees like ourselves, while the fourth, O'Hanlon, was the lowest of the low in the service at that
time, a 'lifer'. He put little inspiration but much cigarette ash into his cooking.
One of the other three was a nice guy, and as with all nice guys from my past, his name has slipped my memory. The other two, Sharp and Burnett, having come up the same way as us through basic training, could not wait to
lord it over those who came after. We might call them the 'Soup Nazis' of their day. Nothing delighted them more than seeing KPs work, even if the days of peeling potatoes had long passed.
Sharp took special delight in having his underlings chop for him, waving a chopping knife in the air to speed up the action. Bananas on their last leg, but just perfect for banana cream pie, were a favorite of his. There was a certain panache to Sharp that let us know he thought this a great game. Burnett, on the other hand, had probably eaten too much of his own cooking, for he simply was nasty.
Bureaucracies are wonderful places to watch the axiom "What goes round, comes round" in action. An MP who gave a Finance Clerk a ticket always wondered what happened to his payroll records and why he did not receive his check. The clerk in Bahrain who received the MP's records surely wondered what they were doing there, too.
Seeing that Burnett only seemed happy when adding pepper to a recipe, we KP's would help him on our own initiative, even if the recipe called for no seasoning. A little pepper here, a shake there, and pretty soon you are talking about really inedible food, not that anyone noticed. It takes a lot of pepper to destroy the bouquet of Sloppy Joe's for 250.
We did achieve a stunning success one morning, however, when our drill sergeants, the Second 'Loo-ee' Assistant Commander and the First Lieutenant Commander, both fresh out of ROTC, were joined by the Colonel commanding the Brigade. It was heartwarming when the Dining Room Orderly reported to his fellow KPs that the Colonel had said, "Sergeant Jones, you have the only man in this man's Army who puts pepper in oatmeal."
So to this day, as I add seasoning, I stop, look out into space, and say to myself, 'this one's for you, Corporal Burnett, wherever you are'.