Some people have never rolled sushi or flambéed Bombe Alaska. I’ve never baked a potato. I don’t know how.
“The answer is in the name,” my husband explains, “You bake the potato.”
I’m not falling for it. I know that there are at least five steps to even the simplest of cooking. There are always measurements, temperatures and timing issues to consider. Luckily, Paula provides me with the instructions that every other human seems to know by instinct: wash, pierce, wrap in foil and bake at 350-degrees for one hour. See, five steps.
Per usual, if I’m going to go to the effort of five steps, I might as well make something more show stopping than a starchy spud. Paula’s Jacket Potato recipe catches my eye. It contains my two favorite ingredients: bacon and alcohol.
I decide to try out the recipe when Mom and Dad invite me over for salmon dinner. As I pull the ingredients together, I ask Mom if she has any Brandy.
“Seriously, Andrea. It’s only 4 o’clock,” she says, handing me the bottle.
“For the recipe, Mom.” I take the Brandy from her and pour 1/4-cup into a measuring glass and a few splashes into a tumbler when her back is turned. Cooking in close proximity to my mother—the Queen de la Cuisine—necessitates drinking.
Earlier, I went to the grocery in search of green peppercorns. I have never heard of green peppercorns, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the difference is superficial. It’s like the run-of-the-mill M&M’s versus the seasonal Easter variety. The traditionally colored M’s taste the same as the cute pastels. No really. They do.
All the same, I opted for an overpriced jar of multi-colored peppercorns from which I painstakingly handpicked the little green ones like a monkey grooming a mate. The process added a half an hour to my potato prep. All the green peppercorns in the jar amounted to one tablespoon.
When Mom is ready to put the salmon on the grill, she scans the room and asks, “Where is my foil?” I thought that she was being super-helpful (a euphemism for micromanaging) and had laid out the foil for my potatoes.
“You used my special foil for your potatoes?!”
I don’t know what “special foil” is, but I’m assuming it’s the name-brand stuff that Mom hides in the pantry, leaving me with the cheap foil that tears like tissue paper. Mom explains that it’s heavy-duty foil, and it’ll probably prevent my potatoes from baking. When I ask my mom what’s the point of wrapping fish in something that prevents cooking, she just sighs and shakes her head. Mom and I share many similarities—a love of shopping, an obsession with cleaning and a penchant for making up words—but cooking divides us. Like culinary apartheid, barbed wire and all.
When I explain that I’m going to use the Brandy to ignite the sauce, Mom says she won’t allow it. She uses the opportunity to recall a number of unsuccessful cooking moments from my past. But before she gets to the undercooked pork loin incident (too soon), I’ve lit the match.
The gigantic flame barrels up into the oven hood where it remains like the Hindenburg. Oh, the humanity. Mom screams something unladylike, pulls the flaming sauté pan from the burner and runs around the kitchen in an attempt to extinguish the fire (if you understand the meaning of “fanning the flames,” you’ll know that she did not succeed).
I wrestle the pan from her hands and return it to the burner as the flame finally dies down. “It’s supposed to do that,” I say calmly. But to be honest, I’m a little shook up.
When the sauce is complete, I pour it over the unwrapped potatoes. Liquid floods the plate. As it turns out, the answer is in the name: a Jacket Potato requires a foil jacket. My butt-naked, thin-skinned potatoes hold the sauce like a silk diaper.
Mom frowned at her perfectly grilled salmon, swimming around the plate of cream sauce seeping from her potato.
“At least nobody got hurt this time,” I offer, thinking of the undercooked pork loin.