Is the brand sticker still affixed to your sauté pan?
Is your wok used solely as a receptacle for potato chips?
Does your blender only see the light of day when Baccardi or Tequila is involved?
If so, then welcome to the Kitchen Virgin Club. But don't despair--you're in the illustrious company of Susan Reinhardt: syndicated columnist, spokeswoman for skewed southern bellehood. . .and one truly lousy cook. In this cleaver-sharp new collection of food stories, culinary missteps, and recipes from yummy to yucky, Reinhardt comes clean--way clean--as the unapologetic product of a long line of talented, fascinating, funny women who have regular brushes with homicide by pot roast. From "The Toaster Oven is a Bee-otch" to "When Road Kill Makes it to Mikasa," as well as the titular tale of the socialite who shaved her fuzzy greens, these stranger-than-fiction accounts will have you laughing until milk spews out of your nose. And for those inspired to graduate from Kitchen Virgin to Kitchen 'Tute, there's "Bone Apple Cheat!"-- Reinhardt's own shortcut-to-real-food recipes. So next time you're tempted to make Taco Bell your last (okay, first) resort, crack open this book, have a laugh. . .and get cookin'.
"So engaging. . .so honest. . .will make you laugh out loud." --The Asheville Citizen-Times
"Like hanging out with your bluntest, most mischievous friend, the one who never fails to crack you up." --Chicago Sun-Times
"Funny and touching. . .Reinhardt is not afraid to put it all out there." --The Pilot (N.C.)
"Susan Reinhardt takes the naked, honest truth and sets it on fire in a blaze of laughter. . .will have you holding your sides the whole time." --Laurie Notaro, Autobiography of a Fat Girl
"She can break your heart in one sentence and leave you laughing till you're breathless in the next."--Julie Cannon, True Love & Homegrown Tomatoes
Susan Reinhardt is a syndicated columnist and feature writer whose work has appeared all over the world in major newspapers such as the Washington Post, London Daily Mirror, Newsday, and other Tribune Media and Gannett publications. Reinhardt has won dozens of awards for her writing, including several Best of Gannett honors and a Pulitzer Prize nomination. A long-time volunteer fund-raiser for Hospice, the United Way, the American Lymphoma and Leukemia Society, the PTO and other worthwhile and not so worthwhile causes, Reinhardt is also a proud member of the Not Quite Write Book Club, a group of ten women who drink wine and pretend to act literary. A true Daughter of the South, Susan Reinhardt was born in South Carolina, was raised in Georgia, and currently makes her home in Asheville, North Carolina, the jewel city of the Blue Ridge Mountains. She is married to jazz musician Stuart Reinhardt and has two adorable children. She still calls her mama every night.
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About the Author
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Dishing With the Kitchen Virgin
By SUSAN REINHARDT KENSINGTON BOOKS
Copyright © 2008
All right reserved.
Chapter One There Are No Pot Holders in Heaven
My mama used to say she couldn't wait to die, not just because she'd get to meet Jesus and Elvis, in that order, but also because it would finally mean never having to think up another meal.
"I'll be trading my burned pot holders for a pair of smooth white wings," she cooed, the smell of onions frying in butter circling the room like a culinary halo. "I can't wait to close that oven door for good."
Mama would groan and carry on as she flung open cabinets and slammed pots and pans onto the counter in preparation for yet another breakfast, lunch or dinner.
The only time I ever heard her cuss was while cooking or sewing, the latter of which she finally gave up, shoving her Singer in the attic after deciding the effort put forth didn't equal the end result. Since she was a stay-at-home mom, she was expected to carry on with the dinners and meal planning, as this was the sixties and seventies, in a town where the only fast-food restaurant was a Burger Chef until a McDonald's finally came to roost.
Cooking, while she'd never fully admit it, drove Mama near-about crazy, the great effort and imagination of conjuring new ways to present her family of four a pretty-looking supper that didn't drain the life out of her and one that consisted of more than a single color. She hated nights when the colors didn't go right and she ended up with an entirely brown or orange meal.
Brown meals are an aesthetic disaster for anyone and usually consist of baked potatoes, country-fried cube steak, pinto beans and cabbage boiled way beyond the green and into a gummy beige that even the toothless can manage with ease. Lots of people from my part of the South cook green vegetation until it's dog-fur brown.
Topping off one of her brown meals with chocolate ice cream, and Mama would glance at the table and all but cry out, "Why can't I seem to fix a dinner that has more than one color scheme?"
She did the same wailing on nights she made macaroni and cheese and served it with cantaloupe and a salad with Seven Seas French Dressing. She might choose peach sherbet to go along with it all and then once again wonder why she couldn't produce a dinner in multiple hues.
"Everything's orange," she'd say, throwing her glistening hands, coated with the sheen of various food greases, into the air.
My daddy was an excellent sport about it. He knew if he drank enough bourbon after work, anything she made would be edible.
"Two or three highballs or a few Bloody Marys, and I'd moan and sigh with every bite I took," he said. "That's the secret all cooks know. Get 'em sauced before you serve them."
When Mama first got married at the tender age of 19, my Granny, her mother-in-law, nearly fell over dead upon learning Mama didn't know how to make a tossed salad. She learned fast, and we grew up on bland, nearly clear iceberg lettuce served with a couple of slices of cucumber and a tomato wedge covered in a Thousand Island dressing made from swishing together Duke's Mayonnaise and Hunt's Ketchup. If Mama felt creative, she'd toss in some pickle relish.
While her meals were often strange and brown, she did manage to give us a multiple vitamin every day for good measure. She knew she wasn't the best cook or the worst on our street and town, but I know it made her mad every Wednesday when the newspaper hit the curb and she unfolded the page to see the chosen woman occupying the most popular and coveted feature, the "Cook of the Week," grinning in all her glory and highfalutin recipes.
This "Cook of the Week" feature came about in the days long before Martha Stewart marched onto the scene with her domestic dictatorship, giving everybody equal opportunity to shine after a White Sale or decent pie baking.
Those women in our small but richy hometown who were lucky enough to be selected as food writer Polly Palmer's Cook of the Week were put on a pedestal, like cakes rising in their sugar petticoats from a crystal stand.
The paper devoted an entire inside page to the gloating these women spouted and the bloating their recipes invariably caused. The staff photographer at the Daily Times would bustle into the woman's home and take all sorts of photos of her gadding about her hearth and home.
The words were always sappy and flattering, but none quite as dripping with inflated compliments as the time our town's former Playboy centerfold, Tina Ramirez, who'd married a radiologist, wound up Cook of the Week, when everybody and his mama knew the only thing she'd ever greased were her teats poolside at the country club. No way she'd ever plunged those long manicured hands into a tub of Crisco or risked burning her perfect face over a skillet of popping Wesson oil.
Oh, but the story Polly Palmer wrote made her sound like some sort of curvaceous culinary princess. It was the only time the Cook of the Week was photographed lounging by the pool, her 36DDDs oiled like a turkey breast as she lifted in toast her favorite beverage, "Tina's Tornado," a concoction of vodka and liqueur she frothed and then topped with a menacing cone of whipped cream.
"They'll blow you away," the photo caption read beneath Tina's teeny gold bikini. The picture was black and white-it being in the seventies and all-but I'd seen her in that swimsuit and knew it was as gold as the dome on Georgia's capitol building.
"Tina is the quintessential (I had to go look that up, being only 12.) woman, and the kind of goddess and creature of the kitchen and manor we are all just dying to be," Polly gushed in her column. "She's got substance (what Polly meant is money), a great little figure (her knockers) and a set of twins anyone would be proud to call their own."
My sister and I wanted to know if the paper meant her boobies or her wild hellion sons, who always tinkled through the country club fence and right onto the golf course. Those boys were junior devils sent up on a mission of torment. Nobody liked them.
The article went on and on with Polly's blatherings.
"Mrs. Ramirez epitomizes what wife and mother mean, only she takes it much further up the ladder and volunteers as a room parent, was voted 'Sexiest Wife of the Year,' by the VFW Post 352 as well as the Moose Lodge, both in our fair city and two towns south of here in neighboring counties. This is solid evidence of her beauty and far-reaching domestic skills."
My sister and I were curious about the far-reaching skills but we said nothing to our mama.
Polly kept right on bootlicking, and I wanted to take a match to the paper and watch it burn. "Tina and her husband, the renowned radiologist who moved here from Spain, have a home that would put any of Atlanta's mansions to shame. Her décor can leave one rather intimidated, making most of our city's homes look like the stepchildren of her splendidly renovated Victorian mansion on Avondale Heights.
"Tina chooses only the best of the best-be it for her fine dining or her opulent abode."
"'I learned to decorate and choose only the finest at a young age,' says our Cook of the Week while clicking about her enormous kitchen in strappy Prada sandals, one of 388 pairs of designer shoes in her walk-in closet the size of a Wendy's dining room.
"How does she do it?" Polly Palmer asked. "How is it that this knockout and kitchen goddess is able to do it all?
"'My mother was also a great beauty,' Tina says. 'But she told me being gorgeous doesn't excuse a woman from perfecting her duties in the kitchen and bedroom,' she advised. 'It just gives her more options for dining out.'
"I could not agree more," Polly said right after that quote.
"'I love reservations,' Tina admitted, 'but one can only choose fine dining so much, if you know what I mean.' She tried to pinch a roll of fat to prove her point, but came up empty-handed since she has the best figure in the entire county, bar none. 'Why skimp when we're talking about our own homes and families?' she asked. 'Why not give them the best of everything?'
"One of Tina's secrets to a happy marriage and home life is she packs her twins' lunch every morning (before returning to her bed for more beauty sleep), providing them with crisp bacon, French toast and real maple syrup in decorative bottles. She tops it off with linen napkins and sterling silver utensils." They love only breakfast for lunch.
"Well, la-de-da," I heard my younger sister say as she read the story and recipes. "Where are the vegetables, Mrs. Ramirez? Where's the fruit Ms. Playboy has-been?"
I can still hear Sandy, who couldn't have been more than 10, reading and hissing, flinging words and finally the paper. "Best of everything? How 'bout learning the meaning of the word 'sacrifice' like our poor mother?"
Sandy had made it her mission to fume each time the "Cook of the Week" feature appeared in the paper, seeing all the women's photo layouts as an egregious slight against our own mom, who always said with no conviction in her voice, "Why, that sort of thing doesn't bother me a bit. I'm happy for all the women chosen as Cooks of the Week."
"It's one's Christian duty to want nothing but good for others," Mama often said.
So my sister and I took up the cause and decided to rake over the hot grill the women who were selected over our dear mother.
We were purely eaten up with envy as the newspaper plastered our friends' moms on the front of page three, and we had to witness the glaring omission every Wednesday morning when the paperboy threw the rubber-banded news onto our driveway or lawn. I had to endure this for ten or so years, and thought about calling down Daily Times and suggesting they come and pay Mama a visit because her spaghetti and Salmon Stew are the best a body could consume, and no one could top her Posse's Hash Sandwiches, perfectly toasted on Colonial's hamburger buns. And, contrary to rumor, our house does NOT buzz as if infested with locusts every night with the sound of an overused electric can opener. Our mama could cook-a little.
She had enough decent meals to toss on the pages of the Daily Times, though I knew better than to call Polly Palmer on my Princess telephone and let her have it. Mama would have killed me.
I'd hear my sister mumbling and the papers rattling. "She can't cook her way out of a Piggly Wiggly bag," or "That recipe didn't come from her kitchen. Why, that was Rosemary Hubert's Perfect Peach Cobbler 'cause she made it for me one day and that's all there is to it. You stole it, you lying little witch."
It just plumb tore my sister and me apart every week to see our fine mother passed up yet again as the Cook of the Week, though Mama continued to tell us it didn't matter to her at all.
The week she took to her bed, which is what Southern women do when overcome with life's demands or disappointments, was the Wednesday the Cook of the Week just so happened to be Judy Sue Teeter, who had the perfect daughter named Cassidy way before anyone had that name. Judy Sue's Cassidy came screeching into the world, destined to wear every Little Miss crown ever manufactured.
Judy Sue always got her way and so did Cassidy, a prima donna if there ever was one. "Judy never made anything fresher than a pass at other mamas' husbands," said my sister, who'd seen the woman only in church and really knew nothing about her kitchen capabilities.
Mama was lying like a wounded dog in her bed, pretending she had flu when we assumed it was clearly a case of Passed Over Again Blues. "Sandy, sugar, now that's not the way good Christians talk. I'm sure Judy Sue deserves this attention as much as anyone else."
"Sorry," Sandy said, and continued drawing beards and warts on the photos. "You old bag. Let's see you really cook something for once in your lazy life. What? Can't do it? You just happened to be standing at your gas range like it fell from the sky and you don't know what to do with it?"
"Sandy, that's enough out of you," Mama said. "I'll have to make you write one hundred sentences again, 'I must not make fun of the Cook of the Week.'" She rolled over in bed and didn't say another word for five solid hours, until the clock marched toward six and she knew she had to rise and haul out her pots and pans for mealtime.
We'd tell Mama not to worry and she'd get all mad and say, "I wouldn't be Cook of the Week if they begged me," but we knew differently. She saved recipes and had a special outfit in the closet to wear. Just in case.
While it never happened during our dozen years in that town, the good news is that once we moved away, and after forty-five years of marriage, Mama has finally graduated into a semispectacular cook-give or take a few clunkers here and there.
Her best recipe is still the Salmon Stew she'd make on cold winter nights but was embarrassed to talk about in that small Georgia town. Nobody could ever touch her Creamy Coconut Cake, but she made it only when it was her turn to host bridge club or attend the bereaved and only if she had the energy. Otherwise, she'd make Mama Dot's Co-Cola Cake, which is really good, but she didn't like using two cake pans and going to all that trouble, so she'd just pour the batter in a big old 9 x 13 casserole dish and serve the black rectangle to all gathered with their cards and coffee cups.
Most of her bridge club was three Bloody Marys to the wind by noon and didn't much care what they ate. And none of them had been a Cook of the Week, either. Well, one had, but Mama forgave her because she was plain sweet and not a bit pretentious and even wore an apron during the photo shoot, while most of the cooks wore their finest threads and had makeovers at the Estée Lauder counter the morning prior.
When you do the math, and figure we lived in that little richy town for twelve years, this comes to 624 women of the 25,000 population who dominated the coveted three-quarterpage spread in the paper while my mother did not.
I heard not long after we moved to Spartanburg, South Carolina, Polly Palmer's people asked, "Whatever happened to that ... that ... oh, what's her name? That good-looking tall, thin woman with the two daughters? She might make a fairly decent Cook of the Week."
I don't mean to make Mama sound like she sat on her canned goods and did nothing. This is far from the truth. She worked like an ox at the tasks she enjoyed and excelled at.
It's not her fault she hated cooking and would rather scrub the toilets, mop the floors, make beds, clean windows, service her husband ... anything but stand over the burning red eyes of her GE range and wonder, "Will this end up a brown meal or an orange one?"
She loved the weekends, her mostly cook-free time, and so did Sandy and I. Friday or Saturday nights meant she and Daddy, then in their 30s, would hit the Moose Lodge or the country club for dining and dancing. It meant a babysitter and either chicken potpies or Totino's Pizzas, both of which cost around a dime back then, and to us tasted pretty near grand. I loved Swanson potpies, the ones with the crust on top and on the bottom. That crust drove me crazy it was so delicious, and I can still smell that bubbling yellow cream oozing up from the dough where Mama had pierced the pies with fork tines so they'd cook faster.
That should say it all. A kid who loves Swanson and Totino's is a child who's born either with no discerning or snobbish palate or whose mom has about as much chance at being Cook of the Week as she does winning the showcase on The Price Is Right.
Mom had a repertoire of five to seven meals and when tired, she'd take hot dogs, slice them down the middle as if gutting a fish and stuff the gap with cheddar cheese-a recipe we called "Parched Dogs." This was my least favorite supper, my favorite being taco night served with all the fixings.
On other evenings we'd have Mrs. Paul's Fish Sticks from a box, or pintos and cornbread with a side of onions.
To her credit, Mama turned from Betty Clueless to Betty Crocker on Sundays, fixing marvelous Southern meals such as tender chuck roast cooked in the Crock-Pot, mashed potatoes dripping in butter, homemade gravy and Ford Hook lima beans. She could fry the best chicken-next to my granny's-you've ever eaten, though all Southerners think their own fried chicken beats every other recipe on earth.
The truth is, the ones doing the bragging are all using the same basic recipe and know precisely how hot to get the Crisco and the balance of milk and egg for dunking.
Later we figured out why Mama always cooked her best on Sundays. It was her day of getting some afternoon delight.
Excerpted from Dishing With the Kitchen Virgin by SUSAN REINHARDT Copyright © 2008 by Susan Reinhardt. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of ContentsContents Foreword....................1
One: There Are No Pot Holders in Heaven....................9
Two: Vigilante Grannies' Good Eats and Feats....................23
Three: Erotic Eating: When Love and Food Collide....................33
Four: Once You've Done a Meal, You Have to Be Dead to Get Out of Another....................45
Five: If the Baby Comes Early, Blame It on the Ham....................53
Six: Bon Appe-Cheat!....................65
Seven: Dude Food....................73
Eight: Upscale Dude Food....................81
Nine: Monster Collards and Daisy Shavers....................93
Ten: Tricks and Bad Eats....................99
Eleven: When Roadkill Meets Mikasa....................109
Twelve: When Daddies Do the Cooking....................127
Thirteen: Serve Ya a Meat, Ma'am?....................137
Fourteen: Cutthroat Covered-Dish Suppers....................149
Fifteen: If Your Kids Like School Lunches, You Suck as a Cook....................157
Sixteen: Before SPAM Hit Computers, It Was a Meat to Be Reckoned With....................165
Seventeen: Making a Mess of Collards....................173
Eighteen: There's No Such Thing as a Free Bird....................183
Nineteen: My Alcoholic Cat....................189
Twenty: If the Sushi Isn't Fried, Pass the Boiled Peanuts....................197
Twenty-one: Kitchen Virgins and Kitchen Trollops....................209
Twenty-two: Eating Free, Buffet-a-Phobia, and DubiousDiets....................219
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Susan Reinhardt has brilliantly written an engaging collection of her Southern family's amusing culinary stories. Each hilariously titled chapter is an entertaining story about food, and pertinent recipes are included. Many family secrets of Southern-style cooking are divulged. She also shares her 10 "semisuccessful" tips to help the cook and her guests survive a major holiday. Ms. Reinhardt is a talented storyteller whose homespun humor produced many laugh-out-loud moments. Written in a delightful folksy style, I was truly captivated. Her culinary troubles were certainly easy to relate to, as I've made many cooking mistakes myself! These stories remind me that many of our fondest memories are of sharing a meal with a table of loved ones. I really loved this utterly charming book and I highly recommend it.