How To Ruin a Classic

13 November 2013 Alison Strumberger

How To Ruin a Classic

Illustration by Eirian Chapman

Alison Strumberger, Ed#443, October 2013

A quick, easy and, well, realistic guide to cooking.

1. Pull your copy of Donna Hay Modern Classics Book 1 down from the top shelf in the kitchen.

2. Turn the pages until arrested by the photo of a bowl of wholesome green soup with pink flesh cresting the surface, and a hastily buttered piece of wholegrain bread lying in wait. Imagine it yearns – like you do – for split pea and ham.

3. Read the recipe, but not properly. Skim it because you’re hungry and your basket’s already on your bike and it’s Sunday and if you leave any later the supermarket will be heaving. Take particular note of 1kg ham, split peas, 1 stalk celery,  1 carrot, 1 onion, 1 bay leaf. Ignore the rest.

4. Arrive at the supermarket at the same time as the rest of the neighbourhood. Lock your bike and step past the sliding glass doors to find yourself confronted by a wall of Sunday-evening shoppers. Make a beeline for the meat.

5. Take a number, if there are numbers left. Exercise the kind of passive aggression that would make your mother proud: eyes averted from other carnivores until a position is secured within shouting distance of a deli guy.

6. Wait to be shouted at by a deli guy.

7. When he shouts, shout back, “I’D LIKE A KILOGRAM OF HAM, PLEASE.” Realise you don’t know how you need it, but assume you don’t want it shaved. Shout “THICK SLICES”. Realise with some panic that, perhaps, the butcher counter would be more suitable, but see over the whirring of the glinting steel slicer that you’re in too deep with this guy already.

8. Try not to be frazzled when presented with six, not thick, slices of ham. Curse background noise and try again.

9. Walk away with the paper bundle, marvelling at the weight of the meat in your hands, which is quite substantial for someone who tells 75% of people that they’re a vegetarian. Almost vomit next to the freshly baked dinner rolls when you turn over the bundle and see the $35 price tag.

10. Consider exercising the kind of stealth that would make your father proud: depositing the kilo of ham among the cheeses in the dairy fridge. Recall early lessons in honesty and integrity, and continue shopping.

11. With face flushed and inner monologue roaring with negative self-talk, go find the bay leaves. Notice after several minutes of scanning the spices that the bay leaves are obscured by a worker who is restocking the supply of these very leaves. In an attempt to transcend emotional turmoil over the ham blunder, and to atone for impure ham-abandonment fantasies, smile too sweetly and say something over-polite like “sorry to bother you, but I’m just going to get in your way for a sec and grab some bay leaves”. When he responds with a grin and the words “we only do it for you”, wonder if you’re on television.

12. Find peas and carrots and celery and onions and continue hating yourself. Buy vegetable stock because something is telling you to buy vegetable stock.

13. Listen carefully as the check-out guy recounts last night’s elimination on My Kitchen Rules. Also learn that his favourite food is beetroot, and that it’s healthy, and that you should really be buying beetroot. Pay $45 and acknowledge that 78% of that is the ham.

14. Know that you, too, would be eliminated on My Kitchen Rules. Ride home.

15. Now, as suggested by your self-loathing in the supermarket, you’re ravenous. Stick one carrot in your mouth and chop another one. Then chop an onion and a celery stalk. Toss a knob of butter into a pot and the orange and green and white little bits in after it, and watch the colours brighten. Pour a glass of wine and review the recipe.

16. Read the words ham hock.

17. As you cut the thick slices of ham into cubes, concede that one kilogram makes much more sense when there’s a bone involved. Also note that stock is only possible when there’s a bone involved, and ponder your subconscious as you glance over at the vegetable stock. These thoughts transform into a metaphysical meditation until you slice the tip of your index finger. Toss the ham cubes into the pot with the sautéing, softening vegetables, and run the finger under cold water.

18. Add split peas. Add hot water. Add the stock. Drop in a bay leaf. Stir your pot of simmering mistakes. Cover.

19. Toast some bread. Toast yourself. At least you’ve got something to eat and a whole lot of leftover ham.

» Alison Strumberger is completing her Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Melbourne. She is fond of books, bicycles, lists and cooking. Really. Follow her on Twitter, @AStrumberger