All that delusion is how I ended up at a Pampered Chef party last night. And how I am even more achy and tired today. Oy.
The party was a bit different from other Pampered Chef parties. I think. I don’t know for sure because I have expertly avoided them until now. Because, well, I don’t cook. I don’t like to cook. The only reason I have a kitchen is because it came with the house. The best thing I make is reservations. We have pizza places on speed dial. All that.
So people know it’s rather futile to invite me to cooking-oriented demonstrations. Especially after that one Cutco knife in-home demo in which I showed the young sales person the scars on three fingers from having used knives that were too sharp. I’m a disaster in the kitchen. It’s a proven fact.
The cold hard facts
But THIS party wasn’t a typical Pampered Chef party. THIS party involved handing over $80, getting a shopping list, going to the grocery store, and hauling all my ingredients to Gretchen’s house in a large cooler and four shopping totes. There would be recipes provided and we would spend the evening happily assembling meals that are stored in the freezer until I am ready to make dinner.
This Freezer Party thing is billed as a great way to fit delicious home cooked food into your busy life! Let's meet up and prep meals to freeze and cook later! WHOO HOO!!
I was sure this would be easy shmeasy. Especially since I have done exactly this type of thing at those meal prep places like Dinner’s Ready and Dream Dinners. At those places, I show up, throw some prepared ingredients in a freezer bag, make maybe 15-20 meals in less than 2 hours, and I’m outta there pretending all the while that I can cook.
With Gretchen’s party, I wasn’t exactly sure how Pampered Chef was involved, other than they might try to sell me a spatula or a knife or something. Also $80 sounds like a HUGE bargain for 10 meals. Even more of a mindblower when I realized the meals served 4 so I could split them in half and have 20 meals for me and Rob for just $80. $2 a serving? Seriously? See why I signed up??
Somewhere in the midst of the Fair, Gretchen mailed out the shopping list. She warned it would add maybe another $60 to our $80, based on the last time she did one of the parties. Even so, $140 for 20 2-person meals that I could pretend I had slaved over was still a steal at just $3.50 per serving.
“I think I might need help grocery shopping,” I warned Rob two days ago as I finally reviewed the 2-page list of assorted ingredients. I often ask him to tag along for the heavy lifting.
“Is there a lot of stuff?”
“Well, no, it’s not really that bad. It’s the meat.”
Assistance needed in the meat department, please
This is where I need to explain that buying meat terrifies me. I don’t understand it. Recipes will say something benign like “4 lb pot roast” but then there is nothing in the meat case that is labeled “pot roast.” Apparently it is universally assumed that everyone knows that a “pot roast” is actually called a “chuck roast.” Why don’t we just call a pot a chuck then? Why the double speak? It’s like talking to someone in IT, this whole meat thing. It’s its own language and I’m convinced it’s designed to make cook-friendly carnivores feel smarter and fancypants somehow.
Rob looked at the list. Chicken breasts, stew meat, diced ham. We agreed I could handle those. The sirloin steak made me a bit nervous, though. And then the pork loin chops. Are those with or without bones? And how thick should they be because we’ve gotten some from Costco that were like an entire 4-H hog show's worth of loins.
But I really started to get twitchy with the required beef chuck roast and beef short ribs. Yes, I know a chuck is a pot but I’ve been deceived before. And ribs. “Beef short ribs” sounds so temptingly simple but bones or no bones? Rack or individual? And golly, 4-5 pounds of them sure sounded like a lot.
Rob smiled at me and assured me I would be fine. He could stay home and tend to the languishing mostly-ignored-for-10-days garden.
Off to the store, I had confidently crossed off all the produce items and the 8oz block of cheese from my list when I found myself face to face with the meat department.
Taking a deep breath, I started easy and grabbed the stew meat. Then the diced ham. Except, grrr, there wasn’t the size bag I needed. They only had small bags. I started feeling that itchiness of frustration rise. I calmed myself and resolutely put two of the bags in my cart.
OK, now chicken breasts. Let’s see, I need…16-24 chicken breasts?!!? That’s like an entire coop of chickens! I have never bought that many chicken boobs at once in my life!
Scratching around the poultry section, I only found packages of 2 or 4 breasts. I then started eyeing some frozen packages but, not clear on how I would be preparing my breasts, I decided that might not be a good option.
As the itchiness returned, I concluded that I would stop by a different store on the way home. There is a religious group here that has BIG families and they all shop at that other store. That store MUST have large quantities of chicken breasts at value prices, I assured myself as I circled “16-24 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (min 8 lbs)” on my list and moved on.
And then got stuck again. The pot chuck roast things were all too big. The sirloin steaks were $13 each and I needed 2 of them. The pork loins came in too many different thicknesses. But it was the beef short ribs that sent me to the brink of my composure.
“What the HELL is ‘flanken’ style ribs?!?” (Fun Fact: spell check doesn’t know either)
I paced the meat cases as my anxiety rose. I started to have flashbacks to that time I was shopping in Babies R Us for a shower gift and had absolutely no clue what I was looking at or for. None of the words were familiar. Sling seat. Nasal aspirator. Boppy pillow. Butt Paste. It was a foreign language. And much like that time, I started to try to give myself a pep talk next to the ground hamburger (with the shower, I think it was the burp rags).
“Toni, get a grip. You are a grown woman. You are an intelligent woman. You can figure this out. You WILL NOT be taken down by beef ribs, short or otherwise. Now hold it together. You can cry in the car later. YOU WILL NOT CRY in front of the cow parts.”
It was here that I called Rob, desperately hoping he might be running an errand or grabbing lunch somewhere nearby. Disastrously, he was at home.
“Ask the butcher for help.”
Yes, that was also his manly, meat-savvy advice with the Dead Bird Pot Roast Incident of 2011. And still 4 years later, I could not muster the self-confidence to admit defeat by short ribs to the guy in the white coat and hair net.
“I think I need to regroup. I’m going to move on to another section of my list. There are a lot of cans listed. I understand cans. I like cans. I’m going to go buy some cans.”
Almost suppressing his amusement, Rob told me he loved me and assured me I could handle grocery shopping.
I ended up at that other store. That other store spoke in Basic Meat, not the graduate level flanken that the other store did. They also had many many many Value Right packages of chicken breasts. Score!
Relieved and no longer fearing a public meltdown, I hoisted my 20 lbs of meat onto the conveyor belt. Much to my disappointment, there was no commentary from the cashier. I had conquered the meat department!!! I was buying more meat...all by myself!...than I ever have in my life!!!! I wanted to talk about it! Aaaaand….nothing.
So grateful I have a blog.
Ok, so we’ve established that am confused by meat and I hate to cook.
Also, I should note, I am an easily distracted cook. I must concentrate when I am measuring or determining ingredients or cutting something. I can submit as proof numerous baking disasters including similarly white ingredients, and those knife cut scars I mentioned earlier. I need quiet and calm and no talking when I am cooking. In fact, please don’t hang out with me in my kitchen and talk to me if I am cooking you dinner. It only distracts me and it might mean moving the dinner party to Urgent Care.
So given this, why I thought a cooking party was a good idea, I have no freakin’ idea.
I guess it hadn’t really occurred to me that we would be cutting stuff up. Those meal prep places have that all done for you. You just match the ingredients with color-coded spoons representing measurements and dump it in your baggie. It’s cooking Garanimals style. It’s cooking Toni style.
If I had put two brain cells together, it would have been obvious that I would be doing all the prep myself. All the prep using all the fabulous products and gadgets offered by Pampered Chef. It’s a product demo party – DUH!!
But somehow I missed that (Fair head) so I found myself having to cook last night. I had to chop and dice and measure. And worry about contaminating Gretchen's kitchen with salmonella with my 17 chicken breasts.
Since I was splitting the 4-person recipes in half, I also got to do math. I believe I will forever remember than half of a tablespoon is equal to 1.5 teaspoons. And that 1/6 of a cup equals 3 tablespoons.
That last one was amusing to figure out. I needed half of a third of a cup. I was talking out loud, confirming my math.
“OK, so a half of a third is a sixth, right? Does anyone have a one-sixth cup measuring cup? Oh, wait, here’s a big one that has one-fourth and one-eighth marked, so I could just measure half-way between those, right?”
At this point, Gretchen was consulting her measurement conversion chart and murmuring, “This is why I teach first grade.”
A pinch of this, a dash of that
The measuring thing was a bit of an adventure, too. It turns out that my $80 up front bought me a whole bunch of special Pampered Chef spices that were critical to the recipes. Nine bottles of stuff like Asian Seasoning Mix, and Crushed Peppercorn and Garlic Rub, and Lemon Rosemary Rub, and Three Onion Rub. So many rubs!
You’ll notice that they are in alphabetical order. Because now that I am home, they are. But at Gretchen’s house, I resisted the urgent need to be efficient and organized. Because well, I’m publicly quirky enough as it is.
I was told that the caps of the rubs had little lines in them to serve as measuring spoons. But with having to halve, I determined that using the fancy Pampered Chef multi-measuring spoon was more precise. Except that all of its fanciness didn’t fit into any of the bottles.
Now if you are in the business of making things handy in the kitchen...and you have your own line of $8 spice bottles AND your own line of measuring spoons...wouldn’t you think it would be an obvious conclusion to design your spoons to fit inside your expensive bottles? Wouldn’t that convenience be a point of differentiation? Don’t you suppose cooks might pay extra for that “isn’t that clever” timesaver? Ummm, hello?
So yeah, I kinda wasn’t sold on the Pampered Chef gadgetry. Now mind you, I don’t enjoy cooking so maybe I’m missing something. On the other hand, I might very well be one of their key targets – the Reluctant Cook who needs expensive tools and implements to make the kitchen experience fun and exciting. If that’s the case, they missed their mark.
Like, for example the can openers that nobody could figure out how to use so we all felt stupid. Once the cans were opened – typically by the Consultant’s helper – we then had to use a special tool on the opener itself to take the lid off. The little grabber tool was so tiny and hard to see, I had to take my glasses off, too. Gretchen eventually rescued us by sneaking us her old-fashioned opener when the Pampered Consultant wasn’t looking.
Or the guillotine-like chopper for the bell peppers that looked like one of those apple corer things but with even sharper blades and a base that required precision. I had been chopping along just fine the old fashioned way, but the Consultant showed me how I could lose about 2 minutes and a finger if I used the Veggie Wedger instead.
I had made a little pile of chopped peppers and zucchini and was scooping it up with my hands to dump in my freezer bag when the Consultant showed me a fancier way. Instead of having to wash my hands, I could wash my hands AND a fancy little scraper thing to push the veggies into a pile. Then I could add the table and floor to my clean-up duties when about 10% of my veggies went sideways while trying to transfer them to the bag. Yay, thanks Pampered Chef!
The fast chopper thing that worked by pounding on a plunger to chop was pretty cool. I worked out a lot of stress on that. In other news, I think I might have over-chopped the onions. And the carrots. And the celery. But I was in a better mood afterwards.
I was working on grating an 8oz block cheese with a fancy gadget when the Consultant happened by.
“How are you liking that grater? Pretty handy, huh?”
At this point I was unfortunately past the point of pretending I was feeling pampered. I looked at her with a weary smile and said, “Honestly, I usually buy cheese that’s already grated. This is a lot more work than I would put in at home.”
That then led to a discussion about how the pre-grated stuff has added cornstarch to keep the cheese from clumping, all the while I was thinking, “Other than the fact that it is white, I like cornstarch. Cornstarch is not a problem for me. Am I supposed to be anti-cornstarch? Why is cornstarch bad?”
Did I mention I hate cooking?
I did my best to enjoy the party, I really did. It was a fun group of women and I enjoyed their teen kids. And the sample meal we had as a snack was pretty tasty.
But eventually, after I had completed 12 of my 20 baggies, I sort of hit a wall. I was tired, my body hurt from standing, my head hurt from the helpers' toddler and his baby sister just doing what kids do.
I had danced around the kitchen quite a bit, moving from my small work station near the Scentsy candle to the cutting station to the grating station to the trash bag to the recycling box to the sink. All the while trying not to bump into one of the other dancing cooks. Gretchen’s mom and I are pretty chummy now even though we didn’t say much to each other besides “So sorry! Excuse me! Whoops!”
In all fairness, I did sort of enjoy the first 6-8 meals. I was zipping along and enjoying listening to the chatter in the kitchen. After that, though, I was singularly focused on using up all my $139.17 worth of groceries and stuffing them in my freezer for some eventually use. I really hope they end up being edible and that I actually put in approximately the right amounts of the right ingredients. I really have no idea. I’m just relieved nothing was white.
My other options were some scrapers or a recipe book. Obvious choice.
When I got home about 3.5 hours later, I hobbled into the house smelling of assorted rubs.
“How did it go?”
“So much cooking. So much cooking. I’m never doing that again. So much cooking.”
I shared with Rob some of the highlights of the evening, including the fact that I had won a prize.
“Cool! What did you win?”
“A brush thing. I don’t know what it’s for. She said she uses hers for everything.”
Evident that we are still in the midst of our master shower reconstruction, I added, “It looks like it’s for grout.”
Rob burst into laughter. Because really, why would a kitchen gadget company give away a grout brush as a prize?
Well, the joke’s on him.
I fished out the brush this morning to take a closer look. It is officially a “Dual-Sided Cleaning Brush” that is “...the ultimate cleaning tool for areas...around faucets, sinks, drains, and grout lines.”
HA! I'm good at cleaning. I like to clean. Maybe I do have a future in the kitchen after all!
|The fruit of my loins...sort of|