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After watching me spoon up strikingly similar green concoctions from the same rotating set of Tupperware containers each day for the past 52 weeks, one of my co-workers finally had the gumption to ask, "So, do you do all of the cooking in your house?"
I was not entirely sure what was driving her question. Then another colleague jumped in.
"And does everything that comes from your kitchen involve cabbage, onions and hot peppers in some way?" she asked.
That is when I knew it was probably a little of both curiosity and pity that compelled the pair. They actually wanted to know who was to blame for my seemingly routine, aromatically obscene and invariably green diet.
"Oh, I do all of the cooking at our place," I said proudly.
They seemed relieved, yet at the same time troubled.
"Kristin likes to bake, and our teenager, Sylvia, is a cookie-making machine, but I just have no patience for that oven stuff. I'm the house cook but I won't bake."
"Well, they do say that cooking is an art and baking is a science," quipped another co-worker. "Maybe you're more of an artist than a scientist."
The lunchroom discussion ended with a round chuckle, but I would ponder that statement on my ride home that evening. My wife, the artist, was able to cook at least to a rudimentary degree and had therefore proven true to her calling. However, I, although a lifelong science geek and proud owner of a college degree in the "hard science" of biology could not seem to bake to save my own life! Was I truly not the science-minded man I had always fancied myself to be? Was I an abject failure based upon on this single measure of the scientific mind? Was I living a lie?
It was a fear of self-loathing that drove me into the kitchen only days later in an attempt to prove that I had the science chops to bake real food for real people, as opposed to cooking endless variations of "Cabbage in the Crockpot" that sustained only me.
For fear of failure, my test would involve the simplest of missions. I had purchased a pumpkin bread "kit" which included all the necessary ingredients (short of eggs, oil and water) necessary to hatch a fully-fledged pumpkin loaf from the oven -- including a can of batter-ready pumpkin meat.
I spun quite the spectacle there in the kitchen, measuring and whisking, cracking eggs and greasing pans. Then I carefully spooned every last bit of batter into the baking pan, closed the oven door and set the timer.
"Now we wait," I said with the maniacal cackle of a mad scientist. "Success will soon be mine!"
Kristin, who had been closely observing this spectacle from the next room, shook her head and palmed her face.
"I don't know about that, John," she said while pointing a finger toward the countertop. "I feel like your odds would have been better if you would have included the main ingredient!"
There on the counter in front of me sat the unopened can of pumpkin!
"So maybe I am more of an artist," I said unflinchingly. "Let's just say I'm making it my own."
(Check out John's weekly podcast "Out There In It" on TheVoiceOfHolmesCounty.com)