I am a creature of habit. However, sometimes I just gotta demolish that comfort zone. I do something crazy. Something fraught with peril. Something so outside of the realm of our collective logical and emotional capacity it tests the very limits of the human soul.

Mike ... cooks a meal.

“Huh. You’re cooking tonight, eh?”

My girlfriend didn’t sound impressed.

“Honey, did I mention the part where it tests the very limits of the human sou—”

“Yeah, yeah. But Mike, most people actually do cook. You know, regularly.”

(Author’s note: I find this hard to believe. I have literally not cooked a meal in five years, and I generally assume most people are exactly like me, only way more annoying.)

I’m not sure what prompted this urge to dust the dead flies off the ol’ frying pan, but maybe it had something to do with my girlfriend’s last visit.

“Mike, we went to restaurants for every meal this weekend and spent $50 a pop. We can’t keep doing that.”

“You’re right. We’ll start tipping less than 15 percent.”

“No, no, we have to eat in once in a while. You always have some pathetic excuse why we can’t.”

“Honey, I don’t have a stove. That’s a darn good excuse.”

“Yes. And it’s pathetic.”

I do, however, have a hot plate. And, fortunately, I’ve done my research. (Author’s Mike-Follows-Cool-Trends Note: “Research” means I’ve watched every episode of “Nailed It!” — a wildly popular cooking show where regular people attempt to re-create complex desserts, fail spectacularly, and mold Rice Krispie Treats into some dessert-ish shape instead.)

Unfortunately, I am a confirmed bachelor. (Author’s Mike-Is-Clueless Note: I’m not entirely sure what that term means, but I am hereby confirming that I’m a bachelor. Take that, stupid vague terms.) As such, I have a typical bachelor’s refrigerator. At this moment, the only things in it are beer, soda and milk (likely spoiled).

I do, at times, have occasion to keep other typical bachelor things in my fridge, such as the body parts of random drifters I pick up in the neighborhood. (Author’s Good Citizen Award Note: That may seem awful, but honestly, do you really want that element lurking here in town? You’re welcome.)

My girlfriend provided me with a recipe. Of course, she insisted on foods that were “healthy.” I called them something much more damning.

“Quinoa? Yuck. That’s one of those NPR foods.”

I hit the grocery store. Finding all the ingredients for this recipe took eons, but I got every one. I wheeled my cart to the register — bruised, beaten, but still standing. The fresh-faced clerk greeted me with a grin and announced that it was his first day. He started by ringing up an item I’d thrown in as a sugary security blanket.

“Whoa!” he exclaimed. “Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tarts. That’s my favorite flavor.”

“I know, right? They’re perfect.” We both laughed and nodded, our common nutritional bond instantaneous. Like kindred checkout spirits. Did I mention he looked approximately 12 years old?

Then Checkout Boy reached for the next item. One of dozens of those little produce bags. He held it up and stared. “Um, what’s this?”

“A jalapeno. They’re in that basket up front.”

“I thought those were wax displays.” He searched for a code on his monitor and rang it up. Then he picked up the next two bags containing fuzzy brown orbs. “Um, are these both kiwis?”

“No. One’s a lime. The other’s an avocado. And you might want to freshen up that produce.”

Things got tense. Checkout Boy began to panic-swipe his monitor. There were PA announcements. Yelling across aisles. Teams of managers huddled at my register deciphering codes. (Actual quote: “Ohhhhhh, you spell cilantro with a C.”)

As I finally wheeled away, the look of shellshock on Checkout Boy’s twitching face was unmistakable. I think I broke him.

And later, at my apartment, I broke myself. I totally underestimated the effort involved in preparation. To me, “food prep” means putting the Hot Pockets in the crisping sleeves before microwaving them. It’s one task. One task I usually consider too much trouble.

This recipe contained approximately 793 tasks. Some things needed to be minced. Others chopped. Still others diced. (Author’s Other Mike-Is-Clueless Note: If anyone looks up my search history and finds the question “Is there a difference between chopping, mincing and dicing?” I ask them not to judge me.)

Besides, I have a handicap! I don’t have any those fancy-schmancy tools you see on “Nailed It!” I have to cut without cutting boards, measure without measuring cups, cover pots without pot covers. A can opener? What kitchen has that?

The actual cooking part was a festival of anxiety that ranked somewhere between the first date with my girlfriend and every single moment since with my girlfriend. In the end, half the quinoa was burned to the bottom of the pan, it tasted like feet, and the entire process took about three hours, not including the extra time spent in the bathroom the next morning.

(Editor’s Note: I told Mike if he ever uses another “Author’s Note” in a column he will be found buried under a heap of Stowe Reporter foliage inserts. You’re welcome.)

But I finished. And yelled out a hearty “Nailed It!” just like in the show. And if I learned anything from “Nailed It!” it’s that you can take pride in your accomplishment even if it’s not perfect. Also, to have a boatload of Rice Krispie Treats on hand just in case. Mmm.

•••

Grocery store. One week later.

Mike wheels his cart to the register. Checkout Boy awaits, looking not the least bit fresh-faced. He recognizes Mike and gasps in terror. Mike places a box on the checkout counter. Checkout Boy’s eyes light up.

“Whoa. Pepperoni Pizza Hot Pockets. That’s my favorite flavor.”

“I know, right? They’re perfect.”

I think I unbroke him.


Mike Mulhern lives in Stowe. Email letters to news@stowereporter.com.

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