Remember the random-numbers game?
That was a prank kids used to play when someone was counting something. Someone else would call out random numbers, in a fun-filled attempt to throw off the count.
It usually worked: In a couple of seconds, you’d be hopelessly confused. The only way out was to start over: “One, two, three, 24, 38, 12 . . . Y’all, stop!”
Good times, right?
When I work in the kitchen while someone else keeps me company, there’s another version: The random-recipe game.
Well-meaning visitors play it when I’m cooking. They’ll grab a cookbook or food magazine from my collection, flip through it and suddenly start reading aloud to me:
“Oh, this sounds good – Curry Pizza Thingamajigs. It has a cup of mayonnaise, a tablespoon of curry, a dozen slices of pepperoni … ”
And there I am at the counter, looking down at my batch of cookies and wondering why I just put a tablespoon of curry in a bowl of chocolate crinkle dough.
Ah, the joys of holiday cooking, when your house is full of friends and family. I love them all, I do. When I rebuilt my kitchen after a water leak last year, one of my requirements was a place for visitors to sit, so they could keep me company.
I just forgot that letting people into the kitchen means … people will be in my kitchen.
I love their help, and I love lively conversation while I’m slicing and dicing, although I really should stop talking with my hands. I just think there should be ground rules on the things we do in other people’s spaces.
I’m in other people’s kitchens a lot, so I have a few:
1. Be cautious about putting things away. I love a scavenger hunt as well as the next overgrown kid, but not if I’m still trying to find my turkey lifter next July.
My rule: If you didn’t get it out, don’t put it away. Yes, good guests should wash what they use and always offer to help with cleanup. But leave the weird utensil on the counter so the cook can return it to the right drawer.
2. Watch your timing when you ask for things. Of course I’d love to make you a pot of coffee, even though everyone else had breakfast two hours ago. But could you wait 5 minutes, until I get my hands out of this bowl of raw sausage?
3. Don’t suddenly decide to make something that wasn’t included in the shopping list. There’s nothing like discovering you’re short on eggs because someone developed a sudden desire to demonstrate their prowess with hollandaise.
4. See No. 3: If you need time and space at the stove to finish your contribution, let the cook know ahead of time. The time to demonstrate your prowess with hollandaise isn’t when I’m caramelizing sugar.
5. If you ask for it, use it. Hosts should always accommodate allergies and breakfast needs. But if you asked me to get it, you better eat it. Or you’re taking it with you when you go.
About those recipes you love to read out loud? I love talking recipes. Let’s do it … the next time dinner is at your house.