No Substitutions

OK, so maybe I have learned a few cooking tips over time. With indignant tones, I want the record to show that I have been wrongly labeled a bad cook. So what if as a child I misread the instructions to the cake and put in 1 and ¼ cup oil instead of ¼ cup? And so what if I’ve burnt water? I didn’t actually burn the water, I just left the pot on the burner so long that the water evaporated and scorched the pot. That happened when I was so young—like elementary and junior-high young. I am now an adult, and I have signature dishes: banana bread, fried rice and cream puffs. I traveled to Maine last year and learned how to make dinner rolls, so now I have four things I can make.

In fact, just tonight, I attempted spaghetti from scratch, and it was edible. I mean, I didn’t make the pasta or anything, I just boiled some boxed noodles … but I did make the sauce without Prego.

So why am I so defensive? Because I am an approximater, and that doesn’t always result in a deliciously creative dish.

Exhibit A: Thanksgiving dinner of 2006. Yes, this only happened weeks ago. I was making deviled eggs as I do every holiday. Only this time, I traveled two hours, so I was relying on the host house to provide the mayonnaise and other secret ingredients. Not a lick of mayonnaise was to be seen in the house. Those yolks needed something to hold them together!

I looked no further than the counter where my sister was preparing the mashed potatoes. In her possession was a container of sour cream. Hmmm. Sour cream is white. It holds my ranch dip together. Why not this? I scooped generous amounts of sour cream in with the yolks and mixed. The consistency wasn’t exactly the same, but it would do. I filled the egg halves, and my sister and I counted to three before tasting to check if they were worthy of presenting them to the family.

Try to imagine sour egg yolks. Yeah, that’s disgusting. But that was not my crowning achievement because at least I tried it before passing it off as normal.

Exhibit B: Easter dinner of 2005. I was in charge of making the green bean casserole. Not a problem. Or so I thought. I forgot to buy the cream of mushroom soup. That’s perjury. I didn’t forget, I thought I had a can in my cupboard as standard cooking supplies, but I was mistaken.

What was in the cupboard, however, was a can of white enchilada sauce. My mind reasoned, “Should I? What difference does it really make? It will be like an Alfredo green bean casserole. The white kind doesn’t have spice does it?” Yes it does. But I convinced myself it would work.

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I also didn’t want to alert the family to a change in ingredients because they would automatically pick up on the differences and reject it. I sat and watched my family members individually take bites of the casserole. Their faces told me the truth. The substitution was noticed. My brother-in-law was the first to comment, “Wow, this casserole has kick.” Others chimed in once the subject was breached and all inquired as to what special ingredient I put into it. I confessed to the whole thing and have been permanently taken off green bean casserole duty and poked fun at every holiday.

I deserve it. I should have learned my lesson long ago, that there are no substitutions in life. It’s always best to take the correct path rather than the easy one. I should have schlepped to the store on both occasions and bought the necessary ingredients or better yet, I could have gotten to know my neighbors by asking to borrow the items. But I didn’t, and I have to live with the jeering consequences.

So, please learn from my mistakes and accept no substitutions this holiday. Do not trade what is real for what is close enough.

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