Sean filed through the dish rack searching for a fork…
Or a spoon…
Or a spatula…
Or a knife, at this point.
With the victorious enthusiasm of an archaeologist who’s just located a solid-gold hundred-year-old gravy boat, he held the four crooked stainless steel prongs up to the one ceiling fan bulb that hadn’t burnt out yet and examined it for residual crusted food particles.
He closed his eyes briefly and smirked, deeming it satisfactory, and took to the pot of spaghetti.
“I should be done in a minute,” he said. Sean took a premature bite followed by a slurp of air to cool his singed palate.
His lips pursed. ‘What’s missing?’ A long list of spices boarded his train of thought and he considered each as it passed.
“It probably needs salt,” he called into the living room where his three roommates waited eagerly, “Do you want to taste it? It might need something acidic like lemon or vinegar…”
He added two shakes of salt and whirled it around in the pot to mix. Dropping his elbow, he tossed the whole thing with the confidence of Emeril Lagasse. His roommate Nick came in for the taste test.
The experience was temporarily daunting. Sean was in control, something equally empowering and terrifying, all riding on the bite his roommate now chewed. If he were on Chopped, this is when they would zoom in on that bead of sweat charging toward his eyebrow.
Though it was just simple pasta, Sean considered with every meal that if it was bad, it was his fault, and if it was good, he could feel proud of himself.
Nick announced the results: “It’s good!”
The thought train came screeching along the tracks again as Sean remembered the times, more than 10 years ago by now, that his step mom stood close enough behind him to step in only if there was a fire or spill. She guided his early culinary education in such a way that was inspiring without demanding. She let him watch her cook, and when he was ready, she gave him the spoon.
With good roots in the enjoyment of preparing food, Sean carried on discovering what goes well together and what foods are quick and easy yet delicious and capable of serving an apartment of college guys.
When he opens the butter dish only to find a few crumbs hanging onto hardened yellow streaks left by a serrated plastic knife –eye roll- he fishes out the margarine from behind the stacked, 18-count egg cartons.
When there was no buttermilk for the pancakes last weekend, he gathered the two bottles of lemon juice –one is always mostly empty, however that happens- off the door from behind a club-size ketchup. Lemon juice, he said, can be mixed with milk for a similar effect.
Sean took the fork back from Nick, and resolved to add one last shake of salt and a pinch of paprika, and killed the burner.
“Okay, start getting plates,” he directed, “double them up so the oil won’t soak through.” Plates could be gathered, but they’d have to fend for their own utensils.
Using the dishrag no one could remember who had washed last -and therefore couldn’t decide who should wash next- Sean lifted the pot off the stove and scanned through the cutting board, small appliances, likely dirty bowls, and crumpled paper towel for a place to set it down.
After shifting his weight and gaze from left to right a few times, he plonked the pot back on the stove. Everyone would serve himself straight from the pot.
There wasn’t one piece of silverware left that matched another, the counter was too dirty to clean, and the pot was too small for the amount he made, but still, out of it all bore a little feast of Italian cuisine. And he and his roommates savored every bite.