Story – Too Many Cooks

Too Many Cooks

When I was in college, I dated a funny, bright, intelligent, and wonderful girl who was as generous as she was attractive.  Her friends were definitely her extended family and she would seldom balk at helping them whenever she could.  I was the typical college student, living on a shoestring budget.  I worked a couple of jobs, went to a lot of classes, studied, worked on class projects, etc. and slept as little as possible to keep myself from going nuts with the workload.

One week, I looked at my schedule over the weekend and just sighed.  There was too much going on.  It didn’t even look like I was going to have to time fix anything for dinner on Saturday, so it was going to be PBJ.  I sighed, wondering how I was going to get out of that.  My roommate somehow managed to get his time scheduled so much better than I did.  He was constantly making great things in the kitchen.  One evening, I’d gotten home from work and sat on the couch thinking about the amount of studying I had to do before I went to bed, and suddenly he thrust a plate of lasagna in my hands saying that I looked like I could use it.

Lasagna!  Man!  That’s what I’d like to have!  But again, no time and no budget for it.  I mentally shrugged my shoulders and went to the next book to study, but the thought of lasagna wouldn’t leave my mind.  It was Thursday night, and still not too late.  I wondered if I really could get some made.  As I thought about it, looking for a solution, I realized I wasn’t doing the studying that I needed to do.  That was the problem, in a nutshell.

Then I thought about my friend.  She liked to cook, and she might be up to making me dinner on Saturday.  It wasn’t too late; I knew she’d be up.  This was way before cell phones, so if I called, I ran the risk of waking her parents, but it really wasn’t that late.

She answered the phone.

“How’d you like to do me a favor on Saturday?” I asked.

“What favor?”  She was cautious.  I couldn’t image why.

“My schedule looks like hell this weekend and I don’t have time to make dinner on Saturday.  Would you make me dinner and bring it over?”  I tried to sound as plaintive as I could.

“Sure!” she exclaimed.  “I’d love to do that!  What would you like?”

“Would you be up to lasagna?”

“I can do that.”

“I can’t really contribute anything except a half-bottle of wine.”

“Don’t worry about it.  I’ll bring everything over.  What time?”

We discussed a few more details and hung up.  I went back to work gratified that I had friends like that.  I didn’t think too much more about, holding it in memory like a present.  Once in a while, I’d recall, and think, mmmm, Lasagna on Saturday.

By 7pm on Saturday, I was ready to be done with the world.  Friday had been non-stop, and Saturday had been worse.  I’d purposefully worked double hard so I could enjoy the evening.  Just before 7pm, my friend showed up outside my duplex, so I went out to help her.

“Thanks so much for this!” I said.  “You can’t believe how much this helped out.”

“Better wait till you taste it.” She said drily.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine.” I replied, not wanting to appear ungrateful.  And, for the record, I was grateful.  Anything she brought was going to be good.

“I wouldn’t bet on that.  Let’s get this stuff in, and heating up, and pour a glass of wine.  I’ll tell you what happened.”

Puzzled, I complied and within a few minutes, the garlic bread and lasagna were safely in the oven, and the salad was in the fridge.  I poured the wine (I’d bought more so we actually had plenty) and sat down on the couch.

“So, tell me what happened.”

She took a deep breath and began.  “We use an old family recipe at our house when we make anything Italian.  I’ve never made lasagna before so Mom helped me.  This old family recipe calls for half a teaspoon of cinnamon in a whole pot of sauce.  So I followed the recipe and put everything in it.  Then later, I tasted it and couldn’t taste any cinnamon at all.”

I thought quickly.  “Wouldn’t cinnamon just add a smoky background if you only add that much?  Kind of like cocoa in chili?”

She shrugged.  “I don’t know.  I was just following a recipe.  But it didn’t taste like what our sauces usually do, so I added another half-teaspoon.”

I nodded.  Made sense, if you weren’t sure what you were looking for.  “So why won’t I like this?  It sounds great.”

“Well, just before it was done, I figured it couldn’t hurt, so I added another half-teaspoon of the cinnamon as well as a little more garlic.  Well, you like garlic!” she said as I looked at her.

“You’re not done yet, are you?”

“Nope.  What I didn’t know was that Mom was doing the same thing.  She thought I wouldn’t put any cinnamon in, so she put the first half-teaspoon in, and then the second half-teaspoon.”

I started to laugh.  “Please say that she didn’t add anymore!”

She started laughing too.  “Actually, she did add more because she said she always added a little more than the recipe called for.”  A whole tablespoon of cinnamon!

Just then a delightful aroma of cinnamon wafted through the apartment.  It didn’t have the same flavor profile as a cinnamon bun, but it was definitely not lasagna.  We waited a while longer for it to heat thoroughly, then dug into it.

It tasted like cinnamon, tomatoes, garlic, and cheese.  Overall, it tasted wonderful!  It was reminiscent of curry, but much more Italian than that.  We both ate second helpings.  And when I had more the next day, after the flavors had time to blend even further, it was phenomenal.  That would have been in 1983-4 and to this day I can still remember the amazing flavor.

I’ve added cinnamon to almost everything ever since.


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  1. This story explains a LOT ! A few of us used to have an inside joke “Does he put Cinnamon in everything?” because it seemed like every recipe you described had it in it.. Now I understand !

    • Actually, I’ve scaled back on the cinnamon a LOT. I only use it once in a while. I always laugh when I remember the Seinfeld episode where Jerry talks about the “secret ingredient” always being cinnamon.

  2. So do you have a new recipe for lasagna; plenty of cinnamon. Love cinnamon a great addition to anything.

    • Watch for one in the next couple of days. I’ll post a “Mock Lasagna Casserole” and a real lasagna that’s no-fail! Did you like the story?

      • I enjoyed the story and good title “Too Many Cooks”. You never know who’s going to go into the kitchen and slip in a bit more spices and/or herbs. Great title.

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