The Microwavable Malady

November, 1999

       In my opinion one of the lesser reasons Man chooses to find his mate is his strong desire for self preservation, because it is indeed a sad fate for one to expire prematurely due to the work of one's own hand in the kitchen. No man wishes to have his autopsy report contain the phrase "cause of death- undercooked pork with excessive mustard."
       I have generally been a happy camper, more or less enjoying the sedentary suburban lifestyle of a man lucky enough to have a wife who stays home during the day and prepares lavish meals for his enjoyment. Because of this, I am accustomed to to dealing with food by proxy- either by spouse or waitress, and for the last ten years I have rarely been involved with either its procurement or preparation (with the possible exception of meals cooked over charcoal, wood fire or wok.) Not that I am piker in regard to food, on my own I have managed to keep body and soul together long enough to recite my wedding vows. I did however, exist upon a simple diet. Sandwiches are simplicity itself. Add bread to meat- then pray and eat. Fruit is generally self explanatory- Man from the days of Adam on down has mastered the apple (with the help of Eve) Canned goods pose no challenge- once the container is breeched, just heat and eat-- right out of the cooking vessel. 
         But when the event calls for the mixing of sauces or marinades- such alchemy is beyond me. Chefspeak is a strange dialect totally foreign to my technical realm. (In my world brazing involves metal and acetylene torches- not beef or lamb in a saucepan.) Sifters, graters and whisks-- these are wizard's tools, used by culinary conjurers to create Nouveux French banquets out of day-old tuna wiggle.
As of late, due to scheduling conflicts, I have found myself in the dubious and frightening position of having to prepare the occasional meal for myself and my children. This is a situation fraught with personal terror.
       But my wife came to the rescue(of sorts) by purchasing several complete microwave dinners. "Just put them in the microwave," she said reassuringly, "and they'll be ready in a couple minutes." A cursory examination revealed the entrees to be "fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, with corn on the cob", and the picture on the box indicated that the contents were indeed pleasing to the eye. At this juncture I felt a surge of confidence and a readiness to test my abilities as a new microwave sous-chef!
But little did I know that I was about to become a victim of a charlatan clothed in the sham of mass marketing-- a guilded lily to be sure.
      When the time had arrived to knuckle in and actually cook the beast, as I made a close study of the directions to this "radio dinner", I discovered that I had stepped clean out of my league. The cooking instructions were more complicated than those given to insurgents charged with the overthrow of a small monarchy. The instructions read as follows:
#1 Puncture film cover and gravy pouch---set gravy aside.
#2 Heat dinner 2 minutes on high, peel back film cover. Remove chicken--set aside.
#3 Re-cover and heat corn and potatoes on high 2 minutes.
#4 Stir potatoes, return chicken to plate-- and recover with film cover.
#5 Place gravy pouch next to plate in oven
#6 Heat entire meal on high for 3-4 minutes or until hot. Let stand one minute.

     This process was an absolute departure for me in terms of substantive survival. Up until this point the majority of my food purchases have been of a type whose consumption is characterized by a two-step process--
#1 Open package. 
#2 Eat contents.
(In a state of urgency, step #1 may be skipped) 
     This system has functioned flawlessly for me for several decades, whether the food is handed to me through a drive-through window, over a counter or delivered to my residence by a mercenary. But I digress.... 
     I followed the dinner instructions as deftly as possible- excising and installing the chicken entree with a hand as precise as a tenured brain surgeon, and commanding the microwave with the skill of a space shuttle pilot. When the final bell sounded, I was ready- I scooped the plate out of the oven, poured on the contents of the gravy packet----- and Voila' --- dinner in its own dish! A triumph of Man over poultry. I rushed to the dining room with my treasure.
      After sampling some of the fruit of my labor- this dining experience would be most accurately described as a culinary vacuum, a vague nothingness upon the palate, of which no known condiment could rescue. But it was only the bland before the storm. In a matter of minutes, the entire pestilence sank as ballast to the bottom of my stomach, whereupon it began to wage a digestive campaign not unlike the attack on Pearl Harbor. I determined that the meal could not possibly be complete without the addition of at least two antacid tablets, and the truth-in advertising laws would best be served by having the outside of the serving dish inscribed with the name "Fido" or "Rover" . 
       In the future, If I were to be placed into a similar circumstance, I may plan to forgo the formalities and simply eat the silly thing right out of the box and save time and effort. (If I have enough Pepcid on hand) Cooked or uncooked, I can't imagine much of a difference in flavor. 

Bon app`etit!


Neil