Fanciful Oddities

Jenny’s Gift

Jenny’s Gift

Jenny flipped through the pages of the well worn cookbook.

“There’s got to be something here,” she mumbled, taking a swig of her diet soft drink.

Just then the front door swung open, slamming against the wall. Jenny jumped. Her brother, Tim, would never be accused of entering a room unnoticed.

He tossed his school books on the table. They slid, strewing what had been a neatly arranged stack of mail. He stepped into the kitchen, then stopped suddenly when he spotted Jenny.

“What’s wrong with this picture?” he asked.

Jenny gave him a casual glance, then continued to turn the pages. “I don’t know what you mean,” she said.

“Jenny Sanders and a cookbook,” he said. “Again I ask, what’s wrong with this picture?”

Jenny slammed the book shut. “I can cook!”

He laughed. “Oh, yeah. If you count that cookie dough you buy in a roll.” He opened the refrigerator door and searched its contents. Finally he grabbed an apple and bit into it with a crunch. “Really. What are you doing with a cookbook?”

Jenny sighed. She knew there was no avoiding this. Bracing herself, she said, “I’m entering a cooking contest.”

His mouth dropped open, revealing his unswallowed apple. “You?” he asked.

Before he could say more, Jenny continued. “I was down at the mall, looking for a gift for Mom and Dad’s anniversary. Things are pretty expensive, you know?”

Tim shrugged. “So?”

“I mean, I’ve got my babysitting money, but I really wanted to buy them something nice. Well, I was passing by this store, and I noticed a sign. It said, ‘Young Chef’s Cuisine Contest’. The prize is one of those fancy food processors that does everything…chops, slices, grates and all sorts of stuff.”

“Does it give cooking lessons, too?” he asked, a smirk on his face.

Jenny ignored this. “I’m going to enter that contest. If I could win the food processor, it would be a great gift for Mom and Dad’s anniversary!”

Tim tossed his bare apple core into the trash. As he walked out of the kitchen, he called back over his shoulder. “Good luck! Just don’t burn the house down.”

The next day, Jenny hurried home after school. She balanced her school pack on her hip as she unlocked the front door. Setting down her bag, she entered the kitchen.

Jenny picked up the cookbook. There were four categories to the contest–main entrees, salads, breads, and cookies. Which one should she enter? She decided to experiment with different recipes. She’d start with biscuits.

Jenny found the page of biscuit recipes and read….biscuits, buttermilk biscuits, bacon biscuits, cheese biscuits. I never knew there were so many types of biscuits, she thought. She skimmed further down and spotted one for herb biscuits.

“Hmmm,” she said aloud. “That sounds sort of healthy. Let’s try that.” She read off the list of ingredients…flour, baking powder, salt, shortening, milk, dry mustard, dry sage and caraway seeds. She searched her mother’s cupboards and shelves, wishing she’d paid more attention the last time her mother had tried to teach her to cook.

She managed to locate the flour, salt, and milk. Jenny scanned her mom’s limited supply of spices…no dry mustard, no dry sage, no caraway seeds. “Well,” she told herself, “When all else fails, improvise!”

Jenny grabbed the orange box of baking soda. This ought to do…baking powder–baking soda, same thing. Sage? She picked up the jar of dill weed. Sage sounds like a weed. Now, caraway seeds. She spotted the jar of poppy seeds. Seeds are seeds, right? Dry mustard…dry mustard…she opened the refrigerator and pulled out the squeeze-it bottle of hot brown mustard. Shortening? She retrieved a cube of margarine from the freezer.

Jenny read through the recipe. Sift together…sift? What was that? She tried to remember if her mom had mentioned how to sift? She shrugged. She’d just stir. Jenny poured the flour, salt, and baking soda together in a bowl. She tossed in the frozen margarine cube. White dust flew everywhere. She coughed, waving her hand in front of her face. No one ever told her cooking could be so hazardous.

She poured in the milk and struggled to stir the white powder and hard yellow lump. This didn’t look quite right. Maybe it just needed the other ingredients. She squirted in the mustard and added the dill weed and poppy seeds.

Jenny read the next few steps. Roll up..knead..pat out…cut? She thought of the cookie dough in the roll. All she had to do was cut and plop! She decided to skip a few steps and grabbed a small handful of biscuit dough. Rolling it into a ball, she placed it on the cookie sheet. There. That looks fine. She pulled up more dough and filled the sheet with lumpy white balls, speckled green and blue.

She opened the oven door and slipped the sheet of biscuits onto the rack. Didn’t Mom mention preheating or something like that? Oh, well, she thought, and turned the dial to 450 degrees.

She dutifully watched the clock. The required twelve minutes slowly ticked by. Finally, it was time! She grabbed a mitt and pulled open the oven door. She reached for the cookie sheet and placed it on top of the stove.

Jenny stared in disappointment at her masterpiece. The tops of the biscuits were dark brown, almost black. She tapped them with a fork. Weren’t biscuits supposed to be soft? She tapped a little harder, causing the biscuit to flip off of the stove and roll across the floor.

Jenny picked it up and tossed it out the door to her dog, Maddy. Maddy sniffed it, picked it up between her teeth and trotted off to a corner of the yard. Jenny felt a bit insulted as she watched Maddy dig a hole, drop in the biscuit and proceed to scratch dirt over it with her paw.

She looked at the cookbook again. Maybe she’d improvised just a tad too much?

Tomorrow she would dip into her babysitting money and stop by the corner grocery store to pick up the right ingredients. This time, she determined, she would make these biscuits exactly by the book–cookbook, that is!

Over the next few weeks, Jenny secretly practiced her recipes. She finally managed to turn out edible biscuits that even Tim liked. She learned to make a fresh spinach salad, oven-fried chicken and cinnamon jumbles–real cookies, none of that cookie in a roll stuff.

She decided to enter her cookies in the contest, which was on a Saturday. Since her mother would be home, Jenny had arranged to bake the cookies at her best friend Katie’s house.

The cookies turned out perfectly. She breathed in deeply the spicy cinnamon aroma. She picked one up and took a bite. The warm, moist cookie melted on her tongue. Delicious. Surely she had a chance of winning now!

Katie’s mother volunteered to drive the girls to the mall. As Jenny set her platter of cinnamon jumbles on her assigned spot on the cookie table, she glanced around at the competition. Her heart sank as she saw row after row of cookies much fancier than hers. She watched nervously as the judges nibbled on the various cookies and jotted down notes on their clipboards.

Finally, it was time to announce the winners. Jenny listened politely as the winners of the other categories were announced. It seemed to go on forever.

At last the announcer came to the cookie category. Jenny watched anxiously as one of the judges took the blue ribbon from the announcer and approached the table with her entry.  Her heart skipped a beat as his hand hovered over her cookies.  Finally, he placed the ribbon in front of the platter of delicate layered cookies next to hers. She sighed in disappointment.

Jenny rode home in silence. What was she going to do now? Mom and Dad’s anniversary was only a few days away and she’d spent all of her babysitting money on the recipe ingredients. What a dumb idea! she scolded herself. What made me think I could ever win a cooking contest?

Her friend Katie tried to console her. “Don’t feel bad, Jenny,” she said. “It was a really nice thing you tried to do for your parents.” She smiled. “Besides, at least you learned to cook.”

Great, thought Jenny, at least I learned to cook. Then she thought again. Hey, that gives me an idea!

They pulled up to the curb in front of Jenny’s house. She thanked Katie and her mother and ran inside. Jenny raced upstairs to her room.

She pulled out her art supplies and got to work. A half hour later, Jenny smiled at the results. She held up the decorated slip of paper and read,

“This coupon good for one home-cooked
anniversary dinner. The menu includes
oven-fried chicken, spinach salad, herb
biscuits and cinnamon jumble cookies.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!

Love, Jenny”

Note: The recipes mentioned in this story are from the Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook published by McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., copyright 1956.