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The art of cooking - Martha Carr

My culinary skills have always left a little something to be desired. I lack that instinctive element that tells a good cook to add a little more salt or just a little rosemary or even just how long to cook a chicken breast.

My son, Louie, who at least survived enough to get to adulthood, still loves to tell his friends about the fried chicken breast that was neatly charred on the outside and raw on the inside. He poked a fork in the chicken's side and blood came out. I got out the bread and peanut butter.

He uses a tone of voice usually reserved for tales of being tortured by generally malicious people. I was trying to make something tasty, not instill nightmares. When I point that out, he rolls his eyes.

When I was living in New York, I took cooking classes at the Whole Foods store down in the Bowery that were taught by visiting chefs from restaurants in Manhattan. The dishes were relatively simple to make but were beautiful to look at and tasted like we all knew what we were doing.

However, even then I kind of goofed. There was an incident with the fish baked in banana leaves when I forgot to add any salt. The dishes were then distributed for eating in no particular order. An older man looked up, disappointed, after his first bite and said, "Someone forgot the salt." The curse continued.

I tried a soup that had only three ingredients and watched the pot, stirring occasionally. Somewhere in between the stirring I still managed to burn the soup and every bite had a certain crispy taste to it.

I became legendary as the girl who could follow a recipe and come out with a different dish every time. When potluck lists were made, I was automatically given the task of bringing the roast chicken because I could get that, already made, from the local grocery store.

Once I was given fruit salad and went by Sam's Club the night before and picked up a frozen bag of fruit salad. Who knew it would take more than a day for the bag to defrost. All of the fruit bits had a nice, frosty crunch to them.

I come by my lack of cooking skills honestly. My mother, Tina, who managed to get five children to adulthood, may have had some of the same challenges. My mother faithfully reads this column in her local Florida newspaper and clips each one. So let's just say she was one of the first to buy, in bulk, the Chef Boyardee pizza in a box, the first instant dinner of its kind, and would say with a lot of enthusiasm, "Look kids, you can do it yourself!"

There was also a famous clear Jello and tuna with peas and carrots recipe, which is probably all I need to say about that one.

However, things may be inexplicably changing. I asked Louie to give me a crock pot for Christmas and a couple of dishes have turned out OK. I even attempted a chicken with garlic that turned out so well, Louie looked up in amazement and said, "You made this?"

I understand why he was baffled. It was not only cooked through, it was really good.

My success with the crock pot has encouraged me to get a recipe book and friends have been sending me recipes they've spotted. I'm on a roll of sorts.

This is one of those rules of getting older that no one really tells you. Yes, there are some things that you may not be able to do very well anymore, or at all, but suddenly there are some new talents that emerge to replace them. There's always this balance thing going on that only requires us to keep trying new things.

I may get older but I only grow stale if I stop seeking out something new to learn. More adventures to follow.

Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail Martha at Martha@caglecartoons.com.