A few nights ago, I stayed up late watching a reality show on television. I am not a reality TV fan, and yet I was quickly snared in the dramatic suspense of competitive cooking. Who knew that cooking could be so combative! The fighting. The sniping. The trash-talking. I might have been watching the NFL! Though bleary with tiredness and unable to focus binocularly, I was unable to quit: I utilized just one eyeball at a time, alternating like a schizophrenic pirate.
I can't explain how I got involved in watching this program. I don't even like to cook! But right away I was hooked on the confidence factor: Each chef was utterly convinced -- and convincing -- of their professional superiority over all the other Pillsbury Doughboy look-alikes. "I'm the best," was stated so often I suspected it was code for something.
Afterwards I wondered: How does someone gain such a supreme level of confidence? Is it learned, like Ashtanga yoga, where you reach the heights of satisfaction only after years of practicing how to intertwine your limbs into a pretzel? Maybe you can buy confidence supplements on the internet, like the fish oil capsules that are stinking up my medicine cabinet or the green coffee bean extract I bought to help me lose weight. I wonder what medically scientific remedy Dr. Oz recommends for this sort of thing?
I am not "the best" at anything. I can do a few things adequately. I can drive a five-speed on the steepest hills in San Francisco. I can captain a sailboat. I can do a back handspring (at least, I used to be able to do this). As a marine biology student, I spent a summer scooping unidentifiable clumps of muck off the sea bed from the deck of a trawler. It was during that course that I earned the impressive honor of being the only student on the boat who did not share the contents of her stomach with the class. But that's hardly "the best."
One morning, I confronted my husband as he shaved in our bathroom mirror. "Do I have any remarkable skills?" I asked.
He concentrated on shaving, but his hand paused as if sensing danger. "Sure."
"What?" I pressed. "What am I good at?"
He rinsed the blade under the water, buying time. "You're good at taking care of me," he said with a hopeful itch in his eyebrow.
"Very funny." I would not let him off that easy. "Seriously. I am worried about this. I can't honestly say I'm 'the best' at anything. Can you?"
"Absolutely." He wiped the foam off his neck and fled to another room.
"What? What are you best at?" I called out.
His footsteps were far away. He was already en route to the back door! "You didn't answer!" I shouted down the hallway. "What are you 'the best' at?"
Recently I got an email request from a nephew who was assembling a family scrapbook. He wanted everyone to send materials, photos, memories, recipes. "I don't have any recipes," I mentioned to my brother-in-law. "I am not known for my cooking."
"Oh yes you are," he said. "Your noodles-with-butter recipe is the best in the family. Everyone thinks so."
There it is! My noodles with butter is "the best." As well it should be: I worked on the delicately nuanced preparation for nine years as my younger son refused all foods for that near-decade other than noodles with butter and, for variety, Lucky Charms. I had plenty of time to perfect my technique and hone a process that requires exacting machinations and expert timing. Noodles. Slightly salted butter. I will not reveal the complete list of ingredients and instructions as I have submitted this top-secret formula to the US Patent Office and currently await their reply.
Now, throw me a tall chef's hat and a white apron. I'm here to compete!