Nasty Olde Sauce

To quote the wisdom that occasionally escaped Knaus’s tightly lacquered coif, “There is nothing more pathetic than two guys trying to cook”. I believe the phase was first uttered in the dorms the time he cut the bottom off a 3 liter Mountain Dew bottle to serve as a bowl for his Chef Boy-ar-dee lunch, and had the sides melt into his beefaroni. He ate it anyway. In this case, however, it applies to the single most ill considered cooking experiment that took place in the kitchen of that grand old place. Before delving into the tale of the Nasty Old Sauce, it behooves me to lay out the environs of our cookery and the noble tradition we were upholding.

Upon first moving in to Comstock and attempts were still being made for the four of us to coalesce as cohesive unit, we adopted a short lived policy of taking turns each week to plan and cook a ‘family’ dinner that all would enjoy. I recall Knaus uncharacteristically volunteering for the first week and serving a remarkably decent pot roast with scalloped potatoes. It was a hard act to follow, but my week came next and garlic linguine was served to the hungry group. The wheels came off this tradition when we realized Jason was next in the queue, and having now spent close to a month in his unwashed presence, found ample reason to find new and creative excuses each week to avoid being forced, through the thin veil of feigned politeness that still existed, to sit down and eat something he had touched. Thus it died a quiet and unmourned death before the first snows began to fall.

Within the first 3 months of occupancy, cooking became a risky occupation full of deadly hazards. The invisible deliverers of ptomaine, salmonella, botulism, and possibly even Ebola lurked on every filthy, sticky surface. Over the sink hung a carefully constructed chart outlining the divvied up duties of each mate, although the schedule came to a grinding halt in early September. Diagnostics of the situation pinpointed the exact location where it was written ‘Week 3, Jason – kitchen’, and there remained locked and unmoving forevermore. In his defence, the author of every stain steadfastly insisted the kitchen was clean and felt no further action was required. From time to time, Aaron’s frustration would inspire him to do the dishes, or I, tired of having to pry a stuck cat off the fly trap floor, would get on my hand and knees and scrub. The effects generally lasted only until Jason grew hungry again.

Although it caused the vein in my forehead to throb with pulsating agony, Jason’s attempts at cooked cried out to be born witness to. Two particular instances stand out in my mind. The first was ‘Opening Day Lasagna’ and sticks out as it occurred immediately following one of my rare floor scrubs. It was our first spring in the house and I arrived home in good spirits given the delightful change in weather. I found Jason, also in a delightful mood, busy in the kitchen. My spirits immediately drooped. He gleefully informed me that each spring, on baseballs opening day, he had a tradition of making lasagna – one of the more complex of the pasta dishes. At the moment of my entry he was busily laying overcooked flat noodles across the bottom of a large ungreased pan. Looking past this at the stove, I observed a large pot boiling over on to the red hot electric burner, creating intense popping and steam. On the adjacent burner, also visibly red hot, he had a pan full to the brim of sauce, also boiling and spitting blobs of red over every surface within 5 feet, including the back of Jason’s white shirt and a curious cat. This was not going to end well, but I withheld immediately violently ending his capacity to continue.

Standing out of reach of the explosive sauce, I resolved at least to hinder his efforts though my presence as the floor, table and stove were already ruined once again. His method of bringing the noodles from the pot to the pan was to fish them out with a wooden spoon and carry them over with grubby fingers. I was able, though distraction and fridge entries, to cause him to drop 5 or 6 of the noodles on the floor where they would be beset by the perpetually starving cat. Rather than sacrifice one morsel to process, he elected to shoo away the hissing beast and add to his creation. His addition of the ricotta was fairly uneventful only dropping one huge spoonful on the table, again to the delight of the sauce covered cat. This was scooped up with fingers and added to the mess inside the pan. The sauce was more enjoyable as Jason had used the pot we had with no handle insulation and succeeded in burning his hand and spilling a generous portion of the sauce on the stove and floor. Where it hit the red hot burner, it began to bubble and burn, filling the kitchen with smoke and profanities.

Using only the thinnest layer of sauce possible, Jason managed to assemble all layers, leaving only half of the top layer sauce-less. The shredded mozzarella was dumped in the center of the top and spread about with the tips of his grime encrusted fingernails. During this process I enjoyed myself heckling him as he grew more and more frustrated. Finally, and to my relief, he banned me from partaking in the end result. I knew at that moment that I must redouble my efforts to aggravate him further for fear he would rescind.

He popped the pan in the oven, looked around the room, and satisfied that all work was done, tromped off to his bedroom to relax, leaving red sock prints on the floor where he had stepped in the spillings. Both burners were left on and glowing, neither heating anything but the room. The cat hungrily licked sauce and ricotta off the floor in what would be the best cleaning it would receive for the next few months. The sink was overflowing with far more preparatory dishes than needed to make even a banquet hall full of lasagna. I shook my head and walked away.

The next instance was just as comical. I was in my room and heard Jason swearing in the kitchen and telling the cat how he didn’t appreciate her interference. He sounded pretty upset, so I knew this would probably be good and came down. As per his usual MO of cooking everything at the hottest temperature possible, presumably for expediting, he had the burner on red hot with a boiling pot of water roiling and spitting at him. “I think it’s done Jason”, I offered helpfully. “No it’s not! I’m making stuffing and Malice keeps getting in the way.” Malice was always interested when we cooked as the original 8 oz box of Whiskas had run out our first week and was replaced on an increasingly infrequent basis. In any case, he seemed frazzled and with my calm demeanor and commentary only adding to it, I elected to stay.

“You sure that’s enough water? Looks like a lot of it boiled away or spilled out already.” He harrumphed and added a full fresh cup full from the sink. He opened the box of Stove Top knock off sold at the L&T, removed the foil pouch and began pulling on the sides with all his might to open it. Jason, for all his vaunted weakness, preferred the brute force method to finesse, which later made for excellent pranking. Predictably, the bag tore asunder, spilling bread crumbs about the kitchen floor which last saw the light of mop many moons ago. “Dammit!” Then, without recalibrating the water amount for the reduced amount of crumbs, he dumped them into the pot. He crunched about on the spillings in his foul socks as he continued his preparations. Stirring, he realized his error with the water and stooped down to floor to scoop up some of the spillings.

“You aren’t going to add those to the pot are you? Some girl Dan brought over yorked in that very spot not a week ago today, plus you already stepped on half of them.” He looked over, glowering at me though the fine greasy strands of hair before his beady eyes. “No! I’m just cleaning up.” This gave me the perfect opportunity to point out each and every crumb he missed under the table, by the sink, and as far away as the bathroom entrance. He scurried about in abject irritation, eyeing his pot with every handful found with longing to add them and thwarted only by my presence and sarcasm. His stuffing in the mean time had become a watery bread soup that was beginning to char on the bottom. “Wow. That looks like bread soup. Guess you should have taken out some water, huh?” His head snapped back, affixing me with a glare of pure hatred and for one instant I wondered if he had grown the stones to whip the pot at my head. He turned back and removed the pot, setting on the table, and leaving the burner to glow.

After pouring the bread soup into a bowl, he decided that with the reduced amount, his meal should be supplemented and began making one of his trademark PB&J sandwiches. Still self conscious of my observation, he fumbled with the jelly removing it from the fridge and let it fall to the floor where it cracked open and spilled. “Man, you’re just not having much luck today are you?” He didn’t reply and after removing the largest piece of glass blocking his access, appeared to be scooping up a portion with his knife. “I don’t know if I would do that. Could be invisible glass slivers in there.” He threw down the knife, got up and finished making a PB and no J sandwich. He gathered sandwich and the bowl and headed to the living room. “Aren’t you going to clean that up” By now his whole head had gone bright red and replied though clenched teeth, “I’ll do it later, Mike”.

“OK, but if the cat licks up glass, I bet Paul won’t be too happy at all.” He froze in place. Tales of Knaus’s capacity for over the top, nuclear level revenge had circulated around the house enough. Slamming his food down on what passed for a coffee table, he returned to clean the jelly, sticking himself with glass shards and turning his hands a sticky purple. The stain left to remain in place on the linoleum for several more months. “Dammit! Malice!” The cat had taken the opportunity of his distraction to start on the bread soup, although that was not enough to prevent him from eating it anyway. Fully entertained, I retired to my room.

But I digress… The tale of the nasty olde sauce represents one of the more harmless, yet most poorly conceived notions that can only be described as pure Comstockery. It began late one evening as the snow flew, funds were low across the board, and Aaron and I simultaneously acknowledged that we were hungry. Rummaging though the kitchen we found naught but bits and scrapings of this and that, plus spaghetti. As we both knew in our heart of hearts that our cooking ability far exceeded that of Jason or Knaus, and neither of them had perished having made the attempt, we could give them a lesson in nouveau cuisine. Our vehicle would be the spaghetti and upon it we would craft a sauce so flavorful and delicate that the mere smell would drive the other two wild with desire to eat some of it; a request we would deny, except maybe Knaus.

We began with a pot, sturdy and true. To that pot we added the following secret ingredients: ketchup, mustard, relish, soy sauce, Chavetta’s sauce, horseradish, packets of duck sauce, sugar, brown sugar, beer, coffee, milk, Mountain Dew, peanut butter, jelly, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, salt, pepper, basil, tarragon, curry, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract, baking soda, maple syrup, honey, and parmesan cheese. We felt it was still missing something to give it that certain something to truly bring out the bouquet of flavor. We found a packet of tofu miso soup Paul had been schlepping around since freshman year, three years prior and added it. At that moment, however, Paul came down the stairs to complain about the smell and caught us in the act. He was outraged that we took a pack of his prized soup and lodged a bitter complaint about that and the pungent aroma wafting up the stairway. Our claim of inspired cheffery was difficult to make stick just yet, but we did feel some decent amount of simmering would change things.

Simmer we did, until our hunger grew strong and we ourselves could take the smell no longer. The sauce, however, had failed to reduce to the thick consistency we desired. Having heard of this old chef’s trick before, I knew to add flour as a thickening agent. We did, although in too liberal a dose and now had a pot full of rancid brownish paste. With great foreboding and resolution, we cooked up some aldente spaghetti, topped it with ice cream scoop size balls of what was now officially dubbed Nasty Olde Sauce. Knaus and Jason had both gathered at the dining room table, not in drooling hunger as we had imagined, but to lay wager on whether we would actually try it and how long it would take us to vomit upon ingestion. The dishes grew cold as we cajoled each other into taking the first bite and finally decided the simultaneous ingestion was best. Our brows dappled with cold sweat, we closed our eyes and each took a bite.

Not only was it worse than I imagined it could be and the smell indicated; it was far worse. The overpowering competitive flavors hit my palate like a train wreck. The consistency was like dog shit and stuck to your tongue and teeth like wet slimy mortar, releasing new waves of horrendous cloying rancidness every passing second. I spit it back on to the plate and shoved it forcefully from me. “You know, it’s really not that bad”, Aaron remarked scooping up his second forkful. I had forgotten that his perpetual congestion had left him without a sense of smell or taste for the most part, sparing him from the obscenities on our plates. Jason was the next to elect to try, and for the first and I believe only time, he and Aaron were in agreement. I happily passed him my plate. Knaus, the wisest of us in this particular instance, passed with wrinkled nose. To his disgusting credit, Aaron finished that entire plate where even Jason faltered, overcome by the putrid miasma in the end.

Our plan was to save a jar for posterity, perhaps to inflict it upon an unwise and inebriated guest, but alas, it disappeared from the fridge some month or so later. My theory has always been that Aaron, in a fit of hunger, or just plain longing for the taste, greedily polished the rest of it off one dark and lonely night while the rest of us slept, dreaming uneasy dreams.

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6 Responses

  1. I have to say that this story appears heavily embellished. Entertaining, but embellished. It makes me question your unrequited feelings for Carrie Frank.

  2. The Nasty Olde Sauce portion was not at all embellished, however I did NOT finish off the bit left in the fridge.

    Knause claimed he was planning to use the tofu miso soup that very night.

    The coffee table had three and a half legs. The breaking of the leg is another story, but it was patch-worked on with a piece of scrap metal and perhaps the shoddiest nail job ever.

    The first pinch of flour fell out daintily, but then the bag ripped and half the sack flew in at once, this was the downfall of Nasty Olde Sauce I contend.

    One last note. Jaosn’s plastic cups were from a baseball game he attended. After the game he collected the strew about cups left by everyone around, from that day on we had a seemingly endless supply. I never touched one, and it was the first container offered to any of Dan’s weirdo friends.

  3. No embellishment needed I’m afraid – not about the NOS or Jason. I had witnessed dozens of similar incidents where he tried to cook, but these 2 stood out in my memory and begged to be told in a literal fashion. You just can’t make up stuff that disgusting. So called unrequited feelings, however, may be questioned at will.

  4. I forgot to mention that Jason loved to walk through the disgusting kitchen floor with, were very hairy. They were the closest thing to a Hobbit’s foot I have seen outside of Lord of the Rings movies.

  5. Does “So called unrequited feelings” imply that they were not feelings, or (yuck) not unrequited? I think I need a shower.

  6. You are free from having to shower this week! The implication was that I was 21, hanging out with a girl who liked to drink at my house.

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