Taco Shell Inferno

Broilers can be dangerous things.  So can taco shells whose oiliness make them prone to combustion.  I learned this as a child when my dad caught a pan of taco shells on fire.  He thought he would save the day by taking the pan outside.  What followed was a lesson in what not to do fire safety.  He removed the flaming pan of shells and carried it through the house with his long unbuttoned work shirt sleeves flapping dangerously close to the fire.  Smoke poured out of the oven, the smoke alarm blared, and the rest of us were screaming.  Finally, he threw the pan out on to the driveway to let them burn themselves out.

Taco night thirty years later at Mom’s house.  The taco shells were under the broiler in her oven.  Mom, who is easily distracted in a kitchen, began setting out the taco fixings.  The shells burst into flames.  Thankfully, Mom remembered the hysteria of taco night from long ago and remarkably had the presence of mind to leave the oven door closed and let them burn out in there.

Mom’s friend Kelly, having noticed the pan of soot on the top of the stove the next day, left a note for Mom on a paper towel that said: Donna, JUST SAY NO!! On it is a drawing of a taco with a big ‘no” symbol over it.

Next taco night, several weeks later, Mom tried it again.  She figured with me there to supervise, things should go better.  Nope.  I wandered out of the kitchen to tend to one of my kids and she got on the phone with Kelly.  Flames.

After putting out the fire, she calls Kelly back who answers the phone laughing hysterically demanding to know if she read her note.

Mom decided maybe it was best if I took care of the shells since I am known for my culinary skill.  (Kelly’s note has earned a place on the fridge where Mom can see it standing at the stove from now on.  It is still there to this day.)

I put the second package of shells under the broiler and started working on the toppings.  You guessed it.  Flames.  Mom couldn’t resist calling Kelly again.  Thanks.

From now on, soft tacos only.


Mom was making a dish she’s made many times.  Jambalaya.  From a box.  Mom is the poster child for packaged foods.

She put some diced chicken tenders and some sliced sausage in a pot to brown. She chatted happily with Kelly.  Once the meat browned, she added some water and a can of Rotel.  Meanwhile, Kelly was sitting at the table on Skype with her friend.  Mom was cleaning the kitchen as she is a voracious neat freak.  Dishes were washed and cabinets wiped down as lovely smells issued from the covered pot on the stove.  About 20 minutes later, Kelly remarked to her friend Lauren on Skype that dinner was smelling good.  Lauren asked what was cooking.  “Donna’s making jambalaya!”  Kelly loved it and was getting hungry.

“Oh!  That reminds me, I better check on it!” Mom said, suddenly remembering she was in charge of the meal.

“Good idea!   We don’t want it going up in smoke,” Kelly quipped.

Mom opened the lid of the pot.  It was still full of water bubbling away.  It should have been full of mostly cooked, if not completely burnt, rice.  “Well, this doesn’t look right.”  Lauren asked what she meant since she was on the other side of a computer screen and couldn’t see it.  Kelly got up to come check it out to make a full report.  Mom and Kelly both gazed into the pot.

“I think something’s missing,” Mom said confused.  “Let’s see, I put in the chicken, the sausage, the water, and the Rotel.  What could I have left out?”  Mom turned around to think and then she saw it.  On the opposite counter next to the coffee maker was the box of jambalaya mix.  Unopened.

“Oh.  I guess I should have put in the jambalaya.”

A Little Garlic Is Good

Mom’s roommate Kelly makes great spaghetti.  Kelly can cook and she likes to help out since Mom often works long hours.  That, and to have anything to eat without a layer of char on it.

Mom fixed herself a bowl of spaghetti and stood in the kitchen talking, not paying much attention to her food.  As she talked, she opened the pantry, pulled out a green canister, and began to shake the contents on top of the pasta.

Kelly, meanwhile, just stared as she shook it out, her eyes getting wider with every shake.  She had read the label, which Mom had not.  Mom rambled on with whatever story she was telling, shaking away.  Finally, Kelly could stand it no longer and had to ask, “Wow, you really like garlic, don’t you?”

Mom stopped in mid shake.  “What?”  She looked at the label of the canister.  “Oh my God.  I thought it was Parmesan cheese!

Needless to say, Kelly fixed her a new bowl of pasta.  It takes real talent to make a dish completely inedible when you weren’t even the one who cooked it.