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Zur Originalfassung: »Aller Anfang ist schwer«

November 11, 2005

Stefan Arenz

Translated from the German by Elisabeth Carlson

If at first you don't succeed ...

Florian, my colleague and friend, glares at me as if I were crazy, »Pasta with artichoke hearts and tuna? Heck, I am happy if I can manage boiled potatoes.«

I try to convince him that pasta with artichoke hearts and tuna is really a relatively simple meal to prepare, no problem. The recipe was born out of necessity when during a holiday in Spain my girlfriend and I only had these two ingredients left over aside from pasta and cream. (In a somewhat intoxicated state we started talking of »cuddle-fish and aubergines«, something we still do today. Sometimes we forget that not everyone is clued into this and we do get occasional strange glances at the supermarket.)

Florian hesitates, »okay, but what are artichoke hearts?«

I stare at him, hoping he wouldn't notice. All beginnings are difficult, I know that from my own experience. »The inside of an artichoke«.

»Never heard of it, what do artichokes look like, how will I find them in the supermarket when I don't know what to look for?«

Well, the problem is that Florian has never cooked anything in his life as he told me happily just two weeks ago. Never! He has reached the age of twenty seven and has never cooked anything. Not even once? No, never.

I was speechless. »But how do you feed yourselves?« I asked him.

»Simple« he said, »during the week we eat at the cafeteria and Sundays Susanne is never hungry, so I just make a few sandwiches, works really well.«

»And in the evenings?« I just couldn't believe it.

He looked at me with disbelief. »What, evenings? We just eat bread with whatever, after all, we ate a warm meal at lunchtime. Do you cook every night?«

Suddenly I felt embarrassed. My girlfriend and I really do cook every night. It's not primarily the act of cooking, although a lot of fun, but the preparation before and the clean up after is a bit of a pain. Our favourite time lies between these chores, when we let our senses take over the joy of those home made treats, and stuff ourselves until we moan and groan and happily curl up on the sofa, totally satisfied. »I'm bursting«, my girlfriend moans, looking at me with those mournful eyes, and I feel much the same. It's just like after a wild night, when reality returns and you look at each other in wonderment. What on earth did we just do to each other? For intellectual minds, No, how archaic! But you do it again at the next opportunity.

»Every now and then we do cook« I replied. The night before we had prepared grilled Feta cheese with tomatoes and onions on flatbread. And not to forget, that thick slice of grilled salmon.

»Florian ...« I gasped, »really, never?«

»Susanne cooks occasionally« he said with some hesitation. I just wanted to ask him about his childhood and growing up (my parents had made sure that I would have some exposure to the art of cooking and baking) when I remembered his sad life, he was an only child. Tough luck!

But I am a good man and so some friends and I decided we would try to make a reasonable human being out of Florian. We worked on him until he meekly agreed to try and walk the thorny path filled with unexpected potholes on the way to entering the science of cooking.

»I will start small«, he announced, »for tomorrow's lunch I will serve boiled potatoes with delicious cottage cheese and herbs.«

»Hey« we countered, »not too shabby. Cottage cheese with herbs, not that simple!«.

»Don't be silly, the cottage cheese I will get from Aldis. I will boil the potatoes.«

Well, that was the beginning and it turned out not too bad, at least according to Susanne's song of praises, as Florian reported to us. It was then that my suggestion of our own recipe of »cuddle-fish« fell on deaf ears. Florian was already secretly planning the meal to end all meals. Susanne loved apple rings in pancake dough, deep fried, and he wanted to present this to her.

A week later we happened to meet him in the cafeteria. He looked pale and exhausted.

»Yesterday I fried the apple rings«, he said weakly.

»Wow« we yelled loudly, »great, how did it go?«

»Well, okay,« he said, »but was that ever complicated. The cookbook said the preparation would be about half an hour. After two and a half hours I was still standing in the kitchen working on the dough.«

We looked at him questioningly.

»Well« he began, »first I had to get all the ingredients together. That took quite a while. Just trying to find the beaten egg white meant searching through all the shelves.«

I dropped some food on my tray. »Beaten egg whites in the supermarket?«

»Don't laugh, how was I supposed to know. At least I didn't dare ask for it. I called my mother and asked her advice. Then I wanted to make the dough. Susanne had said we had flour. In a tupper-ware container in the cupboard I found some white powder but no name. How was I supposed to know whether or not that was flour?«

Right, I thought, a pound of cocaine rarely sits in a tupper-ware bowl in the cupboard. »Really«, I mocked him, »where on earth would Susanne have hidden the 300 ml of water?«

He ignored my comments. »I don't know what flour tastes like, so I called my mother and she said that this would likely be flour. The next problem was the beaten egg whites. I had misunderstood my mother's instructions and had dropped the whole egg as is into the dough. But that did not seem right when I stirred it. Stop laughing! I didn't want to ask my mother again, so I called Susanne's mother instead. She told me that I had to beat the egg white hard until it looked like snow. So I had to throw out my first attempt and start from the beginning.«

While Florian was telling us about all those mishaps, my thoughts went back a few years to the time I had tried to bake croissants. I had rolled up the thawed out dough, put the cookie sheet with the little rolls into the oven and watched how they grew and developed a shiny crust. When they came out of the oven I thought they were the best croissants I had ever seen, lightly browned, softly rounded and so shiny, just like the pictures in one of those high gloss cook books. I started to cut the first one to see if it was baked through. While pulling apart the two halves I noticed the shiny top making long sticky strings that stuck even to the knife and you could roll them up forever. Since I had not been aware of such occurrence with croissants before, I decided to investigate further and finally found that the mass-fabricated dough pieces were separated by a thin layer of plastic foil to prevent them from sticking together.

All beginnings are difficult. But I promise that soon Florian and I will be appearing as TV Cooks on TM3. I will hand over the ingredients while Florian cooks. »Boiled potatoes with cottage cheese and herbs« or »Fried apple rings in flour and beaten egg whites«. Possibly even »pasta and cuddle-fish with aubergines«, or »Laminated croissants«. This is going to be great!

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1978 geboren, aufgewachsen in Eschwege (harmlose Kleinstadt im nordhessischen Nirgendwo) und zur Schule gegangen, ist Stefan Arenz der Exot unter den Kolumnisten, denn er ist Jurist. Also total [..]

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