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It was late, later than usual, but unlike other days, I was still up and about. I was about five years old at the time. I wiped my greasy hands off on an old rag and looked over at my mother, still half asleep and dozing to a movie on the couch. From the background, I could hear distant banging of tools in the garage, where my father was spending a few more thousand hours on another one of his vehicles that never would run in the first place. Both my brother and my sister stared nonchalantly from me to the movie that was on and then back to the stove. I'd been sitting here for a full two hours, waiting for a bag of steak to thaw in the sink. It was already 11 O’clock.

The plan had been to have the family over – aunts, uncles, cousins and the like, and have a steak night. But, as family dinners go, the guests all had other plans. The cousins were over at a friend's house, more or less unintentionally on the same day. My aunt and uncle were going on a spontaneous, once in a year date that they'd just happened to plan the same day as the family dinner. Nobody was coming. Still, steak was steak. Mom had promised a steak dinner – just the five of us – to celebrate pretty much spending way too much for a family dinner with no family coming over. Smiling and happy, we three kids danced around as my mother held the steak high above our heads and cheered about our “Super Special Just Us Family Dinner”. Dad rolled his eyes and went in the garage – the only smart one among us at the moment. It was while the steak was thawing and Mom had the TV on that all went haywire.

Length was nothing in comparison to how short the span was it took for the steak to be forgotten. 10 O'clock came and went. The steak thawed, boiled, saturated, and flooded over as it sat in the warm water to soak. Episode after episode of MacGyver followed, and by then the steak had dissipated into it's own water atoms. By 10:30, Mom was asleep. The kids' stomachs churned, and I knew there was something that had to be done. I decided to take the matter in to my own hands.

Steak couldn't be too hard. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? All I had to do was fry it, right? Add some sort of seasoning maybe? Chocolate sauce, that sounded good. Of course, I never had cooked anything before. That was Mom's department. But steak was steak, and that was all that could be done.

Picking it up, I noticed my first major flaw. For one thing, this meat was all pink. Wasn't it supposed to be brownish? Maybe all the good cooks put something on it before they cooked it. Instantly I deduced the solution. Brown sugar. If I put something like that on it, maybe it caramelized while I cooked it. This was going to be great. No sweat. I grabbed the brown sugar and poured it on. Now there was the conflict of how to cook it. Usually, people cooked things in stoves right? Grabbing the meat, I chucked it in the oven and turned it to 400 degrees. Then just to set a timer. Ten minutes sounded good to me.

Ten minutes later, I pulled it out. The steak looked terrible, but it must not have been done yet. Wasn't there something I had to add on? I looked through the cabinet for something. Something good. Great, even. And then, I saw it. Full containers of cayenne pepper and cinnamon. I doused it, and five minutes later it looked fully seasoned. I chucked the empty containers in the garbage, and served my masterpiece.

The look my siblings gave me was revolting. It was clear to me from the start that they were absolutely, positively, and exquisitely not going to eat it. One bite send myself into a gagging hysteria. Though disappointment was heavy, I figured the dogs hadn't had a decent meal in a while, right? They'd love a full steak dinner as a treat.

The dogs didn't touch it.

That night I'd learned how to officially not cook a meal. We went to bed that night with peanut butter and honey sandwiches and a can of tuna with way too little mayonnaise to go with it. But there were some valuable lessons in my experience. One, never – ever, let me cook dinner. Two, as MacGyver once said, “Any problem can be solved by a little ingenuity”. That was the case here with me. My favorite new past time is making something out of nothing, whether it be a good meal, a new tool, or even a new outlook of circumstances. It may not be too good at first, but with practice you learn to get creative. A good twelve years after this experience, I've learned that even if I don't have all of what I need to make something, I can always improvise.



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