Don’t Cry Over Spilt Pineapple

Don’t Cry Over Spilt Pineapple

  … by Rachel Wood  … 

As the youngest, I was always expected to keep up with my old brother and sister. Both were successful, dynamic, high achievers; I wanted to be just like them, if not a little bit better. At the age of seven my sister declared herself responsible for a dish at Christmas dinner. My sister Kathryn always one upped me in everything; sports, clothes, hair styles, who made the best snow man, and even who painted their nails better colors. Of course, I naturally had to find something to be in charge of myself and make without help from my mom or anyone else. I had to act as big as my sister; I needed to keep up as much as possible. What could a tiny five-year-old concoct all alone? To me Watergate salad was as gourmet and high end as world renowned crème Brule from the finest restaurant in France. The simplicity of its five ingredients never dawned on me; in fact, the process of measuring, mixing, and not making a mess seemed to be an extraordinary challenge. But little me would not give up on it. I just had to one up my big sister Kathryn’s chocolate chip cookies.

My entire family was in and out of the kitchen that Christmas day. My mom was cooking dinner; my brother and dad were sneaking bites of anything they could before they got yelled at by my mom; my dog was running into things every two seconds; and my sister and I were setting up our individual cooking stations. As Kathryn started putting her recipe together, I lined all my ingredients across the counter. Pistachio pudding mix, mini marshmallows, crushed pineapples, and two containers of Cool Whip (of course all store brand just in case I ruined it my mom didn’t waste a lot of money) were lined up in a row. To a five-year-old who is new at the art of reading in general, understanding measurements and serving sizes was like reading Chinese. Scrunching my face into a ball of concentration, I began to try and make sense of all the jibber jabber about cups, teaspoons, and tablespoons. I must have looked completely lost because after about five minutes my mom came up behind me to offer her help. Of course, I immediately denied her. “I’m not a baby,” I pouted. “I’m a big girl. I can do this.”

With as much determination as possible for a kindergartener, I started filling measuring cups with what I believed were to correct amounts. First, I opened the pistachio pudding mixes. The dry mint green powder flew everywhere when I tore open the first packet. “Maybe no one will notice,” I thought to myself as I looked left to right to verify my thought. With one packet spilled all over the kitchen floor already, I moved onto packet number two. This time I thought of a genius idea. I opened the packet of pudding mix over the bowl so any spillage would find its home in the mixing bowl and not on the floor with packet number one. My first smart move! With the pudding mix safely in the bowl I moved on to my next mountain to tackle, opening the can of pineapple. We didn’t have a state-of-the-art Kitchen Aide can opener at the time, so I had to work with the rusty old one that slipped off the can every two seconds. With the hardest part done, breaking into the can, I continued by cranking the can opener until it was halfway around. Then disaster struck. The chair I was standing on to reach the top of the counter wobbled, and the half open can of pineapple went everywhere. More Watergate salad was being made on the floor then in my mixing bowl.

This time I was positive my family saw me making a mess. I could feel the lump forming in the back of my throat and my cheeks beginning to turn red. “No use crying over spilt pineapple,” my mom said as she bent down to wipe up the juice and chunks of pineapple splattered all over the kitchen. “Ha! Ha! Ha!” my sister taunted from the other side of the counter. Her cookie batter was going smoothly; nothing spilt besides a little bit of flour. Hearing the words of my mom and the teasing of my sister forced me to swallow the lump that had started to rise in my throat. “I’m finishing this,” little me thought. After changing my chair to one with less wobbly legs, I started in on the second can of pineapples. Carefully turning the can opener’s handle, I successfully made it completely around. Dumping the full can into the bowl, the pistachio pudding mixture instantly changed from light and minty green to a damp pistachio color. Step two done, I moved to step three: the chopping of the walnuts.

As I have become more and more skilled at creating the Watergate salad, I have learned that sometimes pre-chopped nuts are the way to go. That Christmas, being a first timer at making Watergate salad, I had to work with the full un-chopped walnuts. Placing the first cup into the chopper, I pressed down as hard as I could muster and felt the first slice go through all the nuts. Repeating this process about a hundred times, I finally had what looked like enough chopped nuts for the salad. My weak, tired little arms shook as I struggled to pour the chopped nuts into my big mixing bowl. On top of the nuts, I poured a full bag of the mini marshmallows. Stirring in the walnuts and the marshmallows, I could see my salad turning into a success. The only thing left was the Cool Whip. How hard could it be to add two containers, right?

Cracking open the first container, I spooned it out with ease into the almost filled mixing bowl. As I opened the second one, my hand slipped and white fluffy whipped topping flew everywhere as the container crashed to the floor. Out of the four ingredients involved in this simple recipe, I had managed to spill, drop, or mess up three of them. Once again, my mom, and this time also my dog, came to the cleanup rescue. With my mom wiping and my dog licking up Cool Whip, I did my best to ignore the mess and the new rising lump in my throat. Mixing together what had made it into the bowl, I finished the recipe and carried the bowl over to the fridge. As I cleaned up, I blinked away the tears of embarrassment that were caused by my older brother and sister laughing about the mess. Safely in the fridge to cool for an hour, my task was done. All I had left to do was waiting until dinner was served to find out if it was a success or not.

Concerned with helping me, my mom had forgotten to pay attention to the cookies my sister had been baking in the oven. Since Kathryn was a new cook herself, she wasn’t aware that things could burn if let in too long. Suddenly, the smoke alarm started beeping, and we all noticed smoke seeping through the oven door. Forgetting my Cool Whip mess, my mom rushed over and opened the oven. Huge gray clouds of smoke were unleashed; we all instantly covered our noses in defense against the nasty odor. My mom reached in the oven and pulled out a cookie sheet containing what resembled black stones, each one with little streams of smoke rising off them. Instantly my mood lightened. “Yes! The cookies our family was excited to have for dessert were no longer edible” and I had succeeded in making my simple recipe (even if I spilled half the ingredients). My self-triumph didn’t last long. With one glance at how upset my big sister was, I instantly went to comfort her. Together Kathryn and I made a new batch of cookies while my salad was chilled in the fridge.

Watergate salad has more meaning to me than just a good tasting side dish served at holiday meals. It was the first experience I had with cooking, and the first time I got to be included with meal preparation. It was a success eventually at dinner later that Christmas and continued to be for years down the line. I learned that even if I drop a few things along the way to continue the recipe because eventually it will turn out in the end. This philosophy is one that I like to follow in many various aspects of my life. Another lesson that I took from cooking that Christmas day was to never be afraid to ask for or to offer help. When my sister needed help making a new batch, I set aside my competitiveness toward her, and we worked together until the cookies tasted perfect. In the words of my mom “Don’t cry over spilt pineapple.”

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