Cook What You Catch

admin | February 19, 2010 in Uncategorized | Comments (11)

I haven’t even tackled the task yet, and already I am one of the best jokes of 2009 for my band brothers:  “The economy has gotten so bad…even JEFF is cooking!”

NO, Jeff is TALKING about cooking.  I have no skillet, no knives, no experience.  There’s no need to look in the pantry to assess groceries; I’m quite sure the proverbial cupboard is bare.

“How can you not know how to cook?” I’m asked.  Practice.  I’m a well-trained non-cook.  I don’t remember much cooking at home as a kid.  I worked in restaurants all through college.  Played in bands after that, and as things improved, fast food became better restaurants and then catering in arenas.

I don’t know the first thing about cooking.  I don’t know where to even find the first thing.  Every so often, I’ve tried to get those wheels turning, but confusion and overwhelm quickly grinds them to a halt.  I’ve even looked through the “Cooking for Dummies” sections at Borders bookstore, but I never seem to find the book that’s dumb enough for me.

But things are changing.  They have to.

At this point, I’ve already made my way to Florida to spend, or avoid, Valentine’s Day. In less than two days, I’ve gone toe-to…FIN…with a “Mike Tyson-esque” amberjack on my first deep-sea fishing expedition and won.  I’ve wrapped him and packed him for our return to Nashville following my completion of the 2009 Sarasota Grouper Half Marathon, and I’ve run a personal best for the distance.  Yea me.

But NOW…it is time to truly dig deep…and face the truly frightening.

It’s not about the cooking for me.  It’s about completing the journey.  Seeing it through.  I can’t travel across the country to go fishing for valentines, fight through the battle to find and ultimately land this treasure…and then just shrug my shoulders, cut the line, and toss it aside.

I don’t want a trophy for the wall.  I don’t need to increase my tally so I can say, “I caught another one.”  I just want to know that I embraced what I never knew, didn’t shy away from what I’ve never experienced, and was fearless enough to see it all the way through.

Cook what you catch.  Reach the finish line.  I can do this.

Captain Tommy insists this is an easy way to go: beat 2 eggs and then fill the bottom of a pan with canola oil; then, bread with Progresso bread crumbs and fry on each side until brown. Don’t walk away from the pan!!!  Stove on 6 if electric.

I’m gonna blow something up.  I just know it.  Set a fire.  I pull out a box of baking soda from the refrigerator and set it on the counter, just in case.

I’ve turned up the stove to heat the oil…but how will I know if it’s hot enough?  I called a girlfriend of mine to ask, and she explains the “flick water drops into the oil to see if it pops” routine.  I’d seen this on TV before, but though impressed by MacGyver’s ability to defuse a bomb with Liquid Paper and a toothpick, I wasn’t prepared to trust his insights in my kitchen without talking to her first.

Flick.  Pop.  Pop.  Here we go…

I lay the fish in the pan, and the sizzling begins.  As the fish cooks, I microwave some scalloped potatoes I made that afternoon.  That hadn’t been so intimidating.  It had been slower, quieter.  Read right off the box, covered, and placed calmly into the oven.  This frying game is HOT, LOUD, and LIVE!

POP!  What was that?  Lift with a spatula…not black.  That’s good, right?…

I grab some pre-washed spinach and some raspberry vinaigrette dressing.  Cherry tomatoes.  Salad construction.  Hey, if I’m gonna try to do this, let’s do it right.

I think that’s brown enough.  Flip it over.  So far so good…

I take a look over the virgin deflowering of my kitchen and wonder if I can possible recover from the mess I’ve created before my next road trip.  I’ve only got a few days, and I’ve done quite a number on the place.

No way.  Did I actually do this?  I lift the fish from the pan…turn the temperature to “off.”  Deal with the dishes later.  Build the plate…

I sit down on the sofa, fork in hand, and prop my feet up with my newly assembled dinner in my lap.  As I take another bite, I notice photographs on the fireplace mantle of two of my first Team McGraw marathon teams.  One would think that the cheering fans at the finish line of a 26.2-mile marathon, after months and years of training and pain and perseverance and strain, would echo much louder and longer than the sound of oil poppin’ in a pan across the room…

…but, well…let me just say…I’m pretty proud of myself right now.

11 Responses to “Cook What You Catch”

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  1. Comment by Elisabeth — February 19, 2010 at 5:57 pm  

    Looking forward to your next exciting adventure … I hope it’s a dinner party!

  2. Comment by JulesFebruary 19, 2010 at 7:42 pm  

    Hey McMahon,
    If nobody told you today they love you and god bless your heart. I love you and may god bless your sweet heart. Sometimes I read your blogs and relate so much I think we were twins separated at birth. Your band brother Bob and I have laughed about when I attempted to learn to play the guitar. I got one of those dummy books. Got home and realized I needed the dummy guide for the dummy book! Needless to say..I NEVER learned. You did an AWESOME job! Your meal looks terrific. Be extremely proud of yourself. You did a marvelous job all without burning your apt down. If you ever want to learn your way around your own kitchen and learn the journey of cooking. I will be more than happy to teach. When your back in town your more than welcome to drop into one of my cooking classes. Your pick up one of my dummy guide books for bachelors. Thank You for another birds eye view of one of your adventures. Huge Hug to my un-biological twin brother.

  3. Comment by Rachel Fairburn — February 20, 2010 at 9:53 am  

    Hey Jeff that was a great story! My husband doesn’t know how to cook much either. Sometime I will have to show him! Looks like you did a good job cooking up that fish! 😉

  4. Comment by Stacy — February 20, 2010 at 10:38 am  

    OK, now that’s impressive, McMahon! Heck that plate would rank right up there with the “Iron Chefs.” I’ll let you in on a little courntry-cookin secret: best “dredge” for fish is a little thing called Kentucky Kernal. Its ‘da’ bomb!’ Adds a lot more flavor than the bread crumbs. That’s just how us Kentucky folk cook fish… well, not me really, I won’t eat water dwellers. LOL. Way to take it all the way, Jeff; great job, guy!! So, what’s on the menu for next week?

  5. Comment by Randy LaPreze — February 20, 2010 at 2:13 pm  

    Chef Jeff! Now I know who to hire to cater Stacey’s Birthday Party!! Keep havin’ fun!

  6. Comment by Kimmy T — February 20, 2010 at 5:33 pm  

    very impressive. next step is to set a beautiful tablescape so you enjoy your dinner at a table instead of the sofa 🙂 btw…have you tackled any duck recipes yet??

  7. Comment by brenda — February 20, 2010 at 5:34 pm  

    You did good! That plate looks like something from the Food Network!
    Bring on some more stories!

  8. Comment by Angelika Cutino — February 20, 2010 at 8:33 pm  

    Well first, I must say Jeff, I am very proud of you for attempting this all on your own, with no help at all. The overall finished product looked wonderful and very tasty! If you ever want any cooking lessons, I will offer my services to you.

    You are one of a kind and it seems as though you keep adding more and more things onto your resume and repertoire of things! You Go Boy! I’m Proud of You!

  9. Comment by JenFebruary 21, 2010 at 8:06 am  

    I am just impressed that you knew to have baking soda next to the stove in case of fire! What is for dessert??

  10. Comment by ChristineFebruary 21, 2010 at 10:51 pm  

    Jeff… you are such a creative writer; expressive in your content, details, and humor. I felt like I was learning to cook your first meal right along with you. Could even smell that fish cooking and hear the spattering of the oil!

    It’s NEVER to late to learn to do anything in life. I personally think it’s all about desire, taking the time to learn, and practice. And well, I’m sure you know a lot about practice.

    Also, nice touch with your candles!

    Bon Appetit!

  11. Comment by Kyle DreierFebruary 22, 2010 at 8:05 am  


    I checked my phone and see that you didn’t call to invite me for what looks like a fabulous meal. I’ll try not to take it personally. 🙂

    Rock on! Or should I say “Cook On!”?

    – Dreier

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