Monday evening, June 3, I made a dish I’ve never made before. Since I’ve started cooking more at home over these last several weeks — a lot more at home, I might add — my son asked me to make him Shepherd’s Pie. So I did what I usually do: I Googled several recipes over the weekend, took the ingredients from the three most promising versions and experimented with ratios, cooking times and whatnot to come up with a recipe that sounded both delicious and doable.
So I ended up going with ground meat instead of lamb — hence, Cottage Pie; added in the peas, carrots, onions and corn, all simmered in a wine and tomato-based gravy that I liberally seasoned with herbs and spices; and then lastly, I gently covered over and sealed the meat and veggie stew with a fluffy topping of white cheddar cheese and horseradish mashed potatoes. So yeah, Shepherd’s/Cottage Pie is like having all of the elements that make up a main course along with side dishes; except instead of each discrete food item getting its own designated area on the plate, it’s all piled up on top of each other. Bon appetit!
No question that this dish was labor intensive with the hour-long trip to the grocery store shopping for just the right ingredients; and then the chopping of the vegetables into just the right-size pieces. (After all, I’d hate to have one of the Food Network Chopped judges come in and ding me because my carrots, celery, peas and corn weren’t uniformly cut; “But Marc, Alex and Amanda, I swear I was going for ‘rustic,‘ that’s why my veggies aren’t the same size.” “Well, Mona, unfortunately, we don’t eat ‘rustic’, and your cutting skills lack proper technique and that’s why we’re going to have to chop you today.” “Oh well, okay then. Assholes! I hope you choke on…I mean…thank you for trying my Shepherd’s…er, Cottage Pie.”) Then there was the cooking of said ingredients, separately of course, before layering one preparation on top of the other into a baking dish that was big enough to hold the hot messes I’d concocted.
I didn’t know this before I started, but trust me when I say that making lasagna’s got nothing on the time and labor commitment that it takes to make Shepherd’s Pie. It is, indeed, an ADD person’s nightmare recipe come true; especially when said ADD person (me) is out of the habit of cooking. Also, I should apologize at this time to my husband — Sorry about the dishes, Love.
Poor David cleaned the kitchen after we ate; unfortunately, not without a few swear words being bandied about because of the volume of the mess I made. I mean, I’ve seen and made worse and I would have helped him out — but let me tell you — after shopping, cooking and then eating that heavy meal, I was done. 🙁
Before I was done for, though, while dinner was still baking in the preheated 400º oven for the required 35 minutes — because Shepherd’s Pie is nothing if not a gussied up casserole — David and I watched Jeopardy on TV.
I don’t recall David and I ever watching Jeopardy together before. It’s not that we don’t like Jeopardy or anything; it’s just that it’s usually not on our radar, and we don’t even think about it. However, last Friday when I found out on World News Tonight that the guy that’s been the running champion for several weeks now was about to beat the all-time champion, Ken Jennings, and that one of his winning strategies was to read children’s books, I decided — Hey, I want to watch history being made on Monday. Besides, what kind of questions are they posing on Jeopardy nowadays that you can learn the answers to just by reading children’s books?
I immediately suggested this to David on Friday, and he promptly found the show on our TV guide and hit the record button for Monday, which was listed at 6 PM on a local sister station to one of the big 4 networks (CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX.) So how did David even know which station to record? I mean he didn’t even look twice to find it, he just went straight to the right station. It’s as though he just knew. Huh. My husband continues to surprise me. Could he secretly be watching Jeopardy without me? Surely, not. I decided not to pry him on details at the moment, and now, unfortunately, the moment’s passed; so I suppose it shall remain a mystery for now.
Anyway, I like to think I have my pulse on a few things out in the world; and rumor had it that this guy, James Holzhauer, the guy attempting to beat Ken Jennings’ record, had become boring to watch day-after-day over the last week or two. Rumor further had it that more than a few watchers were hoping that Holzhauer would lose on Monday. Okay, so wait a two million dollar minute here…
Now I get how watching someone who is so brilliant at what they do can really screw up the enjoyment of the game for the spectator because it just seems so unfair and lopsided and it just looks like the superior team or player is just being mean to the other players, who, clearly, don’t stand a chance of winning. And to be fair, that’s not the winner’s fault nor should that be their concern. However, how can anyone root for a guy to lose when he’s just about to break the all-time record for winnings? Not me. I was rooting for James to win. I mean give the kid a break already; even if he has winnings well over two million dollars. Brat.
I’ve also been rooting for Alex Trebek, though, who’s been fighting Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. When I heard that he was in Stage 4 of this specific type of cancer a few months ago, I was sad because I knew then that this poor man was a goner. However, he’s clearly a fighter and he’s, apparently, beating the odds. I heard this past week that Trebek’s tumors are shrinking. I’m keeping my fingers crossed and I hope y’all are with me in continuing to pray for him; that is if you’re the praying type. Speaking of prayers, Trebek’s even gone on record saying that he credits millions of people praying for his recovery as one of the main reasons he’s almost in remission. I mean, that’s not nothing! That’s a whole lot of something! After all, this is the kind of cancer that Michael Landon and Patrick Swayze died from, and it usually carries a death sentence with it. So good for you, Alex Trebek! You keep beating the odds and may you live long and prosper! I have nothing but good wishes and prayers for your full recovery, Sir.
So with all of that drama going on, I figured that if ever there was a time to watch Jeopardy, Monday was the day.
So with dinner finally in the oven, David and I sat down to watch history being made. However, the moment they introduced 27-year old contestant, Emma Boettcher, as a “librarian,” I had this sinking feeling of uh oh. One should never underestimate librarians. Ever. Plus, James Holzhauer just didn’t look like his heart was in the game; not that I know what he looked like during any of his wins.
Honestly, I can’t tell you what year I even stopped watching Jeopardy. I used to watch the show as regularly as some people watch Vanna White and Pat Sajak on Wheel of Fortune. (They’re still on, aren’t they?) So this was the first time I’ve watched Jeopardy since David and I’ve been married more than 22 years ago. Damn, where’s the time gone?
Okay, I have to admit something really stupid now. So you know how some people are superstitious about watching sports? Well, sometimes whenever I watch football or basketball or even golf with David, especially when it’s clear that there’s going to be a tight finish to whatever sport’s event we’re watching, I often refuse to watch the ending. It’s not that it’s too much for me and my heart can’t take it or anything like that. It’s that more often than not, when I watch, our team loses. I don’t know why that is, but yeah, that happens. Through the years, I’ve also noticed, when I close my eyes or go into the other room toward the last few minutes of a tight game, our team or our golf guy usually wins. Now it doesn’t happen every time: but, again, it does more often than not.
So, I suppose it’s no surprise that I thought to myself before we turned the show on early Monday evening — What if my watching tonight causes James Holzhauer to lose? That would be dreadful. Then I told myself to stop being ridiculous. I don’t have that kind of power. Besides, what are the odds that the one Jeopardy game I watch in the last 20 plus years will be the one game when this really amazing player loses after umpteen wins? I mean, that’s the kind of “magical thinking” that gets people into real mindfuck-kind-of-trouble and then they end up in a shrink’s office because they believe that their presence alone creates bad situations for themselves or others, when clearly that’s not the way life works.
No one has that kind of power.
More often than not.
Hell, I’ve gone to school to become a shrink, so I know better than to believe in stupid thinking like that. Banish the thought, even though there is Edward Lorenz’s Butterfly Effect Theory to consider; which has science behind it and not magic. (You know what I’m talking about, the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in this part of the world can set forth a force that can create a tsunami on the other side of the world — that theory?) I mean, sure, life is unpredictable and, sure, chaos tends to rule. But the Butterfly Effect in Chaos Theory simply tries to explain, you can even call it providing rules for why minute changes in one part of a system can create major changes in the overall system. In the world of counseling and psychology, we depend on this in family dynamics. Small changes in just one person of a family unit can create major changes in how the entire family functions. (Sometimes this is good; sometimes not so much.) But I digress.
The point is, how can I know for sure that my watching Jeopardy on Monday night didn’t cause poor James to lose? I mean I don’t profess to know the ways of the world, or the ins and outs of chaos theory and what causes what. But in that moment when James Holzhauer lost, I gotta admit — I felt the power that old Shadwell felt in Good Omens when he thought his finger was a major weapon. It’s just so surreal when you just feel, when you just know from the very beginning that someone’s about to lose. I can’t explain James Holzhauer’s losing during the one day I happened to watch; and I don’t know how I knew it at the very beginning of the show; but I did. Believe me or not. It doesn’t matter and it doesn’t change anything.
Nor am I trying to take away from the librarian who clearly beat Holzhauer fair and square, smart lady that she is; nor does it take away from reading children’s books as part of a winning strategy — but, even so, I just have a few more words before I’m done here: For those of you who were wanting to see James Holzhauer lose already? You’re welcome.
And for those of you who are pissed about his losing? Don’t be ridiculous. It’s not my fault. It probably had nothing to do with me whatsoever. But if it did, then it was completely and utterly out of my control; and also, it probably wouldn’t hurt for you to remember just who you’re blaming here, mister. Because how do any of us know for sure that I’m not just that powerful after all?
Lastly, my version of Cottage Pie wasn’t half bad. It got 4 out of 5 stars from David and Ryan. I even gave Buddy, who is an incredibly picky eater for a dog, his own helping and he promptly earned a seat at the Clean Plate Club. I will do a bit of tweaking to this recipe in the future, though; then maybe it will get a 5 out of 5 stars rating next time. If there is a next time. Because my son just informed me that he knows I tried my best and that’s why he gave me 4 stars. In English that means that my attempt was “okay,” but it really wasn’t his favorite; and so I didn’t satisfy the craving he had for the Shepherd’s Pie he remembered eating many moons ago somewhere else. Apparently, my version was a little too upscale for his palate. So does this mean the dog has a more sophisticated palate than my son?
Yep, so that’s just like getting an “E” for effort, my Wayward Friends; though I would rather lose on Jeopardy with two plus million in my pocket.