Lessons on can and can’t

Now and then I take the opportunity to share a post that’s more of a personal story than a lesson about networking, connecting, and other more business-y topics. It’s not that I’m all that interesting; it’s just that I do some things that are more along the lines of….bone-headed. Perhaps even entertaining. Some of these stories may contain a few pearls of wisdom. This is one of those stories.

It was 6:10 p.m. on Sunday evening in early December. I was dressed in a favorite party hostess outfit:  flowy   ̶   dare I say glamorous  ̶  black party hostess pants, the gauzy, drapey green top I bought in Paris at a boutique for emerging fashion designers, the sparkly art nouveau earrings given to me by a good friend when he knew I needed a lift, and a pair of black velvet kitten pumps. Comfortable ones. (No party hostess ever succeeded in making her guests feel welcomed, festive, and at ease when her own feet were hurting.)

The house was clean(ish), tidied up, and decorated for the Holidays. Tree and bannister were wrapped in festive greenery and alive with sparkling twinkle lights. Balsam scented candles were lit.  Gifts (fun ones) were wrapped and under the tree.  Soon the doorbell would begin ringing and my guests, fellow board members of our local chapter of the National Speakers Association, would be arriving.

It was the perfect moment (not too early, not too late) to prepare my creamily decadent, flavorsome, and highly-anticipated Hot Artichoke and Green Chile Dip. In less than five minutes I’d be popping it into the oven so it would be hot and bubbly and slightly golden around the edges when everyone had arrived.  (The recipe follows. But stay with me here.)

I can be organized when I set my mind to it, so I had the ingredients assembled on the counter. The list is short, but critical.  All I had to do was open a jar and a plastic container and do a little “measuring” and “mixing.” (I put those words in quotations because when it comes to cooking I don’t go for scientific accuracy. Friends and family can attest to this.)

Oh, and did I mention I had to open a couple of cans?  That’s where the trouble began.

The first can, the mild green chiles, opened with ease. After all, I was using the ϋber hip and ergonomically designed can opener my son had given me for Christmas a few years before. Cans almost open by themselves with this handy device. Zip, zip, zip and you’re done.  Voila! The lid comes right off.  No muss. No fuss. It’s practically foolproof.

Into a mixing bowl went the chiles.

Next up was the can of quartered artichokes, which I would drain and chop coarsely. Once again  ̶  and with every confidence  ̶  I expertly clamped the can opener onto the edge of the can and began turning the knob.  But instead of an easy zip, zip, zip, I experienced a more strenuous, grating, and ratchety erk, erk, erk.

The lid did not budge.

“Hmmm. This never happens,” I muttered to myself.  “Guess I didn’t clamp down hard enough on the edge of the lid.”  I tried again.  Turn, turn, turn.  No change. More erk, erk, erk.

I glanced at the kitchen wall clock. It was 6:20. Guests would begin arriving soon.  Time was zipping by faster than I had anticipated.

One more try.  TURN. TURN. TURN. ERK. ERK. ERK.

Still nothing.  I began to feel the first slight waves of panic.

Then survival mode kicked in. Thinking like the ever-resourceful Midwestern-Girl-Scout-turned-get-‘er-done- Texan that I am, I opened a nearby drawer and began rummaging for the only other can opener I knew I had on hand: the kind my Grandpa Howard often used to open a can of frosty Hamm’s beer (from The Land of Sky Blue Waters). Some people call these “church keys.” But not my grandpa. Other than the fact that he liked his beer (and bourbon  ̶  and sometimes beer and bourbon together in the form of a Boilermaker), he was a good Methodist.

Using this somewhat primitive tool, I attacked the lid with vigor, systematically popping little triangles into the lid every half inch or so.  I had made my way halfway around the circumference of the can before it began to collapse into an uneven oval.  The lid was beginning to take on the appearance of a badly crafted Ninja throwing star.  I began to worry that the evening was going to be akin to that 1970s Saturday Night Live skit where Dan Aykroyd plays Julia Child and “cuts the Dickens out of her finger,” bleeds profusely, and passes out on the kitchen floor.

“Must. Be. Careful.” I told myself as I attempted to punch more little triangles into the lid.

Throughout this arduous process artichoke juice began leaking  ̶  no splattering everywhere.  (Though thankfully not on my gauzy Parisian designer top, flowy cocktail party hostess pants, or black velvet kitten heels.)

Realizing I had to vary my technique and tools, I turned somewhat desperately to a pair of kitchen shears in another nearby drawer. I eventually pried and sliced into the can lid enough to drain the excess juice into the sink and extract the artichokes into the mixing bowl.

It was at that moment, as the can was inverted over the bowl that I realized my error.  I could now see the  “underside” of the can.

Only it wasn’t exactly the underside.

It was the top. Outfitted with a convenient, easy-pull ring tab.

Pulling the can out of the grocery bag, I had apparently put it on the countertop upside down.  So if I’d bothered to look at the label before I attempted to open the can, I would have discovered that. But no. I had been in a hurry and was feeling all smug with myself, which resulted in a struggle.

What a doofus.

Then I smiled, laughed, and realized that this was a great story. The type of divine. dopey gift every writer, speaker and country western song writer yearns for. This story was not only humbling, even self-deprecating, it was a story with lessons.  Among the ones I can think of so far:

  1. Slow down and pay attention. (Said another more hip and cool way: be mindful and present.)
  2. Read the label (maybe even the instructions) first.
  3. Just when you think you’re so fancy and everything is going perfectly, be aware that you may be missing something ridiculously and basically obvious. And it could be your undoing.
  4. If the task is a struggle, you might be doing something wrong. Or using the wrong tool. Or doing a job best left to an expert. Like a caterer.

What lessons can you see in this story? When have you lurched ahead with a task, struggled, tried ever more elaborate methods in an effort to get the job done, and then realized a very basic mistake that could have been avoided and a solution that was so easy you felt like a numbskull?

In closing, yes, my dip made it into the carefully preheated 350 degree oven, and cooked evenly and beautifully. It was hot, bubbly and slightly golden around the edges when I served it. It was also gone in about five minutes, which means that in the end my dip (and party) were a success.  All’s well that ends well.  Or put another way:  Sure, you might screw up on the path to brilliance, but if the results are scrumptious, consider it a success!

Here’s to your success.

AND here’s my Artichoke Dip recipe!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1 can quartered artichokes, coarsely chopped
1 small can mild green chiles
1 cup of mayonnaise (not Miracle Whip!)
1 cup grated parmesan cheese (preferably the good stuff from the deli, not the kind that comes in the green cardboard “can”)
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
A few shakes of black pepper

Mix these ingredients in a bowl and pour into an ovenproof pan. Bake for about 30 minutes or until bubbly and golden around the edges.

You can add a festive little garnishy effect by sprinkling some chopped green onion and tomato onto it after it comes out of the oven.

Serve warm with tortilla chips or crackers.

And don’t dilly-dally in tasting this because it will be gone before you know it!

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4 Responses to Lessons on can and can’t
  1. SueAnn
    December 23, 2015 | 11:25 am

    Thanks for the laugh Patti. That was fun – and now I feel less like a doofus – or at least in good company!

    SueAnn

  2. Jan King
    December 23, 2015 | 12:06 pm

    I can just see you doing this, Patti!! Thanks for sharing — It helps when we can turn a “bone-headed” moment into a meaningful lesson!!!

  3. Carla
    December 23, 2015 | 2:47 pm

    I learned that sometimes you just need to laugh and that I wish you wrote these blogs more often! Love it Patti!

    • pattid
      December 23, 2015 | 3:37 pm

      Ladies, there is plenty more where that came from. My life is some days like an episode from I Love Lucy or Laverne & Shirley.

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