By Hannah Reich Berman

Years ago, the following bit of humor made the rounds: “Someone told me to cheer up because things could be worse. So I cheered up–and sure enough, things got worse!” Back in the day, that was considered a good joke. It is an old one and it is no longer funny, but I am here to tell you that there is some truth to it.

On more than one occasion, I have had the experience of starting to cook a dish or to bake a cake, only to discover that I was missing a key ingredient. When that happened, I would call my neighbor and ask to borrow whatever it was that I was missing. If she wasn’t home, I was out of luck so I would have to get dressed and head to a store. That might not seem like such a big deal–unless the temperature outdoors happened to be 20° below and the landscape was covered with mounds of snow and (hidden) ice. And, unfortunately, that is usually when I’d get into my creative cooking mode.

Frustrated, I would bite the bullet and head to the closest food store, all the while thinking, “Why didn’t I check my food supply before I decided to cook or bake?” Then, in an effort to remain cheerful, I would tell myself to cheer up because things could be worse! So I would cheer up–and sure enough, things would usually get worse.

A couple of months ago, I took a recipe from someone for a cooked vegetable salad. It would make a perfect side dish as an accompaniment to beef, poultry, fish, or even an omelet. It doesn’t get any more versatile than that. And the best part was that it was a totally fat-free and sugar-free dish. As I am currently on diet number 78–I have a tendency to count the number of diets I have tried–I realized that this dish was right up my alley.

Actually, I am not dieting. I joined Weight Watchers a while back, and their program is not a diet. It is a healthy way to live and eat without denying oneself anything. It is, as my lecturer, Eileen, always reminds us, based strictly on moderation, portion control, and making sensible choices. Despite the fact that I sound like a Weight Watchers PR man, to the best of my recollection, I joined about seven years ago and to date have not lost anywhere near the amount of weight I had hoped to lose. Without giving further details, I will say only that, according to my calculations, it has cost me somewhere in the vicinity of $392 per pound! This is not the fault of the Weight Watchers program, which, being a sound and sensible one, has been around for many years. The only thing not sensible about it is me. But I keep at it.

Getting back to my experience when I decided to make that veggie dish . . . as it was late June at the time, I need not explain that there was neither snow nor ice on the ground. The temperature hovered in the 80-degree range even at that hour, which happened to be 11 at night. As I am not much of a sleeper, cooking and baking at night works for me. Another advantage to midnight in the kitchen is that I won’t be stuck indoors, cooking during the day, in the nice weather.

It was after 11 p.m. and, as I knew sleep was a long way off for me, I turned on some of my favorite music, took out all the necessary ingredients, and began. In addition to fresh vegetables, the recipe included two cans of mushrooms and two cans of seasoned, diced tomatoes. So far, so good! Since calling anyone would be out of the question at that late hour, I was happy to note that for once I had everything I needed.

According to the directions, when making this dish, the canned items are added to the pot just as the fresh vegetables have begun to soften. It all went well until I got to that part. That was when I discovered that my can opener did not work. I had used it the day before to open a can of tuna fish, and it worked just fine. But now, just like that, a day later, the can opener quit on me. If it had shown signs of trouble when I wanted to make tuna salad, that would have been fine. I could simply have put the can away, eaten something else for lunch, and gone out to get a new can opener. But that would have been too easy!

By this time it was close to midnight and I was halfway through cooking the vegetables. I am unaware of any store nearby that is open all night, and even if there were one, I wasn’t anxious to go out at that hour. Trying to remain calm, I told myself that the can opener might have quit, but I would not. I persevered. Unfortunately, the can opener had not quit entirely. It was worse than that. It opened up only small sections of the lid, and no matter how hard I pressed and went around and around with that opener, I couldn’t get the entire lid off.

Rarely short on solutions, my next step was to carefully stick my thumb underneath those small sections that had opened and try to pry the lid up. I silently prayed that someone from the Hatzalah hotline would answer in case I sliced my thumbs and had to call for help. Fortunately, there was no need for that. I am not sure how, but I did not cut my thumbs. Still, I was unable I to get the lids to lift enough to get anything out of the can.

But I refused to give up. My next trick was a real beauty! I stuck a knife under those opened parts. It worked–minimally. The mushrooms did not budge but remained where they were, tightly packed inside their cans. But, since those were basically cooked and ready to eat, I figured I would just get a new can opener the next day and add the mushrooms after the fact. On the other hand, the diced tomatoes, in liquid, slid out through the small openings and I was able to add them to the pot. Not such a big deal.

What was a big deal was that, thanks to my digging around with the knife, pieces of tomato and liquid squirted all over the countertop, the cabinet doors, the floor–and me! All in all, it was one big mess. Martha Stewart I am not, and I don’t expect to be getting the Good Housekeeping seal of approval anytime soon.

That joke about things getting worse is no joke after all. That’s the way it is! v

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at or 516-902-3733.


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