Issue 17

It's a Family Recipe


                As we’re getting ready for a dinner party, I become somewhat apprehensive as Rebecca declares that she is going to be creative.  I look in the frying pan to find cranberries and tangerines bubbling.  “It’s salad dressing,” she says.  I consider that this is the first time we have invited this couple over and that perhaps it will be the last.  I don’t understand; I thought Rebecca liked these people.  “Don’t worry,” she says, “I’ll tell them it’s an old family recipe.”  I wonder if our new friends have heard this one before.

                My wife Rebecca has never followed a recipe to the letter in her life.  Her most amazing talent is the ability to create her best meals from what I would swear is an empty refrigerator.  She is such a good cook that my ability to mix ingredients has atrophied.  I struggle with remembering how to use the microwave and if it wasn’t for the occasional barbecue session to stretch my cooking muscles, I know that I would starve the next time she left me alone for more than two meals in a row.

                I grew up with creative cooking.  My mother never made a dish the same way twice, which was frustrating when I was seven and wonderful when I became an adult.  Creative, however, is one of those descriptive words that occasionally has a dark side.  In rare instances, the number of which I can count on one hand, my mother laid before us an unfathomable and inedible disaster. My brother and I would stare bug-eyed at each other, dreading the moment Mom would ask, “So what do you think?”  We could only let the awkward silence go on so long before she would know the truth.  But just how do you tell the person who feeds you every day and who has the power of sending you to bed without dinner – hm, that’s a thought – that you don’t want the meal she spent the last hour of her life working hard to make just for you?

                “It’s interesting,” my brother said.

                “Yeah,” I joined in, relieved that a way out had been discovered, “it’s interesting.”

                There was one extraordinary and shocking instance when Mom herself spit out her food and declared, “This is terrible!”  Since she knew it was bad, there was no need for us to hide what we thought.  What a relief to be able to put our true feelings into words!  Unfortunately, what we didn’t realize immediately was that we still had to eat it.  Don’t get me wrong; Mom took her chances, as did we all, and the amazing dishes far outweighed the ones that stuck in our throats.  The only bummer with the good ones is that she could never remember how to make them again.

                The biggest mistake I have ever made with Rebecca was telling her the story about how my brother and I used to call Mom’s disasters interesting.  I realized the magnitude of this error the first time one of her concoctions turned on her and I had to eat it.  She already knew, I could see it in her eyes, that even the dogs wouldn’t touch it.  She sat poised with her fork, waiting for me to take the first bite to see if I would drop dead instantly or only after painful convulsions.  I considered running, but she had had a rough day and needed the strokes.  There was no way out.  She was cashing in one of those “for better or for worse” chips.

                I didn’t eat much of that meal so there were plenty of leftovers, the thought of which terrified me considering the potential that I might  have to eat this meal reheated several more times.  Fortunately, the next day Rebecca was more herself and, in a generous fit, gave the remains to my friend Ben.  Ben thinks cooking means eating out of the rice maker for three straight days, so he was ecstatic to receive such a windfall.  Some friends are worth more than their weight in gold.

                Our dinner guests have arrived and sit at the table waiting to sip their wine.  Rebecca brings in the salad with the cranberry/tangerine dressing and starts the bowl around.  The couple look at each other apprehensively.

                “What an interesting shade of red,” he says.

                “It’s an old family recipe,” announces Rebecca.

                “I like it,” she says.  “Can I get the recipe?”

                Yep, they’ve heard it before.


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