In a few weeks it will be my turn to fix a meal for twelve people. I’ve begged off from this before. Anyone who has eaten at my house would agree Sherry should not do the cooking. It was my sister who earned the nickname, “Crisco”, not me. I was caught up in conjugating German verbs and building fences for a soil conservation project when Mom was teaching in the kitchen. Who knew so many years later, I’d still be asking Mom “Do I boil the water first?”
Yesterday she sent me an Easter card with four or five Recipes Even Sherry Can Fix for this upcoming meal. I love Mom. All the possibilities that I feel in the world of poetry, my mother finds in recipes. And look closely at these photos, you’ll see she’s remembered to add advice and nuturing for the only child of hers who is kitchen challenged. Reading her extra advice in these recipes makes me feel capable and loved. She knew just what to write to encourage me:
A few years ago our family of seventeen spent some days at my home, celebrating our parents’ 50th anniversary. Time was spent converting water volleyball to water ballet volleyball (a new rule was invented that only a well extended foot/leg could be used to advance the beach ball in the pool); playing rounds of Hearts in the shelter of two locust trees and teaching the youngest kids the various ways one might adapt the rules without being accused of out-and-out cheating. Whatever one might call this desire to alter the rules a wee bit is found in the way Mom cooks.
In preparing for the Anniversary Get Together, we had heard Mom scored on getting the original Borries recipe for its famed spaghetti. Borries was the locally famous cafe in Black Eagle, an Italian mining community on the abandoned edge of town, right before you found the Missouri River and followed it five miles to reach our house. What did you leave behind once you left home for good? Any place like Borries?
On Mom’s day to cook (two brothers and two nephews also took turns sponsoring meals) she and I drove to the grocery store. Mom pulled out a ratty recipe card. Oh my gawd, there was the answer to the mystery behind Borries spaghetti. I navigated the cart and peered over Mom’s shoulder. Ah! Two pounds of 93% ground beef. But Mom stopped at the butcher’s counter and asked for a pound of seasoned sausage. “I know the recipe calls for beef, but I like to punch it up with sausage.”
When we reached the tomato sauce aisle, what do you suppose?
“I know the recipe calls for stewed tomatoes, but I like to use tomato paste.” Instead of onion, an extra clove of garlic. And add a bit of brown sugar and a bullion cube.
By the time we had packed our groceries home, I realized a few things: Mom is more Irish than the rest of us with her lust for punching up a story (and when I say story I mean recipe); learning to be a good cook starts with shopping for groceries; and allowing oneself to embellish here and there, now and then, calls for a sort of courage. Whether we punch things up when we write or cook or paint our front door red, adding on new rules to the way we live life shouldn’t be a genetic trait.