Most people do not leap from the womb with an innate interest in cooking. As we become older and increasingly aware of the world, this interest can develop—usually with help from our mothers or other female relatives who spend the weekends creating a symphony of irresistible aromas in those tabernacles we call kitchens. It is with growling stomachs and drooling mouths that we gather eagerly around the table when a meal is served and really, really mean it when we thank God for the bounty we are about to receive. We will actually feel sorry for God that he can’t partake of the steaming deliciousness set before us.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t my house I just described.
My mother is a lousy cook.
And worst of all, she hasn’t ever realized it.
She mistakes desperate efforts to keep from moaning in pain for what she refers to as “yummy noises” and dishes up another helping. She feels that green complexions are becoming and that continued rushes to the bathroom are less to throw up than to “powder one’s nose.” Even the men.
My brother had no idea what a bad cook our mom was until he joined the Army and began sending recipes home.
Last year, for Christmas, I gave her a year of cooking lessons. I knew she’d be offended, but I also knew that she’d never be willing to hurt my feelings by not going. Tough love, I know; but sometimes it is necessary to meet drastic situations with equally drastic measures. I mean, our land line is set on speed dial to the Atlanta Poison Control Center…and we are on a first-name basis with all the operators there, for chrissake!
So she began her cooking lessons. I had to promise to stop by and sample her “homework” every weekend; so I was at the table that first Saturday morning, along with my brother and my father.
Her first project was Eggs Benedict.
I can promise you one thing—if Pope Benedict had sampled these, shortly thereafter everyone in Rome would have been standing around watching for white smoke.
I should also mention that there are three dogs in the house; but after begging scraps from the table as puppies and being laid up at the vet’s for a month or more, they’d growl at a steak if my mother had cooked it. Therefore, feeding the dogs under the table was a closed avenue to digestive escape.
At any rate, we choked it down, then raced to the bathroom. This time, ipecac was not going to be necessary.
It’s only the first week, I thought. Give her time.
The following Saturday, we sampled her second assignment. It was the first time I’d ever seen a soufflé that had to be cut with a chain saw. After we complimented her to the sky, we hid the pieces under the table. Later on, my dad took them into his workshop and trimmed them down so we could paint them and use them as croquet posts.
Okay, I thought. It’s just week two. Things are bound to get better.
Only they didn’t.
Next Saturday, Mom favored us with Jambalaya, which she had cooked in a tempered steel pot. When she served it, it dissolved the china, the table, the floor, the ceiling of the basement, and the sump pump. However, if sufficiently diluted, it would remove paint…from anything.
So much for week three.
Saturday arrived again, far too soon for some of us. We held our collective breath as she unveiled…tada…Baked Alaska. I think there was actually soil from Alaska in it. It was the only dessert you could eat and exfoliate with at the same time.
Week four over…thank God.
The next week, she produced dill pickles. Well, that’s better, I thought. How can you mess up a pickle?
What was I thinking?
One bite of those kerosene cucumbers and all smoking at the table immediately ceased. It took an entire tube of toothpaste and a bottle of Listerine to get rid of the taste.
But we gamely hung in.
On the sixth Saturday, she treated us to Clams Casino—and the odds were against us, believe me.
We hastily convened a family conference in the next room while Mom was doing the washing up. After much discussion, we decided to give it just one more week.
Saturday number seven saw pork chops, mashed potatoes, and broccoli that were almost good. Things were looking up.
The next week, we had a wine tasting before the French cuisine dinner we’d been promised. We went through a case and a half, and were so drunk by the time she put the Boeuf en Croute on the table we were, as incredible as it sounds, eager to try it! As a matter of fact, we ate every last bite of it, béarnaise sauce and all.
The next morning we were not only hung over but also suffering from symptoms of every disease imaginable. We were rushed to the hospital where we were transfused, pumped out, injected, examined, tested, IVed, x-rayed, CAT scanned and MRIed. The three of us even had tattoos, with no idea where they came from. The medical staff had never seen anything like it, and there was talk of indicting my mother for attempted murder.
A judge solved the problem by placing a restraining order on Mom that kept her 100 feet from the stove at all times.
When Christmas comes this year, I plan to give the whole family a gift.
I’m hiring Wolfgang Puck.