Last week as I stood at the counter mincing chicken breast K stood beside me shelling edamame. Conversation drifted this way and that before we finally landed on a topic she wanted to discuss.
“Mama, have you ever made something too horrible to eat?”
It’s a plain enough question. But I can’t always tell what’s behind a conversation. What darker motive lurks behind the easy words. Was she looking for me to admit I’m an awful cook? Did she think the fried rice was going to be horrid? Did she just want something else for dinner? I mean I know I’ve made some things she didn’t like but they weren’t awful. I thought back to the days I first moved to Portland living in a little apartment on NW 21st. I’d have to wait for payday to do any grocery shopping and so I became accustomed to cooking up whatever happened to be left in the cupboard. That’s when I created my tuna ramen pan-fried noodle dish. I’d tell you what’s in it but I just listed the ingredients. Mostly if something didn’t turn out the way I wanted it was just bland. Sometimes bland with intent because everyone likes things a little different. Douse it with salt, hot sauce, soy sauce, butter, ketchup, mayo, vinegar, sour cream. Everyone has their own thing. Hell I’ll eat just about anything topped in avocado and sprinkled with salt and pepper.
I guess my answer was no. I’d never made anything too horrible to eat. Not good enough to finish the leftovers, sure. But it did bring to mind an incident from my youth. A meal gone horribly terribly wrong. Something as awful to look at as it was to taste.
In my home growing up we were all required to cook. Everyone had their specialties but most nights it was something quick and easy. This particular night it was my dad’s turn to cook. I think he wanted to try something new. If I recall we were supposed to have fettuccine in pesto and big green salad.
But fresh ingredients weren’t as plentiful when I was a kid as they seem now. If I wanted to make pesto I’d pop down to the grocery store or the farmers market and pick up a nice big bunch of fresh basil, or hell a whole basil plant. Pick up some pine nuts while I’m at it and the rest is stuff I already have at home. It would take moments to get it all ground up in the food processor and from there we could use as is or make a pesto cream sauce.
But that’s not how it happened that night. Instead there was a package. A mix. I don’t know all of the details but I do know that we all stood around the kitchen counter staring in awe. I feel like I can remember a smell. A stench. Not of fresh herbs, but some earthly sourness. And as we gazed upon the dish my father had created all four of us could only come up with one description to do it justice. It appeared as though someone had placed Kermit the frog in the blender and given him a good long whir.
That night I learned an important lesson, it’s okay to admit your mistakes. And it’s advisable to have a good pizza place on speed dial.
Update: You know how I said it’s okay to admit your mistakes? Apparently my dad was out of town and that was my mom’s dinner travesty. My dad’s perfect dinner record remains.