One day when we were jointly planning a dinner, my mom looked me in the eye and said, 58 years of marriage, three meals a day, 365 days a year – but, oh, take off a few meals a year for dining out.
Well, you do the math. No matter which way you add it up, that’s one heck of a lot of meal planning and prep.
Don’t get me wrong. My mom loves to cook and is brilliant at it. All my cousins, and I’m sure more than a few neighbourhood slackers, loved coming to Auntie Joyce’s house for dinner. In Edmonton back in the 1960s, she was truly avant-garde, venturing into Italian spaghetti sauce made with wine and spices tied up in a little sack cut from the toe of a clean pair of pantyhose, or cooking rice with stir-fry when everyone else was still serving meat loaf and potatoes.
And it wasn’t just the food. When company came for dinner she was so relaxed and confident, she put everyone at ease and created a bon vivant atmosphere as enjoyable as the meal.
People thought she was quite the wizard; I still do.
Mom collects recipe books like some people collect hockey cards. She can read a recipe like a well-seasoned veteran of mystery novels can read a book jacket – she knows exactly how things will turn out and whether the darn thing is worth delving into.
Once I told her I made some recipe I found in the newspaper that, despite the seemingly good combination of ingredients, turned out to be a dud. Show it to me, she said. I did. Oh no, she said quietly, meaning, I wouldn’t make that. How she could tell remains a mystery to me, much like a psychic’s preternatural gifts that shouldn’t be questioned when you encounter them.
So on that particular day she wasn’t complaining per se, merely tallying up the facts of life for a woman in a traditional relationship from another generation, who is expected to do most of the cooking.
Okay, okay, maybe she was whinging, just a little, but not about the actual work involved in getting a full-meal deal ready for a tableful of people. What exasperated her after all these years was continuously coming up with the concept for a meal: a salad that went with the main course, a dessert that fit the meal and everyone’s expectations and allergies, and a total scheme that was doable in terms of ingredients and budget.
I still think some of the finest meals I’ve ever had were the ones I had at home as a kid and a teenager, and the ones I am still lucky enough to enjoy today in my mom and dad’s home.