“Now I want to go over this list with you.” Those are words my partner Rob utters when being helpful. I am grateful, though periodically the two sentiments are at odds. Few people, if any, are able to do everything. Actually, none are. Strength and weakness, human composition. We are no more in control of who we are than of what we know.
My mother Edith was distinctly crafty. Cooking, sewing, crocheting, quilting and even refinishing furniture were her wheel house. A few years premature, she could have been the original Martha Stewart. I follow suit, creative, cooking up a storm and baking as well. But I also inherited a critical flaw, being critical.
True, my feminine side was meshed, molded really, by my mother. My masculine side, in terms of architecture and design aesthetic, was that of my father, Henry. His was a different form of critical. He passed on to me a super power, guarded closely and nurtured, a gifted and intuitive eye for detail and the disruption of it. In contrast, the thing he could not do, much to our mother’s dismay, was cook.
“I have to go out early tomorrow so daddy is making you breakfast…lots of luck.”
It wasn’t that my father couldn’t cook or ever burned anything. It was not his place to cook, other than toasting english muffins or raisin bread with those cinnamon swirls. Of course the grill was his domain, but in those days it’s as it was, “ man’s work”. I will afford him that.
“You guys want toast or cereal?” The choices never varied unless we had pop tarts or Eggos in the house.
Dennis, a Rice Krispie officianado challenged our father with sliced bananas. Randy loved white toast with butter, cinnamon and sugar while I had a penchant for Frosted Flakes.
“How about a T-bone,” my brother asked sarcastically.
Under the auspices of Henry, our kitchen was never awarded a Michelin rating. None of us starved at the hands of our father, more importantly he won points from our mother.
It’s funny how life comes around. When I met Rob there was no need to show our strengths nor weaknesses. He looked healthy and his kitchen gave the impression of one who was adept in its existence. His cabinets and buffet housed beautiful china, serving platters and cutlery. Crystal glasses stood proudly at attention and his linens were neatly pressed and stored. Later I learned why.
“So do you like to cook?” I was interrogating. “Any special recipes?” I wasn’t prying, simply curious.
He hesitated. “I make a good brisket for the Jewish Holidays.” I was impressed. A good meat dish, a favorite of mine, was a good start. We were on to something.
As my birthday approached he presented me with a box. Inside were four, perhaps six cookies, misshapen and somewhat mismatched. “Happy birthday,” he said, “I baked them myself.” It was touching.
“This is so sweet,” then, “You only baked six?” It seemed odd.
“I couldn’t give you the others, they weren’t…um, quite right.” Of two dozen cookies six or so survived. It was enlightening..
As the years passed truth reared its head. Generous and loving as my partner is, he is lost in the kitchen. Oh, there is a repertoire he embraces—hot dogs and beans, tuna salad and his “go to” recipe for pasta with ketchup. Yes, my Italian mother rolls in her grave each time it’s eaten in our house. In fairness he did not lie, he makes a mean brisket.
“I’m sick.” The moment was that of a Mack truck hitting you. ”I don’t think I can grocery shop today.”
“I’ll go to the store, I can grocery shop.” The words seemed misplaced though enthusiastically leaving his mouth. “Really, I can do it.” Were his eyes that much brighter or was my fever causing hallucinations?
Have you uttered words you wish you could take back, knowing you’d set a trend? Here were mine: “Just call if you don’t know what something is.” He was, and to this day is, true to my suggestion.
Two hundred forty seconds after entering any grocery store my phone rings. “They don’t have 15 oz cans of Cannelini beans, only 15.5…what should I do?” Some questions need no answers. They need questions.
“This is a joke, right?” Perhaps a note of sarcasm was present, its difficult to recall. His voice was childlike, as if teacher had mocked student before an entire classroom.
“I don’t know these things, I’m doing my best.” Point taken, yet still, to this day… Admittedly I am hyper-critical. In this instance yes, it’s my mother. It was the following time, the simplest mission, I could not believe.
“I need four zucchini. Can you run to the store for me?” His excitement of being entrusted was overwhelming.
“Of course! Four you said, right?” Confirmation was a small price to pay. “Yes, four.” Easy enough.
“I’m on it!” Forty minutes later my phone rang.
“Where are you?” I asked.
“You won’t believe this. It’s like every store is sold out. I’ve been to Adam’s, Stop and Shop and Whole Foods. No one has it. I’m heading to Shop Rite.” He was right, I didn’t believe it.
“So I’m here and they don’t have it either. All they have is green squash.”
“Buy it, it’ll work just fine.” Curiosity gnawed. “Did the other stores have those too?”
“Yes,” he admitted. I simply didn’t have the heart to inform him.
Yesterday’s climate was created for soup, escarole, with tiny meatballs afloat. I sent Rob to the market for the ingredients and two calls later he was done. Reaching into the crisper for the head of escarole I found broccoli rabe. At least it was green. I felt as a “Chopped” contestant might. You open the basket of ingredients and are surprised. I, like my mother, quickly turned the meat into sausage and the dish into another. A revelation occurred.
In our relationship I seldom give compliments, an admitted flaw, especially when something is not quite correct. So publicly I am complimenting his effort, he did, after all, buy a vegetable. Rob, like my father, has his strengths, weaknesses and the kitchen is Kryptonite. Even when his powers are crippled he comes through, like my dad, a high compliment. So what of “getting it right”? Well, maybe someday. For now we will “go over” the list letting the dice roll. My revelation? A squash by any other name is still a squash. Rob by any other name is more than that, he is an homage to a man I adored…along with his lack of culinary experience. Damn. I am my mother again.