The Writers’ Guild prompt was: “A Memorable Dinner Date,” which I chose to approach in a somewhat different way.
by Sue Wurster
For some, uranium dating marks time. For others, it’s tree rings. For us, it was dinner. Not long after we started dating, Kathy chose to prepare our first home-cooked meal in my ridiculously tiny New York City efficiency apartment.
“So, where are your spices?” she asked me, turning from what constituted the kitchen (a grown-up version of the kid unit) to the den (the desk right behind her).
“Up there on the left above the sink,” I pointed. Where else would they be? I thought. I’ve got all of three cupboards.
“I see salt, pepper, and a jar of Lawry’s,” she returned, “—but no spices.”
From that moment, the cultivation of my Midwestern palate was underway.
Two years later, we took it as tacit endorsement of our relationship when Kathy’s mom Betty added a bowl of sage stuffing to her Thanksgiving fare. (And I thought I’d been subtle about not having developed a taste for her renowned oyster variety.) Kathy’s grandmother Caroline and the New Orleans family retainer Ella had passed their gourmet secrets to Betty who, in turn, gave them to her daughter. Ten years later, after Betty died, Kathy placed her mom’s large, red recipe box on a shelf in our pantry and made her famous brisket and kugel for dinner.
Now, Kathy never actually used recipes, her own or anybody else’s. I, however, follow them religiously, and what I cook ends up coming out just fine. Kathy, though, could read a recipe, toss it aside, and do her own thing—always resulting in something … extra fine.
After Kathy died, I thought I’d try to carry on some of their best traditions myself—not Betty’s oyster stuffing, of course, but her brisket and kugel, for sure. I went to that red box in the pantry and discovered that it contained no recipes at all. On card after card, Betty described her dishes and made notes—hints, reminders, directives. I could actually hear her voice: If you forgot to get shallots, add a little garlic.
The one ingredient our spice rack eventually lacked when it came to home-cooked dinners was time. Not t-h-y-m-e time but, rather, the minutes and hours that gourmet cooking entails. As teacher parents with papers to grade and picky eaters to feed, we ended up resorting to the quick and easy. My gastronome’s array of gourmet cooking paraphernalia gathered dust in the pantry. There never seemed to be enough grown-up time for the espresso machine. Panini press. Crepe maker. Sushi shaping tubes. Or the bread machine. All ended up waiting, as were we, for our picky eaters to develop their more sophisticated palates.
It’s been almost seven years now. About two years ago, Cara pulled out the fancy steamer for her experimental veggie concoctions. And a few months later, after a shopping jaunt in Natick that somehow ended up with her buying yeast, of all things, Dani commandeered the bread machine. Both have dipped into that recipe box to create their own versions of both Grandma Betty and Mommy’s perennial favorites.
From that first dinner in my city shoebox to the last dish of Thanksgiving oyster stuffing, what Kathy gave all of us–every day, in every way–was the very best in true “soul food.” Complete with spices.
This blog has been such a highlight for me at BOLLI, and I hope to see more members choose to write and share thoughts, favorite books/movies/tv shows, local recommendations for restaurants and/or other establishments, memories–or take your camera for a walk and send us the results!
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