Catching A Man With A Can
I guess I am bold enough to admit that the kitchen and the notion of food are the bane of my existence. Food has always been my personal demon and nothing that holds any charm or allure. I was cosmically paired with family members who are thin as rails, chocoholics and mindless-midnight munchers.
I, on the other hand, marvel at the mysteries of vegetables and find my mouth watering for broccoli. Can’t stand chocolate. Don’t like cookies. Love salads. Not that it matters, I am the one who has to schlep around an extra 100 pounds.
Food in our lives has been the basis for more than one union. When I first met my husband, my grandmother took one look at his lanky frame and declared that if I was ever going to have a chance in hell of “bagging him,” I had to do it through his stomach.
“Yeah,” my father agreed. “I married your mom because of your grandmother’s cooking.” And, it was true. My mother even admits it.
It has long been family lore that it was indeed my grandmother who seduced my father through her culinary wiles and exotic spices just enough so that he would fall in love with my mother. However, once the veil of courtship was pierced and marital reality set in, my father was left to enjoy my mother’s idea of salad: A whack of ice-berg lettuce flooded with Wishbone Ranch dressing.
However, it should be observed that love triumphed and no matter the culinary achievements, or lack thereof, my father really did believe that my mother was fabulous in the kitchen. My sister, brother and I prefer not to surmise that it had to do with anything but food.
As I was the next generation to follow suit, it came my time to cook for the potential love-match. Everyone in the family was poised to help me land my first big fish. But, they warned, my cooking for this fish would kill it. All I had to do was bring it on shore. At least that was the popular wisdom of the ladies in my family.
My kitchen exploits were a rocky expedition with mother ultimately handing over a credit card to me for restaurant emergencies coupled with the sage advice of “Always wear alluring clothing and fresh lipstick when serving dinner.”
My grandmother taught me the best trick, which I admit to using on a weekly basis, “Take the first bite!” she instructed. “Then roll your eyes to the heavens, with just a quick purr and exclaim This is Divine!”
Part theater and part mental manipulation, this trick was supposed to get your dinner guests believing that your meal was indeed nectar of the gods. If you are ever welcomed to my dinner table, fair warning – I still employ this method of clever redirection.
Our first culinary crisis came just as I was still weaving my web around Jeff when he blithely announced he had invited a “few” of the guys over for dinner. They were anything but guys. They were the Executive Board of the bank where Jeff was a junior executive.
The kitchen thing was my downfall and now I was supposed to entertain the Powers
That Be of the bank where Jeff worked? I was hysterical. I couldn’t just take them out to a restaurant! The jig was up. Jeff would dump me, lose his job and I would have to leave town, forever living at my parent’s home. I would be known in perpetuity as the debutante that had to cut bait because she couldn’t fish.
My mother and grandmother charged into action, declaring that I should have a chili party. The guys would love it. Their wives would think it clever. Jeff would be mine and I could proudly move into the next phase of womanhood with kitchen deceit fully in place.
As the afternoon of the party arrived, the two wily Patrick women roared up to the door with chili preparations in tow. This meant grocery bags of canned chili, fresh ground beef and one forlorn onion.
“Dear,” my grandmother admonished, “Never just buy the same brand of chili. Get all the different cans you available and mix them up!” As though she had just told me where to find the Lost Dutchman’s Mine, she slyly added, “And, always use Ranch Style Husband Pleasin’ Beans because you know… they really do work!”
I caught on quickly. I dumped the cans into a giant pot, threw in a chopped onion, added a bunch of fresh parsley (which my ladies thought was tré gourmand) and rushed the evidence into the trash out back. I was not about to reveal my source of deception.
Mom and grandmother helped lay the table, arrange flowers, uncork the wine then kissed me for luck. Their parting words were to remind me that while Jeff was their favorite candidate so far, if the evening was a disaster, there were other fish in the sea.
The bank big-wigs arrived and the first Vice President exclaimed, “Smells like chili!
Did Jeff ever tell you that I am a state Chili Cook-Off Winner?” “Uh, no Sir, he must have forgotten to mention that,” I stammered. “Chili is my passion!” he proclaimed.
“Jeffrey, let’s see if your little lady is up to the task.”
Upon hearing this news, I quickly moved to the first serving of drinks. Although I was quite young, I was wise enough to know that my guests had better get liquored up before the meal was served. Chili was ladled out and at the first taste, all eyes descended upon the winning cook-off bank officer. “Mmm… this is fine chili young lady. What’s the recipe? Is that fennel I taste?”
At first I thought the jig is up – he thinks it tastes like flannel! But quick thinking, not yet dulled by excessive amounts of wine led me to gush, “Oh, it’s my dear old Grandmother’s very secret concoction. Why, she would disinherit me if I ever gave it away!” For years, that man would bring up the chili recipe each time I saw him. He even cornered me at a funeral one time and tried to wheedle it out of me.
As it happened, I did get the guy. The chili story is now a family legend. Jeff married me for my Grandmother’s cooking. It has lasted 24 years and I am relieved to report that there have been no trips to the emergency room for food poisoning.
We are hopeful that my grandmother, now 90-years-young, hangs on long enough so that when our daughter goes husband-hunting, she is around to snag yet another man for us.
From the Heart…