In GOOD LUCK WITH THAT, there is no happier time than dinner at the DeFelice family home. Mom is a great cook and delights in making everyone’s favorite dish until the table practically sags under all the food. They feast every week: Marley, her sister, her brother, her brother-in-law, Mom and Dad, sometimes her best friend, Georgia. Mom makes penne alla vodka, eggplant parmesan, meatballs, chicken oregano, broccoli rabe and sausage, garlic bread…Writing those meals really made me wish I’d grown up Italian.
In my family, Gram was the best cook of all. Nothing that woman made was anything short of the best. Galuszka, whose deliciousness can be summed up with the words “at least one stick of butter.” Chicken paprikas, so tender! Mashed potatoes and meatloaf. Pot roast with that envelope of onion soup sprinkled in to make sure we all had enough preservatives. I’m not complaining! Plus, Gram could bake brilliantly, and bake she did. Taught me everything I know about dessert!
But as a kid, my sainted mother was not the chef she eventually became when her little birds flew the nest. I think she hated cooking day-to-day, because most evenings, she’d glance at the clock and say, “Shit! Carol, I have to make dinner,” hang up the phone, then bolt to the freezer to see what could be thawed in time. Mind you, when my parents entertained, she cooked like an angel… not that we three Higlets got to eat it. We had fish sticks and tater tots instead, then were shooed away to mournfully spy on rack of lamb or crown roast.
Some of her hall of shame meals…Beef stew. God, we hated beef stew. Was it the fatty beef my grandfather (a grocery store owner) had offloaded to my mom at a 90% discount? Was it the half can of Budweiser Mom would pour in it, the other half for her? The overcooked carrots and undercooked potatoes? Whatever it was, I would chew…and chew…and chew, my poor little molars failing to break down the gristle.
Thankfully, we had three Irish setters lurking under the table, and slipping them a chunk of meat became an art form. Once, I whispered to my sister my strategy. For reasons still unknown to me, she said loudly, “No, Kristan, I will NOT pretend to swallow, then put my meat in the napkin and give it to the dogs.” Traitor.
Broiled chicken. This was one of those “Damn it, I have nothing for dinner” dinners. Mom would jack up the oven to 450 or so, stick some frozen chicken breasts in a pan and open a box of whipped potatoes. Maybe a can of beets, which, oddly, I loved well before loving beets was a thing. Sometimes the cranberry sauce that made the most satisfying schlupas it slid from the can. A box of Birdseye corn, because we didn’t know corn was a starch, not really a vegetable, or worse, frozen green beans, which I still can’t bring myself to eat no matter how fresh they are. Emotional scars, yo.
Mom was a fan of spice in a jar. I was in college before I saw a garlic clove, but garlic powder? I’m a big fan. Mom still has many of the powders and spices from my youth, and when I suggest that perhaps it’s time for a purge, she gives me a look and tells me expiration dates are for the weak. She is such a bad-ass.
So that my mom won’t come over and beat me, I have to give her a shout-out for some of her best dishes. Her lasagna rocked. Swedish meatballs. Pancakes for supper if Dad was on the road. And if we were really good, chicken paprikas and galuszka, just like Gram used to make.
Love you, Mom! Thanks for being such a great sport! Come over for dinner sometime!