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"We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie." David Mamet

Monday, March 01, 2010

The 38th Practice of the Kitchen Bodhisattva

Mystery food packets, Miracle Whip, and compassion 
Through Facebook I've recently been in touch with the grown children of good friends of my mother's family in France. When I wrote to Carole, she recalled how kind my mother had been in a time of need. I kind of remember this. But I remember more vividly the uncharacteristically bad meal she served to Carole and her brother Jean-Louis the first time they came to visit. At the time, my mom was living in Manhattan, briefly separated from my father after 20+ years of marriage. Her one-bedroom upper east side flat had a tiny kitchen which never stymied her masterful culinary skills.
My mother's skills in the kitchen were known throughout her Jewish pied noire community. The Meyers also knew from good food, as Mme Meyer has always been known as an excellent cook. But on the famous day when Carole and Jean-Louis arrived one night for dinner, nothing went right. The appetizers were soggy, the meat bland, the salad a little too oily. Nothing inedible, just not my mother's norm of stupendous.
Mom apologized profusely and charmingly, until everyone was laughing as they sipped her excellent coffee and ate the buttery and beautiful store-bought desserts. To me this was the model of graciousness and compassion for her guests that elevated her to a new realm of culinary guru.
Throughout our decades-long tenure in our mother's kitchen, through her sickness and health, and even on her worst days, each meal was a little treasure. So it's no surprise that the Night the Meyers Came for Dinner became a joke between us. Whenever the topic came up, her eyes would meet mine and, with a little rueful laugh she'd say, I still don't know what happened that night. Not wanting to hurt her feelings, but also knowing that the jig was up, I'd have to agree.
The other night I made a meal that would have made Mom feel better about the Meyer incident. The recipe came from a flavor envelope that I found on the shelf disembodied from its box of jasmine rice, wedged between two cans of garbanzo beans.