I received a wonderful gift for Mother’s Day. My Mother fixed dinner for us. We were in shock. In the TVLand of the 1950s, the stereotypical mother cooked three fabulous meals a day for her grateful family. Mine did not. At least once a week, My Dad would walk into the house, note that the stove was empty, and say, “I guess we’re going out to eat.”
Although it seemed like a great treat to have her fix dinner for us, there was some trepidation on our part. For the past 40 years, I have been the family cook for Important Holidays and Other Significant Occasions.
“She says she’s making roast beef,” My Sister informed me.
“What?!” I was incredulous. I’m the succulent beef roaster, served with freshly-grated horseradish root, port-laced au jus, glazed carrots, and crispy Yorkshire Pudding.
“Mm-hmm.” She muttered.
“But she doesn’t like to cook. Maybe we should order out Chinese or Italian.”
“I offered, but she said she wanted to make roast beef,” My Sister sighed.
I considered bringing a bottle of red wine, because I can eat anything, even mushrooms, if I gulp them with copious amounts of wine. My Mother thinks that all meat should be served well-done, which means gray and dry. After living with The Veterinarian for 42 years, I now eat beef medium-rare and, occasionally, even carpaccio, if the kitchen is trustworthy.
When dining out with My Mother, we pray that she orders fish. I have seen her fight with waiters over meat that she said was presented still “mooing” and have seen chefs in perfectly fine restaurants refuse to serve her prime rib well-done. We grovel with the waiter when she orders beef, begging them for an “outside cut.”
It turns out that we needn’t have worried. She made pot roast, one of my favorite recipes. Still, she grumbled.
“I couldn’t find canned French onion soup at any of the grocery stores,” she said, “no Campbell’s, no Progresso, not even a generic store-brand.”
The key to her pot roast is two cans of Campbell’s French Onion soup. It’s the only soup that I ever cook with, and I only use it to make pot roast, because, well, it tastes like Mom’s. It isn’t too salty, like that dry soup mix, and it doesn’t have mushrooms. You simply dredge a piece of lean chuck roast in flour with salt and pepper, brown it on all sides in hot oil and drain on paper towels. Then, you pour one can of the soup in the bottom of a Dutch oven or slow-cooker, top it with the meat, whole peeled carrots, and celery (with the leaves), pour another can of soup over the top, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to very low and simmer for at least 2-1/2 hours. Alternatively, you can cook it, covered, in a 325° oven, which My Mother did. Hence, roast beef.
Of course, a lot of sliced onions and beef broth will give the same effect, but I think that piece of pseudo Swiss cheese in the soup can makes a richer sauce. Yes, I’m delusional. Although I’ve not read the soup can’s label, it’s probably a mess of chemicals, but I just don’t care. It’s the taste and the memories that make the difference.
My Mother finds gravy a challenge, too, although this time it was nearly perfect. She strains the broth to remove the vegetables and globs of fat and meat and reheats it in a saucepan. Then her technique gets a little “dicey,” as she takes her ancient, empty jar of Taster’s Choice instant coffee crystals, into which she places flour and — yikes! — cold water, which she shakes vigorously, increasingly complaining that it won’t smoothly blend. She stirs this into the hot broth and tries to stir out the inevitable lumps with a spoon. This produces more grumbling. I offered to make the gravy, but she wouldn’t let me near the stove.
Let me tell you how to really make gravy. You start with two tablespoons of hot fat — strained pan drippings or butter — and slowly whisk in two tablespoons of flour, until the mixture is smooth and bubbling. To make more gravy, use more fat and flour, in equal proportions. Then, and only then, do you slowly whisk in enough hot broth to make a thick gravy. It’s better to have gravy that’s too thin, because you can always reduce it by simmering (or boiling, if you’re really pressed for time). If it’s too lumpy, just pass it through a sieve. No sweat.
All in all, our meal did just what a Mother’s Day dinner should do, evoke memories of family and love, which puts the comfort into food. No one had to get dressed up or grovel with waiters or dodge the traffic in downtown Baltimore headed to hear the Artist-Once-Again-Known-as-Prince in his “Rally 4 Peace.”
I had two dates with a mostly pleasant widower a couple of weeks ago. I don’t think I’ll hear from him again, which is ok. We disagreed about voting (I do; he hasn’t for 20 years), current events (he doesn’t pay attention to the news; I do), and the hospitality of the French. I have never had a bad time in France. He hates the French. That’s a quote, not a paraphrase. He said that the French are only nice to me because I speak French. I pointed out that The Veterinarian didn’t speak French at all. I pointed out several occasions when the French have been extremely gracious to me, my family, or my friends, but he wasn’t convinced.
I told him about a train trip in France where some young people made rude remarks about Americans. Two middle-aged Frenchmen sitting in front of us got up and chewed the kids out. On their way back to their seats, the men came to us and apologized in English. I replied in my choppy but intelligible French with beaucoup smiles. Graciousness when traveling goes a long way to effective communication with others.
My date remained unconvinced, and in the end, I didn’t see myself traveling any place with him, much less through the remainder of my life. Oh, yeah! And he doesn’t drink wine. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t like France. Maybe that’s why I don’t like him.
I received an email from a man who said he was a medical researcher and teacher with a PhD. He wrote to me, “Hi! Cute photo!” I read his profile essay, which said he was born in Canada, and skimmed his other profile information, noting that he had traveled a lot and lived abroad.
I thanked him for his compliment and said, “I grew up in Detroit. Where in Canada were you born?”
His response? “Hmmm. I guess you didn’t really read my profile…”
Mystified, I re-read his profile, which still only said that he was born in Canada, but down below, under the notes section, where I noticed again that he refused to comment on his “Faith,” that he speaks English and French, and then, near the bottom, under “Favorite Hot Spots,” between “Love NYC and San Francisco” and “lived in Tel Aviv” that he was born in Montreal. Oops! My bad. That’s why I was a better English major than chemistry major, failure to note the minutiae.
I replied, “Sorry. I did read your profile, but the items under “Hot Spots” didn’t stick in my memory. Bonne chance! [Good luck]” I wanted to say, “Sorry, Professor, I read your profile but didn’t realize there would be a quiz.” Yes, I made a mistake, but a little graciousness on his part would have been nice.
Yesterday, a man who lives 50 miles away in Washington, DC and whose profile claims to only be interested in women within 40 miles, asked me to Skype him. I know how lame I sounded telling him that I don’t have access to the internet except through cellular data. I told him I would be happy to correspond by email, citing my geographic undesirability. Of course, he hasn’t responded.
Then, there was this guy, whose grammar is questionable: “Oh boy do I love the sarcasm. I am that way as well. Your profile is a great read & in person I bet it’s a million times better. Now that I am retired I had made several considerations. I opted out on all of them except for going to hell in a hand basket. I haven’t been there yet. Oh wait, I’ve got that covered. I use [sic] to live in New Jersey…”
“Do I sound that wacky in my profile?” I fretted. I reconsidered myself and rewrote my profile to sound more gracious; sweet, gentle, kind, patient, forgiving, loving, tolerant, demure, meek, etc., etc., etc., a ruse that I have tried in the past without success.
Today, I received this from a man in Pennsylvania, “I enjoyed reading your profile. It was clear, direct plain … and positive. I do not seek a reply. You have a very interesting personality.”
I translated this as: “For God’s sake, don’t write to me, crazy lady!”
By the way, My Mother, who isn’t crazy about France, either, loved the blouse that I bought for her birthday last October and then lost and didn’t find in time for Christmas and finally gave her for Mother’s Day. She gave me a giant Tootsie Roll, my favorite childhood candy. We shared love and comfort on Mother’s Day, so, who am I to complain? Life is good (mostly). Soli Deo Gloria!