Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Completely Odd Cooking Habits

     I think everybody has an odd cooking habit or two. A certain way they stir, a special pan. That sort of thing. Not in my family. My family's odd habits are a bit more esoteric and idiosyncratic (BONUS FOR ADVANCED LANGUAGE SKILLS).

Toothpicks in cakes
I'm not talking about the time-honored tradition of using a toothpick to check if a cake or bread is done through. I'm talking about my grandmother's (my dad's mom, henceforth referred to as "Loretta") predilection for hiding toothpicks INSIDE the cake. I remember she made a pretty awesome Fred Flintstone cake for my birthday when I was little. I also remember nearly choking to death on a toothpick buried in the cake. My dad pierced the roof of his mouth with another toothpick hidden inside. I recall exactly what he said to his mom: "JESUS LORETTA, WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU? WHY ARE THERE TOOTHPICKS INSIDE THE CAKE?" She went on to explain that she needed the toothpicks to support the cake and keep it from collapsing. She apparently had special load-bearing toothpicks. The problem was, you never knew if you had a piece with a toothpick until you speared one through your cheek.
Eating Loretta's cakes was very much like playing Minesweeper.
Cooking without a recipe
In all my years living at home, not once did I ever see either of my parents consult a cookbook or recipe. No exaggeration here. Never. I'm assuming they memorized recipes and then burned the paper copy in the interest of National Security. My dad's chili varied from batch to batch. Apart from his standard 1lb meat=1 can tomato sauce=1 can kidney beans, it was up for grabs. My mom had a recipe that consisted of putting a load of rice and water in a baking dish, throwing in a bunch of chicken breasts, onions and green peppers and covering the whole thing in tomato sauce. Everything was wonderful, but to this day, I still have no idea how to exactly replicate anything from them. Maybe that was the point.

Cryptic Names
Many recipes in my family had really goofball names. "Fall-apart Chicken" was fairly self-explanatory, but somewhat ominous. Was my grandmother (my mom's mom, henceforth referred to as Bubby, not the toothpick grandma) referring to chicken cooked so long the meat simply fell from the bone, or was the chicken leprous? "Wally's Dressing" was another classic. No indication as to what is in there. This sounds more like a reason not to go into Wally's room than a recipe.
"Stay out of the bedroom, dear. Wally's dressing."
Possibly it was referring to bandages for a wound on Wally. Actually, it was a combination of oil, elbow macaroni and chicken livers.

Horrifying Jell-O Suspensions
I'm not talking about the fun fruit and marshmallow in a Jell-O mold we all know and love. My mom made a great one with whipped cream that was layered. Very picturesque. No, I'm talking about the occasional Jell-O that made it to our table from some of the more damaged members of my family and their friends. Specifically, I remember a story of someone serving my Bubby a Jell-O with gefilte fish suspended in it. Green Jell-O no less. As the story goes, Bubby blew a gasket. It is said she announced, "WHO PUTS GEFILTE FISH IN JELL-O?! FUCKING [the religion of the person in question. I'll just go ahead and leave that part out as to not offend anybody]." My Bubby was a firecracker.

     I'm sure if I take some time and work with my therapist I can dredge up more alarming memories for you for another day.

Good times!

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