I have a love-love relationship with food. All kinds of food. Fat foods, skinny foods, foods I eat a lot. I’m what you’d call an unconditional food lover. Except for one. And I’m positive it is from the devil.
It was a day like any other. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and my hair looked good, too. I left for school that morning an 11-year-old oblivious to the evil that lurked in the heart of my brown paper lunch bag.
I went to my usual table to eat with friends. Being a girl who trusted her mother to pack a good lunch, I bit into my sandwich without looking at it or smelling it first. I waited for my beloved Underwood Chicken Spread on white bread with a little bit of Miracle Whip to hit my taste buds; every bite would be a little piece of heaven.
Suddenly, it was Armageddon in my mouth. It was a taste like no other, from the depths of Hades. The cafeteria instantly grew darker as clouds gathered, thunder rolled, my hair frizzed, and the day was ruined. Liverwurst Spread. The little red devil with a pitchfork on the wrapper says it all; the other meat spreads should have angel icons on them to make the distinction clearer. It was the worst thing to ever grace my pallet. But Mom loved that stuff, which, of course, made me doubt her goodness.
Gagging, I ran to the nearest garbage can and spit my lunch into it. Thankfully, my cruel mother remembered the Hostess Ding Dongs; they saved me from malnutrition.
Meanwhile, across town, Mom was taking her lunch break. As she unwrapped her sandwich, she could tell by sight that she had the chicken. Oh, poor Kim! She got my liverwurst, she thought. Or rather, that’s what she later told me she was thinking. But I know it was payback for any pre-teen mumbling I might have recently displayed. When she got home that night, her first words were, “Kim, I am so sorry.” Her feigned sincerity didn’t erase the trauma. Only time would heal. I don’t recall what was for dinner that night, but I know it wasn’t liver.
On a different night, however, Mom was cooking something mysterious and wouldn’t tell me what it was.
“Just try it.”
When your mom says to try an unnamed food, be afraid. Be very afraid.
As if she had earned my food trust back, she continued, “You might like it.”
“What is it?”
“If you taste it, I’ll tell you what it is.” She was a wily one; it smelled pretty good, kind of like her smothered steak.
I was starving. I steeled myself as I pierced a piece of the meat with my fork. As soon as it hit my tongue, I cringed. Chewing made things worse. Once again, that liver-loving lady had lured me into her web of disgust.
“Oh my gosh. I’m going to throw up! You’re not supposed to trick your own offspring,” I yelled, implying it was okay to trick someone else’s offspring.
“Wait a minute. I didn’t trick you,” she lied as I spit every morsel into the garbage can and sprayed my mouth with Lysol.
“Mom, it tastes like liver!”
“It isn’t liver.”
What could possibly be this bad that’s not liver? I started mentally listing all parts of a cow.
“It’s heart,” explained the woman who reigned victorious over her own flesh and blood.
I’m sure she expected a full pardon since it wasn’t liver. But when it comes to internal organs, does it make a difference? A liver by any other name….
“Heart?! Heart? Is it your own, Tin Mom? How could you do that to me?”
But her operations weren’t always covert, and they had started many years before. On many holiday occasions, she served white gravy to go with turkey and cornbread dressing. In the pool of gravy floated chunks of strange looking meats.
“What are those?” I wisely asked at a young age, having a sixth sense that there could be trouble ahead.
“Those are giblets.”
“Are they good?”
Not yet knowing her affinity for disgusting edibles, I watched as she and my brother ate them with their meal, and I decided to try one.
“Oh! That’s awful! What is that?”
“Mmm, that one looks like a gizzard,” she said matter-of-factly, as I made my premiere dash to the garbage can and washed the taste of death from my mouth.
“What’s a gizzard? How can you eat that?” She proceeded to tell me the function of a gizzard. Ew.
If only I’d known, if only it had been on the kindergarten curriculum, that “giblets” is a cute little word for animal internal organs such as heart, liver, and gizzards. The stores sold bags of them specifically to use in meals, on purpose. I don’t know if they are still sold today, because I would never in a million lifetimes be in the market for them. Ever. If I were on a deserted island and a bag of giblets floated to shore, I would happily abstain and wait to meet Jesus.
The Internal Organ Diet is the answer to childhood obesity.
Years passed, therapy was finally over, and my trust slowly grew again. Mom redeemed herself by cooking delicious non-organ foods. Occasionally, I call her for one of those recipes.
“Oh, I don’t have a recipe,” is her usual response.
“How can you not have a recipe? You’ve made it for years.”
“I just put a little of this and a little of that,” she tells me each time I phone for details of a dish. No need to pull out one of the 20 cookbooks I own and lug the heavy thing to the kitchen where I will have to pause multiple times as I read each step. I learned to make gravy, the non-giblet type, via a long-distance call to my stepmom, GaGa; it involved three ingredients and three steps, so I’ll remember that one.
But one day, I realized my mother’s own mortality. Stricken with reality, I gently said to her, “Mom, what are we going to do when you are gone?”
She looked touched.
I continued, “We won’t be able to call you. How will we ever duplicate your beef curry or your chicken gumbo or The Cake?”
The Cake. Mom created the recipe years ago when she committed to baking a cake for her church small group, but her oven was broken. At the time, bringing a store-bought cake to the group was a cardinal sin. With no way to bake, she searched for a recipe using a store-bought cake as a base. None were found. Instead she found a layered pie recipe and substituted pound cake slices for pie crust. She topped the cake with a mixture of cream cheese, powdered sugar, and Cool Whip, followed by chocolate pudding, more Cool Whip, and chocolate shavings. Life has never been the same for Flash or my brother, Doc, since then. For quite some time, if one of them had The Cake without the other present, the indulger would torture the unfortunate one with a phone call. On holidays, their pieces of cake were 7 x 7-inch squares. They rest of us got cake when they drifted into sugar-induced comas after their second helpings. Surely, for the sake of family harmony, we needed that recipe written down.
Eventually, Mom compiled all her recipes into a book, Recipes Old and New from Hither and Yon. For our sakes, she also created recipes as needed, substituting real measurements for her “little of this and that.” But we don’t get the book until she’s gone; it’s a living document. In the meantime, the Cooking by Phone classes continue.
I do what I can to feed my family. When we’re out of bread for sandwiches, I cook. Sometimes, if Mom is unavailable by phone, I use recipes scribbled on Post-It notes or printed off the internet, neatly shoved to the back of my kitchen junk drawer.
And when a recipe mysteriously disappears, I improvise.
“I love this turkey soup,” Flash complimented, “it’s great.” He rarely uses the word “great” to describe any food other than ice cream. And The Cake. The Simon Cowell of the culinary world, he reserves “great” for what the rest of us would call “extraordinary beyond belief.” My goal in our marriage is to always rate a “great.”
“Thanks. Wow. I haven’t heard that since 1995.”
“What’s in it?”
“Oh, a little bit of this, a little bit of that…”
As I uttered the words, I smiled. I’ve carried on the tradition of all the “pinch” and “tad” measurers out there. It’s my favorite way to cook; it’s like art. Never are two attempts exactly alike. Sometimes I hit the mark; sometimes it’s a wash. But, as long as I stay away from internal organs, it’s always edible.