Please understand, my mother is a gifted cook: Like Jackson Pollock she flings ingredients around the kitchen and somehow yields astounding culinary art. But as with all items of her creation -- children, macrame housewares, the "I'm Not Fat, I'm Pregnant" sweatshirt she wears to aerobics class -- she has a hard time letting go.
Leftovers enter my parents' refrigerator and ripen there until they literally grow their own vocal cords and beg to be returned to the earth whence they came. It's like orchestrating a prison break to throw away food: We need one person to distract my mother, one to guard the kitchen door in case she escapes, one to extract the plates and Tupperware from the back of the fridge, and one poor sucker to open the containers and sniff out the offending remains. Teamwork has been difficult lately, what with my father at work all day and only one kid still living at home, so the fridge has devolved into a petri dish teeming with microbes that wreak havoc on an unaccustomed gut.
At the heart of the matter is an ongoing debate about the definition of "edible": While my father's delicate palate favors what's fresh and healthy, my mother operates on the more basic principle that whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, if a little queasy.
But I have to give the lady credit for being resourceful. Bananas gone black? Bake 'em into bread. Bruised peaches on sale at the farmer's market? I smell a cobbler... Cucumber rotted to a milky pulp? Hope you like gazpacho!
Okay, I exaggerate. A little.
The top five phrases uttered in my mother's kitchen:
- "Just scrape if off."
- "It's supposed to smell like that."
- "I know it's not rotten because I had it for lunch today!"
- "When did you make this brisket?" "Hannukah." "Which year?"
- "(sniff sniff) Phew! I'll make this into soup."