Mama couldn’t cook, but she made it a point to know how to pretend-cook for her audience.
She knew that her children would eat anything; it was her husband, our father, who could be a tough customer.
Mama figured out early on that every person has a weakness: Tata’s was his pride in being Polish. Mama worked that weakness.
Tata had bought Mama a Polish cookbook when they got married.
Mama was no fool. She thumbed through the cookbook and picked out one or two easy recipes that she liked and she learned how to prepare them. The other two hundred or so recipes were used as follows:
Mama would fry some onions.
“The smell of fried onions disguises everything!”
Then she would start cooking and burning a meat, a vegetable, and some form of carbohydrate (which she would avoid eating). Some nights, dinner worked out. Other nights Tata would ask, “What is this dish called?”
“Oh, I got it from the Polish cookbook….”
Tata would touch the burned bits tenuously, frown a bit, and eat.
This worked beautifully until one night nothing, not even the smell of fried onion, could cover the smell of burnt cabbage. Mama poured some Ragu tomato sauce over the mound of a mess and set the plate in front of Tata.
Tata was a gentle man.
“My! This is interesting! …What is it called?” He asked carefully.
“Oh, it’s from the Polish cookbook….”
“Dear, do you think you could show me the recipe? What page was this one on?”
It is sad when a good thing ends.