My Mother’s Sunday Dinner Experiments

7 Apr

My Mother was a lovely wonderful woman, but she was not the best cook. She could make certain meals well and she made them over and over again. Her inability to cook was inherited from her mother. My Grandma T. was a horrible cook. Her hamburgers would sink to the bottom of your stomach and stay there. My Grandpa ate everything with ketchup in an effort to swallow. But she did have a few things that she made very well. And those, like her mushroom barley soup, were wonderful.

However, neither my Mom nor my Grandma were very interested in cooking. There were so many other things to do in life. So we learned to eat whatever was put in front of us, and not complain.

I think my Mom began to feel guilty. It was the 1960s. All moms cooked and stayed home. My Mom went back to work to teach elementary school. I think she felt badly that she was not home immediately after school and not doing what all the other moms did.

No matter the reason, one day my Mom made an announcement. Every Sunday from then on she was going to try a new recipe. A food she had never cooked before, and we were going to try it.

We had sukiyaki one Sunday. My Dad was a veteran of the Korean War and had spent time in Japan. He always spoke about eating sukiyaki. So Mom made it…once.

We had lasagna. It was a really hot day. And the kitchen was like an oven after she made the lasagna. So she decided we would eat it on paper plates, as she did not want to wash dishes afterwards. I will be honest, lasagna is not a food that should be served on paper plates. We ended up having to use three or four each to keep the lasagna from seeping through. Also, the paper kind of oozed into the lasagna.   Not our favorite.

There were a few casseroles she made that we did love. But these were old favorites like hot dog casserole and hamburger casserole. When she made these, we were happy. But these Sunday meals were becoming a blight on our lives.

Then came chicken with brussel sprouts.

Before I get to the meal itself, I will start my saying I had spent the weekend with my grandparents at their apartment and bakery in West New York. They also carried some grocery items. I wanted an O Henry candy bar for a snack. My grandmother said, “No,” because she knew I was going home for dinner. But to ease my sadness, she gave me an entire box of O Henry bars. I think there were 12 or 18 candy bars in the box. My brother might have been there that weekend as well. Because I see the two of us with the O Henry bars.

Back to Sunday dinner: I arrived home in North Bergen in time to set the table and help my Mom get ready for the big reveal. I still remember because on Sundays we ate dinner in the dining room and not in the kitchen. So we had to walk the food carefully from the kitchen to the dining room.

We knew immediately that this was going to be a disaster. The smell was horrendous. And the sauce was this ugly shade of puke green. We all looked at our plates in dread….even my Dad, who usually supported my Mom in her efforts.

My Mom came in, sat down, and said, “Everyone has to take one bite and swallow it.”

So we did. We each cut the smallest piece we possibly could, put it slowly in our mouths between gags, and ate the green chicken with brussel sprouts.

My Mom then stood up, went into the kitchen and returned with the garbage can. We all dumped the food from our plates into the trash. We were very quiet. No one said a word. No smiles of joy, nothing. My Mom had never thrown food away.

Mom then pulled out the box of O Henry bars and gave each of us two. Wow, O Henry bars for dinner! It was wonderful. (By the way, I have never, ever wanted to eat a brussel sprout.)

She turned to my Dad and said, “I am done. No more Sunday dinner experiments.”

We did not cheer, but I know I felt like I should.

You think I would have learned a lesson from my Mom’s experiment and this experience. But I guess until you do something yourself, you never learn. I am also not the most exciting cook. I have several meals that I make really well. And some that I have learned from friends that are easy to cook, and I make those.

But like my Mom, I felt that my children were not getting the experience they needed by tasting different foods. So I too, started Sunday dinner experiments. I actually went to a couple of cooking classes that two friends taught. (I got in trouble for talking, but really I was just trying to figure out what all those cooking terms meant.)

I made new recipes for about two months. Then I stopped. No one wanted to eat the new foods. They wanted the comfortable, family favorites.

My daughter, however, is a good cook. She makes all sorts of soups and interesting foods all the time. I think that came from her paternal great grandmother. My Grandma E served the most delicious meals and desserts.   So I am happy in believing that she will never try the Sunday Dinner Experiments when she starts a family.

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