The original Evelyn, bless her soul, hated to cook. Maybe a closer truth would be, cooking bored her. That’s not to say that we didn’t have a family dinner every night (six p.m. sharp). It always consisted of some kind of meat or chicken and two vegetables. The original time efficiency expert, my mother would heat two cans of vegetables in a pot of boiling water. Serve the veggies, toss the water. Done.
I was at least 18 before I discovered that meat came in any other color than grey. She overcooked everything, probably because she wasn’t paying attention. Chicken would bake in the oven for hours, seasoned only with paprika, to give it color. But there was always plenty of fresh fruit in the house, lots of store-bought sweets, and the height of her culinary experimentation was to mix two fruit juices together. My family believed she invented orange-pineapple juice — and maybe she did.
But despite the lack of any interest in preparing foods, my mother was actually a wonderful host. She was absolutely right when she insisted that it was the company that was important. She was gracious (she was Southern after all), generous, and inclusive. For my birthday parties, every child in my class would be invited, lest anyone feel left out. When I was in college and would come home for Passover, she would encourage me to invite roommates who might otherwise spend the Seders in the dorm. They were joyous occasions full of love and laughter…and she would order in the whole menu, soup to nuts.
My rebellion was, of course, to love to cook. For me, preparing a new recipe is like writing a mystery — full of the unknown, often some red herrings (figurative ones, though I do occasionally indulge in the fish) — and if put together correctly, a delight to enjoy.
Cleaning out my mother’s apartment after she died, I found no cookbooks or recipes scribbled on cards. I did discover a file of take-out numbers. But of course, she left me with the best recipe for how to entertain. Invite people you want to spend time with; worry less about the food and more about making sure that everyone is comfortable and cared for…and most of all, enjoy the moments when you are together.
It’s easy to get caught up in the holiday season hoopla. Have fun these next few weeks with those you love.