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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Mama's Dressing

My mother was an excellent cook, and she almost always made everything from scratch. In the beginning of her marriage, I’m guessing she did it out of necessity rather than desire. But I was one of the younger kids, and she was still cooking from scratch when I grew up. Everything she made was always delicious.

You’d think that someone who enjoyed cooking as much as she did would want to pass on her culinary skills to her daughters, but she never once asked me if I wanted to help or offered to show me how to make anything. I always loved Mama’s chili, so I did get that recipe. Now that she’s gone, I’m wishing I had asked her for a lot of her other recipes, too. 

My mother always cooked Thanksgiving dinner all by herself. She made cranberry relish ... the kind with real cranberries, oranges, nuts, and sugar. And she made THE best dressing in the world! Daddy liked oyster dressing, so she made oyster dressing and regular dressing.

After my mom died, us kids quit getting together for Thanksgiving. After Bonnie had a baby, I asked her if she wanted to start having Thanksgiving with me and my kids ... and we’ve had Thanksgiving together ever since. Our first Thanksgiving together I fixed the whole meal. Bonnie had just had a baby and was exhausted. Besides, Bonnie is not a gifted cook. It’s widely known in our family that Bonnie is ... how shall I say this ... culinarily challenged. I made Stove Top dressing, which apparently didn't sit well with Bonnie's sophistocated palette. 

"Why didn't you make Mama's dressing?" she asked.

"Because it's too much trouble," I replied innocently, completely unaware of the noose slipping around my neck.

"Well, I'm making it next year," Bonnie declared. We all quit eating and looked at each other in horror, then all eyes came to rest on me. I swallowed hard.

Tears pooled in their frightened eyes, which spoke the words they dared not say ... 

"Oh, Dear Lord, Jackie. What ... have ... you ... done?!!"

The next year Bonnie decided to make Mama’s cranberry relish and Mama’s dressing. She got the recipes from my sister Pam. To everyone's complete and utter amazement, year after year, the cranberry relish is always wonderful. And to everyone's gastrinomical terror ... and despite the fact that each year we think it can't be any more dreadful than the last ... the dressing gets progressively ... worse.

We’ve had five Thanksgivings together, four of which Bonnie has made the "dressing" (and I use that term loosely). The first year it was at least edible. No one actually enjoyed it, but at least we were able to swallow it without making gagging noises (we all learned long ago to take small "test" bites of anything Bonnie has cooked ... particularly dressing). Unfortunately, that first year was her best attempt ... it’s gone downhill ever since. Most years we are actually able to force ourselves to swallow her "dressing", but last year, we were spitting it out it napkins. 

Bonnie is determined to try to make Mama’s dressing again this year. She is optimistic, but those of us who have endured "The Dressings of Thanksgivings Past" aren't expecting much. There’s never any cranberry relish left, but there’s always plenty of dressing! Her dogs won't even eat it ... and they've been known to eat their own poop!

One time Bonnie’s husband, Larry, was complaining about all the weight he’d gained since he had married Bonnie. I burst out laughing. I told him ”If you gained weight being married to Bonnie, then you have no one to blame but yourself. Bonnie’s cooking didn’t have anything to do with it!” Heck, all of us had side bets going about how long it would be before he starved to death! We didn't bet on how long the marriage would last ... just how long Larry could! It's safe to say we all assume their marriage will end when one of them dies ... and we all have a pretty good idea of who would die first ... and how.

In Bonnie's defense, Larry knew what he was getting into. They dated for a couple of years before they married. I think back then the only thing Bonnie could make was linguini salad and chocolate milk, so it's not like she lured him in with her fancy cuisine. We all sleep easier knowing Larry really loves Bonnie ... that he's not just using her for a live-in chef!

Bonnie drew my name for Christmas this year. (It's okay ... she gives good gifts ... as long as you don't ask for food!). I was at Wal-mart the other day when I figured out what Bonnie could get me. I called her up and told her I knew what I wanted ... drill bits! ”Drill bits?” she said, wondering if she heard correctly. ”Jackie, that’s a stupid present!”

I immediately defended my gift choice. ”No it’s not. Ask Larry!” Larry was a guy ... he’d appreciate the value of drill bits!

”I can’t,” Bonnie said, ”He’s looking at a cookbook right now.”

I started laughing, then came to my senses. ”I understand, Bonnie ... he’s hungry!"

Bonnie can make a few things. She makes some kind of chicken in milk gravy that’s really quite good. We call it her Lemon Chicken. (Note: If you’re not an Everybody Loves Raymond fan, that won’t be very funny!)

Little Larry called me one evening and said ”Mama said she made pork chops for dinner, but it’s not pork chops.” I asked him what it was and he said ”It’s chicken. She says its pork chops, but it’s not.” I’m not sure if it was good, so he figured it had to be chicken or just thought pork chops was a funny name for food!!

A few nights later Bonnie made grilled cheese sandwiches ... even Bonnie can’t screw up grilled cheese! Little Larry took a bite and told her, ”Mama, you make the best food ever!”

Big Larry laughed and said ”Bet you don’t hear that very often, do you?” 

(Note: It’s safe to assume that Bonnie had never heard that before!)

Little Larry chimed in enthusiastically, ”Well, you’re hearin’ it now!!”

I’ve told Bonnie many times that she’s doing Little Larry’s future wife a favor. With such low expectations, whatever that woman cooks will be like manna from heaven! I mean, really ... what are the chances that kid will marry a woman who cooks worse than his mother?!! 

I like dressing, but I can live without it ... and it’s a good thing, ‘cause Bonnie is hell-bent on making it again this year. (Insert nervous, trembling sob!). Each year we hope that this year will be "The Year of the Dressing", but it’s probably more realistic to simply hope that we can swallow it, that it doesn't take draino to flush it from our system ... and then pray we can find something potent enough to wash the taste out of our mouths!!

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