Tete-a-tete Archives

An eclectic sampling of my award-winning humor columns. New columns can be read online at www.nashuatelegraph.com on the first Thursday of the month, with columns posted here later in the month.

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Tete-a-tete: Sometimes, it’s the grilled cheese that makes the memories

One of the many reasons I love my mother is that while she accepts her limitations, she doesn’t use them as an excuse to give up. She acknowledges that cooking isn’t her strong point, but she continues to try new recipes in hopes that practice will eventually make, if not perfect, then at least palatable.

Mom’s most recent experiment was a slow-cooker recipe with a beef brisket. Although she read the directions carefully and had the best of intentions, the results unfortunately gave new meaning to the phrase “dead meat.”

On Mom’s side of the family, my great-grandmother was a fantastic baker, my grandmother is an excellent cook and my grandfather makes wonderful paper-thin sandwiches that put Dagwoods to shame. Mom often shares the fond memories she has because of this culinary heritage and laments that her own children haven’t experienced the same.

“What are you going to tell your children?” she asks. “‘Grandma used to make us stir-fry – from a bag.'”

She’s much too hard on herself. When it comes to home cooking, my tastes are simple. Nothing puts a smile on my face like finding out we’re having grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches for dinner.

And no matter what Mom makes, Youngest Brother will pick it at and ask how much he has to eat before he can have ice cream, Younger Sister will have a meltdown if any of the foods on her plate are touching any other foods and Dad will opt for cold creamed corn instead. She might as well make us all toast and be done with it.

Mom recently planned a simple meal: the brisket, boiled potatoes and cabbage. She started the brisket in the slow-cooker early in the day, as stated in the recipe.

I came upstairs around 9 o’clock at night, curious as to why no one had called me for dinner. We eat later on weekends, but this was unusual.

Dad, a veteran of many kitchen crises, was calmly reading the newspaper while Mom frantically tried to save a pot of over-boiled potatoes by mashing them. The cabbage was still raw and the brisket was simmering evilly in a pool of greasy-looking juices.

We still can’t figure out what happened. Mom followed up with the butcher, who said it was either overdone or underdone. That didn’t narrow it down much. Perhaps we need to exorcise the slow-cooker.

Whatever the cause, the brisket was obviously inedible and needed to be disposed of. According to Dad, there was only one solution: bury it in the front yard.

I suggested burying it at a crossroads with a stake through the middle of it, just to be safe, but there weren’t any crossroads nearby where we could do so without interfering with traffic.

While Mom mourned the failed brisket, Dad gathered up the slow-cooker and his shovel and asked Youngest Brother if he wanted to help. Youngest Brother happily agreed.

Younger Sister pouted, asking why she couldn’t help, and Dad tried to console her. “You can help me bury the next meal Mommy kills.”

Under Mom’s glowering stare, Dad quickly changed his mind. He and Younger Sister hurried outside with the brisket to join Youngest Brother.

When they returned, they reported that the brisket had been buried several feet down to discourage any animals from digging it up. They prayed over it for good measure, asking God to please make sure the brisket didn’t hurt the animals.

Dad then informed me that this wasn’t the first time we’ve buried a failed meal in the front yard. At a minimum, our landscape contains the brisket, two spoiled homemade soups, a cake that refused to rise and a wayward pudding.

I looked at him in amazement. “And you wonder why we can’t get the grass to grow? We’ve probably poisoned the soil!”

Mom and Dad admitted they had never considered that. If the perennials don’t come up this year (or conversely, develop evil superpowers and embark on a quest for world domination), we’ll know why.

Mom is concerned that the brisket incident may have been the nail in her culinary coffin, that there’s no way we’ll be sharing fond memories of her cooking with our own children after this. I beg to differ.

When I bring any future children to visit their grandparents, I will tell them:

“Oh, your grandma is a great cook. Her grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches are out of this world, and she’ll put chocolate chips in your pancakes without you even having to ask.

“And, uh, sweetie? Play in the backyard.”

– Teresa Santoski


Originally published April 9, 2009.

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