Recipes for guilt

“Don’t break the chain!”

“If you have a moment to spare…” A moment? I’ve got to get through all my emails, finish a brochure, edit my audio, go pick up a woodcarving of my dog, get groceries, make dinner for our guests tonight, figure out my finances, and maybe write something. Yes, I have exactly one moment to spare. What’s up?

“We have picked those we think would make this fun.” Did you? When I did this last time, I picked those I didn’t think would get mad at me. Cousins, childhood friends. You’d think I’d pick people who cook a lot, but most of them are disciples of food blogs or they have multiple shelves devoted to cookbooks. They don’t need these emails.

“Please send a recipe to the person whose name is in position #1 below (even if you don’t know him/her).” Him? Do men ever receive these things? Dave’s never gotten one. Just me, and other women who won’t get mad, and also who can be counted on to do what they’re told. “The best recipe is the one you know in your head and can type right now.” Here are the recipes I know in my head: Toast. Everything else, I look up on my phone. Hard-boiled eggs, I look up every single time no lie. I always forget how long you let them boil and how long they should sit with the lid on while they simmer, and do they simmer or do you turn it off and leave the lid on, and it’s not like anyone wants a recipe for hard boiled eggs anyway.

Other, more recipe-sounding things, like pasta with whatever, I do based on whatever the whatever in the fridge happens to be – shrimp, tomatoes, basil, squash. There is no recipe. If there’s a recipe, it usually means I have to go get groceries. “Don’t agonize over it; it is one you make when you are short of time.” If I’m short on time, why would I be cooking?”

“After you’ve sent the recipe to the person in position #1 below, and only to that person, copy this letter into a new e-mail, move my name to position #1 and put your name in position #2. Only my and your name should show when you send your e-mail. Send to 20 friends BCC (blind copy). If you cannot do this within 5 days, let us know so it will be fair to those participating.” Jesus.

All these discrete actions combined are only going to take me one moment? It’s already taken me six moments to read this, fume, and write about it. By the time this is over, I’m thinking we’ll be at 46 moments, each of which takes approximately three minutes. That’s the cinematic equivalent of Red River, during which John Wayne ages about 20 years.

And yes, each friend I send this to counts as three separate moments. I have to decide whether each particular candidate will be annoyed by this message, whether they’ll actually do it, and whether I’ve sent them one of these in the past. If so, did I use their recipe? Probably not. Will sending them a new request be an admission of that? Probably.

“You should receive 36 recipes.” Last time, I got two.

“It’s fun to see where they come from!” I guess.

“Seldom does anyone drop out because we all need new ideas.” You know what? Let’s see who drops out. I wrote back to Jordan, the friend who sent this. Jordan’s not the type to send chain emails, so I felt safe telling her, “love this idea but I’ve done it before and can’t send it to 20 friends.” I did send a recipe to her and person #2, but it was one I’d copied from another email someone had sent me, which I’ve never made.

Jordan wrote back to tell me no problem. She added that she’d only sent the email because the person who sent it to her was a good friend. And the friend had only sent it to Jordan because her aunt asked, and the friend felt guilty. Jordan added, “I imagine her aunt felt obligated to someone; and then I see a very long line of women exchanging recipes from guilt.”

One day, no one will send these messages anymore. Instead, people will send recipes just when they feel like it, with no expectation that anyone’s going to do anything about it. Until then, when I want a home-cooked meal I’ll concentrate on getting myself invited to Kismet’s. We had dinner there Sunday: grilled-cheese-with-apple-and-dijon on homemade honey-wheat, with cream-of-tomato soup, followed by Marzipan cake topped with raspberry-and-rosemary-and-black-pepper magic. Her husband used to blog about her amazing cooking, but he’s dropped off lately. I hope this picture re-motivates him.

Healthy! Easy! Quick! Delicious!

pasta fagioli recipt
The secret is in the underscoring.

Baby Dumpling’s dad emailed, to tell me he and Mrs. Dumpling had found part of a recipe Mom had given them. They were cleaning out the Dumpling’s stroller, and stuck in the side were half the instructions for Mom’s pasta fazul. “We would love to make it, but it cuts off on the right margin,” he wrote.

The Dumpling is now two years old. His first summer, Mrs. Dumpling used to wheel the stroller to Mom’s every day on their walk. Mom’s last couple of months, she’d start the morning saying, “I’m too tired for the Dumpling today,” but by noon she’d be sitting out front, saying “Where’s Baby Dumpling?” as they came up the drive. She would never hold the Dumpling, because she didn’t want to give him her cancer germs, but she’d make faces and talk to him and celebrate every smile, every laugh she could get out of him.

Mr. Dumpling also wanted me to know they’d watched Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and who do you think was in the credits? Baby Dumpling! “It was the name of one of the Governor’s children,” he said. “We said that Phyllis must’ve been watching with us.”

Hearing from them made me realize I haven’t called Mom’s sister Marie in weeks. When Mom died, I thought I’d be on the phone with her every day, just like Mom had been, just like I had been with Mom. I love talking to Auntie Marie. I love the way she looks at life, I love her cooking tips, I love her voice. But the prospect of calling is awkward. I feel like I don’t really have a reason to get in touch. Now that my parents are gone, I feel like I’m not really connected to their relatives. But once we’re talking, that all goes out the window.

So I called Marie, and told her about the Baby Dumpling sighting, which made her laugh her magical laugh. She and my mom invented many names for people and things they loved, and Marie’s vision of Heaven can easily accommodate some form of Mom watching Mr. Smith Goes to Washington with her former neighbors.

Marie said she follows basically the same recipe for pasta fazul, which she pronounces correctly as pasta fagioli. I can picture right where the Dumplings’ copy probably cuts off. Mom always made multiple copies of her recipes using her inkjet printer and creamy yellow paper she thought made things easier to read. Usually she was copying recipes she had already typed up or printed and then annotated in pen. Here’s the completed recipe.

Italian Bean Soup (Pasta Fagioli)
Saute approx 1/2 cup celery (diced) with about 1/2 onion (diced) and a clove of minced garlic in olive oil.

Add salt and pepper and a bit of red pepper flakes (optional).
Add: Small can of Hunt’s tomato paste (8 oz size) AND 3 CANS OF WATER.
Tiny pinch of sugar and simmer 1/2 hour.
Add: 1 can NORTHERN beans (Joan of Arc or similar) and simmer another 1/2 hour.
Add: 1/3 cup of uncooked spaghetti broken into small pieces and add during last 15 minutes.
Simple but very tasty, especially if you serve with a little parm.

Auntie Marie usually uses two cloves of garlic instead of one. Also, she adds some lemon. “You don’t actually taste the lemon,” she explained, “but it brings out the flavor of everything else.”