I’ve mentioned before that I shamelessly used cooking to lure an unwitting D into becoming my husband. I won’t deny it: Look at my success rate! It was only recently that I realized that I’ve been using it to lure the girls into loving me as well.
Total honesty? I think my ultimate goal as a mother is that when the girls go off to college they are socially capable of being on their own, but whenever they slump their way through the cafeteria line or eat their fifth pizza for the week they think of me and say, “God, I would give my first born for some of Mom’s ________ (insert favorite food here).” Ideally, it will convince them to come home every now and then.
For me, cooking someone a good meal is the absolute, hands-down equivalent of saying ‘I love you.’ I’m sure a therapist or a nutritionist would have a field day with that last sentence.
It’s why, whenever Ms. B. is away from home for an extended period of time, I always ask her, “What do you want to eat when you come home?” You see how I’m laying the groundwork there? Establishing expectations? That’s forward thinking. Usually Ms. B. responds quickly with the name of a favorite meal. Mac ‘n’ cheese has been a pretty consistent pick, but every now and then she chooses something different. It’s always essentially comfort food and it’s always something I’ve cooked before.
Two weeks ago, before she left for an extended stay with her dad’s side of the family, I asked Ms. B., as always, “What do you want for dinner when you come home?” She promptly responded, “Meatballs!” Unh-huh. I’d never made meatballs in my life. Never seen anyone else make meatballs. I’m not entirely sure where this request came from. But if Ms. B. wants meatballs, then meatballs she shall have. I’m a pretty competent cook. I think I can figure out meatballs. Ms. B. also requested the meatballs be “the size of her face.” On that front I made no guarantees.
Here’s another bit of honesty about me: I’m not a great reader of recipes. If I’m trying something new, I skim, get a general idea of ingredients and method, and then dive in. It’s why I’m not the best baker. For as type-A as I can be about some things in my life, when it comes to baking I lack the necessary level of precision. I seldom stick to the recipe and most of my meals are never made the same way twice. D has targeted several of my ‘recipes’ that he believes I need to write down so the girls aren’t following me around the kitchen when I’m old and cranky with dementia, frantically writing down everything I’m doing so they can recreate ‘Mom’s pot roast’ after I’ve kicked the bucket. It might be hopeless. I don’t know that I’ve ever made the ‘same’ pot roast, so which one is my ‘recipe?’
The day before Ms. B. was scheduled to come home, I decided I should probably learn a thing or two about meatballs. I went the that eternal font of internet wisdom (also known as Pinterest) and skimmed four or five different meatball recipes. I took the basic ingredients from one, the method of stuffing ricotta in the center from another, the method of baking, not frying, from a third, etc. etc. etc. and went to the grocery store.
The list of ingredients I had found used a half pound of Italian sausage meat. But sausage only came in full pound packages at the store and, really, half a pound doesn’t sound like very many “size of your face” meatballs, so I mentally doubled the remaining ingredients. At least, what I remembered were the remaining ingredients from the recipe I skimmed. I suppose you can start to see where this is all going.
Late in the afternoon of Ms. B.’s return, D decided he wanted to take the girls to the pool. As he and Ms. B. were getting into their suits, however, the Peanut started to have a nuclear meltdown. She hadn’t been feeling well all weekend and was cranky and clingy and clearly no longer capable of having a good time.
“You know, I’ll just stay here with the Peanut,” I volunteered. “I can make the meatballs and then dinner will be ready when you guys are ready to come home.” D looked at me skeptically as I started to pull ingredients out of the fridge.
“Are you sure?” he asked. “This all seems rather . . . heroic.”
“Yep, I got this!’ I cheerfully assured him as the Peanut wiped her nose on my pant leg.
As I tried to keep the Peanut content (“You want to listen to music? To dance? What about play with blocks?” Anything? Anything? Anything?”) I soaked my pieces of bread in milk and started to mix together my meatball ingredients. When it was time to start forming everything into balls, however, I had a pretty soupy mixture.
Umm. Clearly, I did something wrong. “Maybe now might be a good time to look at one of those recipes again.” I pulled up my list of ingredients again and, for the first time, noticed that, crap and a half, the recipe, the recipe I had doubled because a half pound of Italian sausage “didn’t sound like very much,” called for a half pound of Italian sausage and 2.5 pounds of ground beef. Two-and-a-half pounds of beef in a recipe that I had doubled, so that I now needed five pounds of beef to get my ratios back in order.
I think you can freeze meatballs (right?) so I quickly made the executive decision to just make a bunch and freeze what we don’t eat for another meal. The Peanut and I ran to the grocery store, grabbed the ludicrous amount of beef we needed, and came home. I was rolling the meatballs as Ms. B. and D came inside.
“How’s it going?” D asked, peeking over my shoulder.
“Oh… you know…” I laughed nervously. D, God bless him, didn’t say anything about the insane number of dishes I had dirtied by that point (at least until after we ate) or the fact that I seemed to think six pounds of meat was necessary to feed 3.25 people dinner. I was at least back to working with something that appeared capable of becoming a future meatball, but now I was nervous.
Ten minutes after I slipped the meatballs into the oven, I noticed that the kitchen was a little smoky. I checked on the meatballs and they were putting off a lot of smoke, but nothing seemed to be burning. Five minutes after that, the smoke detector went off. I still don’t know what I did wrong there. I cooked them a full twenty-five minutes and they weren’t burnt. I guess they just smoke? I don’t know. The ricotta stuffed centers had completely leaked out the sides of the meatballs, coating the tray in baked on cheese that I glumly noted was going to be a pain in the ass to clean. What seemed like a genius idea initially started to feel a little stupid.
“Dinner’s ready!” I announced. I opened the door to the deck on a 100 degree day to let some of the smoke out as D. and Ms. B filtered their way into the kitchen, their faces a little wary. We each dished up a plate of spaghetti and meatballs, I poured myself an extra-large glass of red wine, and we sat down to eat. D tried a meatball first.
“Hey! These are pretty good!” he declared. Ms. B. was next. I watched her face as she put a bite of meatball in her mouth. Her eyes closed in bliss.
“Mmmmmmmm…..” she said. And then, with a tone of reverence, she gave me the holy grail of Mom-cooking: “I missed your cooking soooo much.” She almost, almost, sounded like she wanted to cry from joy over that meatball.
Maybe I’m projecting, I don’t know. In my sad little food=love brain, she might as well have said, “I missed YOU soooo much.” I formally declare these meatballs a success!