Gourmets and cooking-show fanatics will shake their heads at this post, but I must share the story of the first dinner I cooked for my boyfriend (now my husband of many years). We were sophomores in college and had only been dating for several months. Yet, somehow we both knew this was the one. Keep in mind, any time my mom tried to teach me to cook I would run in the other direction. Even chemistry homework appealed more than anything in the kitchen. But when Ken asked me to fix him dinner during Christmas vacation, what did I say? Sure, why not? After all, how hard could it be? I packed all the ingredients from grocery store into my car and drove to his house. The rest of his family would be out for the evening. Did I take a cookbook? Of course not, since my mother didn’t own one. She’d learned everything from Grandma Ellis who also never wrote anything down. Ken chose fried chicken and potato salad as his favorite meal. I added iceberg lettuce with bottled dressing and green beans straight from the can—no butter or seasoning—to round out the meal. I breaded and fried the chicken, then kept turning the pieces in the skillet until I set off the smoke alarm. After all, I had no idea when they were done. But the extra crispy chicken turned out better than my potato salad. Since I had no idea when the potatoes might be cooked, the result resembled mashed spuds with tiny pieces of celery, onion and hard-boiled egg. But Ken loved my dinner. He not only cleaned his plate but raved about everything. Maybe it’s not surprising since I was cute-as-a-bug and he was enchanted. But here’s the best part: When his parents and sister returned from the movies, they all took plates and ate the leftovers. In fact, my late mother-in-law’s exact words were: “Oh, my, you better not let this one get away. Any girl who cooks like this is a keeper.”
I went home that night thinking I was a good cook. It would be some time before I found out the truth. But Ken proposed that Christmas and we marred six days after college graduation. I still miss my mom and my mother-in-law. They both taught me that unconditional love is more important than anything that goes into your stomach. Before she passed away, my mom did teach me to cook a few of her special recipes, but every now and then I still set off smoke alarms…just for old times’ sake.
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