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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Easy As Pie

Every Thanksgiving, I do the obligatory thing and ask my mom what I can make for the big meal. It's more of a ceremonious thing than a genuine offer. And knowing how useful I am in the kitchen, she usually says, "Nothing" - although I have over the years, miraculously, churned out a mean apple pie, pecan pie and once, a pumpkin cheesecake. But those flukes of culinary success were few and far between. In fact, my ability to get things done in the kitchen is about as advanced as my ability to last five minutes on an Ultimate Survival quest with Bear Grylls.

To my mother, a traditional Lebanese lady with tremendous cooking talent, having a daughter so completely hopeless in that department is a disappointment that has taken her over 30 years to come to terms with. Although she has somewhat accepted the fact that there is no inner great chef in me, her eyes still glimmer with hope whenever I attempt some small cooking feat. It's like subconsciously she believes that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, and somehow mastering that art just may land me a husband. It's very Field of Dreams - you know, if she bakes it, he will come.

I wouldn't say I'm a bad cook per se, because I just don't do it. My desire to enter the kitchen and prepare a meal equals my yearning for a root canal ... without anesthetic. (Okay, okay, I'm exaggerating. Nix the 'no anesthetic' part.) But if you want to know the truth, my mother only has herself to blame. As a kid, everything my parents made me do, I refused to do as an adult. For example, I no longer eat steak or bananas, and don't drink milk. (I used to also not eat eggs until a few years ago, when I had a particularly delicious chance encounter with an English breakfast in London that forever changed my once prejudiced taste buds.) And helping mom in the kitchen was numero uno on that list.

You see, my parents used to entertain a lot when I was growing up. It felt like nearly every weekend there was some lunch or dinner they were hosting. I used to absolutely DREAD them, because I was expected to help in the kitchen. TORTURE. I'm pretty sure I ended up being more of a pest than a help. I never knew where anything was, which drove mom crazy - "Don't you live in this house?" she'd scream. And worse, she'd ask for utensils in Arabic, leaving me dazed and confused because I barely knew what they were in English. And back then, the extent of my Arabic vocabulary was murhaba (hello), mneha (I'm fine) and busa (ice cream). Mom would get so frustrated with me that she'd eventually just throw me out.

Luckily for her, though, she has four daughters: two are good cooks, one cooks, but her food is ... well, no comment, and then there's me. Miss Lean Cuisine/ Casper & Gamibini's take out/ spaghetti/ club sandwich (pretty much the extent of my 'cooking' ability). Okay, I'm not being entirely honest with you all. I actually have a specialty. Yes, you read right, a speciality. I - sometimes on special occasions - make my now famous chocolate pie. How did I become famous for anything to do with the kitchen, you may ask? By accident.

When I was in high school, one of the students brought in a chocolate cake that was so scrumptious, I asked for the recipe. Culinary genius that I am, I didn't write it down. When I got home, I told my mom about it and asked her to make it. Seeing a narrow window of opportunity, she said if I wanted to have that cake again, I would have to make it myself, and so desperate for that chocolate heaven, I agreed. But of course I completely forgot the ingredients and directions. My mom kept asking me if I was sure I knew what I was doing and not wanting to admit defeat, I assured her I did. Well, the final product was not the cake my schoolmate brought in, but it did end up being a delicious chocolate cake/pie concoction that I have become famous for.

Anyway, this year, you can just imagine mom's surprise when I told her that last night I made not one, but TWO chocolate pies for Thanksgiving today: one regular and the other chocolate mint. I still don't know what happened in that kitchen all those years ago that left me with at least one culinary legacy, but divine intervention is a strong possibility!


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