“Uh, Mom?” I could tell that he was trying to be polite, but he was failing. “What…is…this?” My son couldn’t hold back his Icky Face any longer.
One could argue that the most annoying icky face is that of a 13-year-old. On a little kid the look is aggravating but still cute. We cut them some slack, teach them to try it first and how to be polite if they don’t care for it. We also know that the gag-inducing vegetable of today is the one gobbled up with glee (and ranch dressing, ketchup or cheese sauce) tomorrow.
But at 13? By then they should know that money and effort went into cooking. At 13 they really should know how to make their own sandwich if dinner disappoints. But I stalled answering his question mostly because I was making the same face.
“I think it’s a…a…” no positive words came to me. “It’s a fail.”
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To describe the contents of the two, steaming pots fresh from the stove makes it sound tasty. One contained hot, buttered egg noodles; the other held ground beef and gravy. In theory, this was going to be a simple, but hearty meat and carb dish — in reality it looked like it had already been eaten and returned.
“It’s supper and it’s all we have.” I scooped some egg noodles into a bowl and ladled a bit of the gravy over it — we both made what is best described as retchy sounds. I had to forgive him his dramatic judgment because we were on the same page.
“Maybe if I toss them together first,” I told him as I poured the dark, lumpy sauce into the noodle pot and got some tong action going.
“That already looks way better than,” Noah pointed at his bowl, “that.”
I dumped his bowlful in. Tong. Tong. Tong.
Even as I served him, I knew it was going to be horrible.
It wasn’t just one element-everything looked wrong. The noodles had cooked too long, then shredded when I tossed the butter in and shredded more mixing in the gravy. When I browned the hamburger, onions and garlic I was too efficient crumbling the beef creating teeny, tiny pinhead-sized pieces floating in brown gravy.
It looked pre-chewed.
I had made more mistakes. I used too much thyme and pepper and hadn’t mixed in enough flour before adding beef broth which made more of a soup than a gravy. I did thicken it with a slurry, but in doing so had left lumps of flour floating with the micro beef.
Aiming for optimism, I held out hope; I’ve cooked many a dish that looks ugly but tastes great.
This was not one of those.
When my husband came to the table he was about as enthusiastic as we were.
“They can’t all be the best,” I told the boys who nodded in agreement. My son shook more ground pepper on his, Brian grabbed the Parmesan cheese and I decided that my adding anything else was only going to make my supper worse. We all choked it down.
In my defense (because Worse Than It Looks Beef and Noodles needs all the defense it can get) this is how I cook. I don’t use recipes, I use my imagination, a few decades of experience and the ingredients at hand. The majority of the time, dinner is a winner.
And then there are meals like the one we were reluctantly eating that make us all appreciate those winners just a little bit more.
They make us realize that even with experience, failure sometimes happens.
And they remind us that we eat to live, not live to eat and that, thankfully the next night has “carry-out” written on the menu.
Susan Vollenweider is a Kansas City based writer and podcaster. To listen to the women’s history or history-based media podcasts that she co-hosts, or to read more of her writing visit www.thehistorychicks.com or www.susanvollenweider.com.