Monday, November 29, 2004

They do not mean to, but they do.

I'd like to tell you that Thanksgiving was all comfort and community, but we all know better than that.

You're right: I do have a family that gets along better than most. I am reminded of this when I spend time with other people's families, and what I feel to be a Big Deal is nothing compared with what other people grew up negotiating.

And mostly Thanksgiving was a lot of community and comfort. There was less psychodrama than in years past, when a father who left his wife for a woman he met on the internet and was later reinvited to join Thanksgiving with the family, offered a long toast to the importance of family, specifically his brother. You would not accuse me of trotting out a cliche story of family break-ups and distress if I told you how my mother, who all the children love and trust, had to hold each and every one of them up that year. Or maybe you would. Maybe you would tell me that most families live through this.

Anyway, what amazed me was that on Friday night, the night after the big turkey night, I flew into fits of despair because a pasta dinner I was making did not turn out.

Despair! Over pasta!

I should back up.

My mother is an amazing cook: it is one of her real passions, and the rest of us are lucky for this, because she prepares one wonderful meal after another. Some are simple and some are more elaborate, some are homey and some exotic, but she has an energy and talent for this that even Rachel Ray should envy.

I love my mother. I love what she stands for, which is an honest, down-to-earth approach to life. She is all about being who she is, instead of trying to be something that she might believe other people might want her to be, maybe.

She worked her ass off during the whole week, because our family celebrates Thanksgiving for the whole week, with a series of ritualized meals. One night it is dungeness crab, brought directly from San Francisco (except for the year that the crab suitcase was the one that did not make the change of planes). Another night it is striper, fresh from the little local seafood shop whose owner always touts my mother for buying fish instead of turkey. Little does he know there is turkey the next night! And all the traditional sides. Our friend who hosts Thanksgiving dinner managed to shoehorn 37 people in her dining room this year, and as I already said, there were no fractious toasts this year. Thanks be to God.

So even on the nights when she is not hosting, my mother always has a dish to make.

I wanted her to spend Friday relaxing with a mystery novel instead of cooking, so I wanted to make dinner for her and my father and my partner--nice and small and quiet-like, but tasty and with a good bottle of wine.

Which is why I went for pasta: having spent time in Italy and then wanting to reproduce Italian cooking at home, I have studied cookbooks and regional foods and so on and so on and now I can make wonderful, easy pasta meals that are most decidedly not red sauced, and people who don't cook a lot of Italian food love them.

In other words, it should have been a slam dunk.

Until I bought the refrigerated low carb ravioli, because their filling seemed more interesting than the other ravioli and tortellini I saw.

So I chopped and cooked portabella mushrooms with butter and wine and pepper and sage fresh from my mother's garden. And I blanched some broccoli and my partner assembled a beautiful escarole and arugula salad which we put with a hazelnut vinaigrette and pomegranate seeds.

And I cooked the pasta. I should have known from the way they were cooking that something was not right--they just floated funny.

And when I put the sauce over the pasta, somehow all the moisture in the world was sucked into those ravioli and yet they were dry, dry, dry.

The fillings were lovely, but the pasta tasted and felt like plastic.


It is true: simple carbohydrates have a high glycemic index, which means that when you eat them, your blood sugar spikes. And yes, meal composed of simple carbohydrates will be digested very quickly, and then your blood sugar levels will shift, leaving you feeling hungry again--leading many people to eat again quickly.

But people: this low-carb diet craze is just as wacked-out as any diet craze. Eating "all the protein and fat you want" does not make you thin, or healthy. Everyone who is smart about nutrition--instead of wanting to make a few bucks by selling America on a dumb diet that won't make them well but will make them by books and motivational tapes and special products--everyone who knows nutrition says people need balanced diets.

Hell, even the low carbs people say "Tip: you can reduce the glycemic value of a pasta meal by adding extra fiber, or a little olive oil, or lemon juice, or another food which is low on the glycemic index."

The point is, if you don't want to eat carbs, DON'T EAT PASTA. Don't buy pasta. Don't be suckered by stupid marketing that tries to say, See? We have fucked pasta up beyond belief, so that you, overweight American seeking an oversimplified solution to your problem, can believe that ultimately you don't need to change a thing and you can still get what you want.

If you want to eat low carb, then eat some lean meat.

Or better yet, avoid the hoopla and get some exercise. You'll feel better, be healthier, and probably lose weight too.


Point is, this low carb pasta effectively ruined the main dish. Sure, the sauce was good, as my mother noted. And my partner diligently ate all his pasta, as did my kindly father. And the salad and broccoli were fab.

But do you know what I did? I lost it. I absolutely lost it. My meal was not a success, and so I was a failure, and my meal was a failure, and my attempt to provide us with a perfect evening on our last evening together was a failure.

I could blame it on the stupid pasta and the stupid diet craze, but this is not a story about diets. It is a story about families, and about no matter how many delicious meals I have prepared for my parents, or how many lovely evenings I have facilitated, this one did not go as planned, and I lost it.

I guess it is because even when we are grown-ups we still act like little kids with our parents. I still feel wide-eyed and approval-starved with them, even though I really do believe they love me for who I am. And I wonder about my father, whose own father is walking steadily if clumsily down the path of fatigue and bad decisions, not planning for the future anymore, even though that means that he's no longer sufficiently nest-egged to pay for a nursing home or some such, should the time come. My father stubbornly notes that he talked to my grandfather all along about this, urged him to keep his eyes open and stay prepared for such eventualities, and now it is not his responsibility. And he is stubborn, so he might manage to stick to his guns as I don't know I could in his place. But is his real indignation that his father isn't acting like a father anymore, and that he, my father, cannot therefore play the role of the son, who perhaps wants as much to please as I do?

And should I kid myself and say that I need to get these feelings under control before Christmas, so that I don't have to put everyone through another one of these meltdowns? Should I pretend that a little thought can help me move on from being a daughter?

1 comment:

bkmarcus said...

Was this the house you grew up in? I find it makes a big difference. What makes an even bigger difference is who's hosting. We had my mother over to our place for Thanksgiving, and it really changes everything.

Thanks for this.

By the way, I encourage you to post the entire Larkin poem.