Of Recipes and Risk

My brother and I were just a little finicky when we were young. We didn’t like oatmeal. We hated onions. We loathed sandwiches. And what is typical lunch fare for a family at a national park picnic area between hikes? Sandwiches. Eventually, we grew out of it and now we’re both in the kitchen, facing our own family’s food likes and dislikes.

My brother makes better Rice Krispy bars than I. Much better. If it wasn’t for him, my children would not even know that those staples of childhood could originate from someone’s kitchen. The ones they get at my house come wrapped in cellophane.

He’s good in the kitchen. So am I. We’re both adventurous in our way. His involves choosing ingredients from the cupboard and making something delicious. Mine involves recipe books: reading them, discovering interesting recipes and trying them out. His is art and mine, I suppose, is science. He looked at a pile of marshmallows, butter, and Rice Krispies and knew that more marshmallows would make a better bar. I followed the recipe and got dry Rice Krispy Bars.

Both his way and mine carry risks and potential for failure. He trusts his instincts. I do, too, but I also have to hope the cookbook author was worthy of a book deal.

A couple of summers ago I made a batch of Curried Hummus from a delightful little cookbook I found at the library for our family’s summer gathering at Campfire Bay Resort in Minnesota. While I’m not fond of hummus, I do like curry, and I thought this might bridge the gap. I bought the ingredients my pantry lacked, whirled them together in the food processor and popped it into the waiting mouths of my husband and me. Easy.

Except that my husband didn’t think it was edible.

In an unusual display of drama, he lit around the kitchen, like a scorched cat suddenly overcome with a hairball. “What is that?” he spat, his look communicating that I had lost not only my marbles but my kitchen rights along with them. I wasn’t certain what his problem was. I had tried it. It wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t that good, either. Curry had not bridged the gap.

I packed it in the cooler for Campfire Bay, hoping other people would react differently, especially my culinarily adventurous, globe-trotting brother. Because the kitchen is one of the few places I laugh at myself easily, my husband held nothing back as he detailed the awfulness of my hummus. The family knew what they were facing long before it landed on the table. My brother, who said that he didn’t really like curry, bravely, and probably sympathetically, gave it a try. He chewed, swallowed, and with a restrained face said “Nice try,” before patting me on the head as if to say Never do that again, and escaped the cabin to go fishing.

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No one ate the hummus, not even me, but in the words of my daughter’s piano teacher, nobody died. Since then, I’ve found new recipes which have brought triumph as absolute as the hummus failure was complete. I will probably take something new to the lake this summer. If it’s inedible, we’ll have my brother’s Rice Krispy bars to fall back on.

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