When I was thirteen years old, I cooked dinner for my parents. I had just discovered my mom’s cache of early 60s cookbooks in the basement, where they had been collecting mold for 20-odd years. I presume these were wedding gifts, offered to a woman who was only marginally enthused about setting up housekeeping with anyone, let alone my dad.
I should also mention that my parents waited ten years to have me. Looking back on my adolescence, this fact explains much but excuses nothing. It wasn’t so much a decline in energy or parental interest, the problem was a bit more subtle. I wasn’t even able to understand or cope with it until it was too late. The problem was cultural: that specific ten years placed them on the other side of the generation gap – distinguishing them from the classic boomer parents most of my friends seemed to have. Come to think of it, we never went to the neighborhood block parties, our folks were always terribly suspicious of our friends’ parents, never quite comfortable with the cultural touchstones the era (It’s difficult to communicate someone who never listened to rock and roll or ever saw Star Wars.) and, most critical to this meal, never quite able to understand their two kids’ desperation to simply walk their own unconventional, independent path.
So back to this meal. Chicken flavored Rice-a-Roni, Jello instant pudding, and the piece d’ resistance, a soup, consisting of reconstituted bullion cubes and microwaved chicken tenders, served in a hollowed out watermelon. Inspiration for the latter derived from this book called “The ABCs of Chinese Cookng,” an otherwise forgettable collection of MSG, cornstarch slurries, unspeakable rice shortcuts. But I saw the watermelon image and felt like one of those people who gaze upon a picture of the Arctic and know… right then… that they would have to one day attempt it.
Epic. And I choose that word carefully, because the final audacious course was remembered, discussed, and eventually celebrated in family lore for years. Sadly, pictures did not commemorate the event, but the illustration above should give you an idea.