Tortilla Lady, Tamara Dobry
Preview: This recipe will taste interesting. Woodsy and starchy and so heavy it will make you feel bloated. More notably, its title will impress your guests.
Difficulty: Was it difficult for you to leave home for the first time?
Total time: 1 hour for most people. Probably 3 hours for you.
Prep time: Depends how long you put off going to the supermarket. You’ve never been good with planning, so get the chicken an hour ahead of time. You know you’ll forget to go until the last minute, then you’ll run into one of the town moms in the condiments aisle and that’s whole half hour gone with her gushing about her kids and offering advice. Maybe a smaller house would be better for the two of you. It’s time for you to walk away now, keeping your shoulders back and flat stomach tucked in, letting the peppers and salts flank you like bodyguards. Head for the vegetables.
Baking time: Well, you’re not really baking here. You’re cooking. When the guests come, be sure to tell them you cooked the meal, not baked. Also don’t tell them what you do for a living. Questions about money will arise sooner than necessary. At least make it through the dinner rolls before they find out you’re the breadwinner.
(First of all, don’t listen to what your husband jokes about cooking with “love.” Some things just will or won’t happen regardless of love.)
1) 5 lbs of potatoes
Pick the ugliest ones. They’ll taste the best. They need the love.
2) 2 packages of mushrooms
It’s okay to buy pre-packaged. Not everything has to be fresh. Choose cremini, oyster or shiitake.
3) 1 bottle of Marsala wine
If your pockets are thin because it’s winter and you had to pay the plumber to fix your pipes, just go ahead with cheap wine.
4) 2 (6-8oz) chicken thighs
Find the fattest chicken thighs. Dense and fleshy like your sister’s legs before she gave birth to your niece. You heard the news first. Your brother-in-law had gone to move the car and your husband was in the bathroom and you were sitting there, eating vending machine chips. The doctor let you come in and see the baby in your sister’s arms. Its face was still puckered up, dimpled. You wanted to smooth out the puffs below its eyes like you do with bread, softly kneading, spreading the dough evenly across the countertop. Your stomach growled as you stood in the doorway, watching, and your sister looked up.
5) 3 eggs
This dish doesn’t always call for eggs, but you want to use them anyways. If you were in your mother’s kitchen, this part would be easier. You both practiced cracking eggs when you were younger, trying to halve them in one hand like Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina. The refrigerator was filled with jars of eggs, eggs cracked just for the purpose of cracking, the yolk suspended in the whitish goo, like eyes with yellow pupils, like a dozen little science experiments.
You can always substitute something else for eggs. Egg Beaters or No Egg Natural Egg Replacer or Patty’s Egg Substitute work well. A lot of things can be substitutes: television, the long hug your mother gives you whenever she sees you, soy milk, non-alcoholic beer, the way your husband kisses you softer now, almost resigned, soy beans, the way you want him to grow a beard so then perhaps you won’t want to kiss him and then perhaps you can feel less sad. If you somehow end up getting eggs, crack them in an empty bowl, for once they’ve broken, it’s hard to go back and pick the shell skins from the flour. Grind shells in the garbage disposable to prevent contamination.
6) ½ cup of all-purpose flour
“All-purpose” means that with this ½ cup of flour you can do anything.
Instructions: Skin the potatoes first. They’ll make you think of scalps and warts and getting old. Then clean the chicken. Wash your hands before raw chicken juice absorbs into your skin. Salmonella happens more often than you think. Roast the potatoes; boil the wine; add the chicken; add flavorings—olive oil, pepper, oregano. If you’re bold—like that time you thought it appropriate to break the news to your mother at Christmas Eve dinner that you were moving out of state—then add paprika. You weren’t actually bold then, just scared, just using the guests’ shock to buffer the way your mother’s face fell, prodding her green beans like a child. She hadn’t meant to make your life feel unfinished, but she did, by the very nature of being a mother—yours. If you’ve got a cut in your mouth, perhaps you should leave out the Hawaiian Black Lava Sea Salt. The salt will only wedge beneath your gums and sting.
Wait time: Things that can happen in 6 minutes: the chicken can cook; a movie preview can play; the dog can take a bath; you can take a shower; a baby can be born; your husband can plow around the mailbox; your mother can call and ask if you had a happy childhood; you can answer her; you can rearrange the tea bags in the cabinet in the wrong boxes—raspberry in earl grey, breakfast blend sandwiched by chamomile, lemon with cinnamon. Meanwhile, the dog can sit at attention facing the stove, its head cocked as it listens to the quiet pop of chicken cooking above.
Final Product: This baby of Italian and Hawaiian good cooking will deliver a stunning mix of flavors. Your guests will enjoy it and you’ll have pleasant conversation about landscaping and you’ll call up your mother later to tell her how well the dish went over. By this time, your husband will be asleep and you’ll be on the couch, your legs folded up against your chest to serve as a table for the plate of leftovers balancing on your knees. You’ll feel impossibly young and quietly, desperately alone. You were supposed to have grown up by now. You were supposed to throw dinner parties and have heated kitchen floors warming your feet and be the comfort that someone else calls late at night. You should hang up from your mother now before you both feel shelled. The best thing to do is fill the pan with hot soapy water and rinse it like a wound. Leave it in the sink. You’ll smell last night’s dinner in the kitchen tomorrow morning.