My New Year's dinner was a real battle. In fact, at one point, so overwhelmed with overflowing pots and smoke and timers going off, I almost quit. I realize that I'm taking a big chance by writing this in light of my last column on how I locked my dinner in the oven. You see, despite the fact that it's 2011, women in the South are still judged by their cooking.
Don't believe me? Show up at a church pot luck sometime. Think you just get in line and put food on your plate randomly? Not more than once you won't. Although church is the last place to judge someone, we all want to know who made what. Because while we still love those who can't cook, we want to make sure we avoid their dishes.
"How's your mom doing? Is she out of the hospital yet?" we ask politely as folks walk into the fellowship hall, all the while building up to our most important question: "What did you bring?"
And trust me, at church socials, you want to make sure it's not store bought --unless, of course, your mom is in the hospital. If it is store bought, I'm not saying flat out lie about it, but you should probably do your best to disguise it. It may mean emptying Kroger's pasta salad into a bowl or wrapping Mrs. Winners biscuits in foil -- whatever you have to do. I think Jesus would understand this one. For women in social circles, being able to cook is important.
And, if you can't cook, then, hopefully, you can do something better -- bake. Baking is close to sainthood, especially at church pot lucks. Lemon meringue pie, chocolate cakes, coconut cakes -- talk about a lost art. Those items go fast. So fast, in fact, that people learn to get dessert first. I can recall one Wednesday night supper when everyone made a bee line for the dessert table the minute the preacher said "amen." It seems word had gotten out that Dorothy Smith made her homemade caramel cake.
If you are lucky enough to have kids, then you can avoid the embarrassment of being the first one seen at the dessert table. They (being smart as they are) will ask, "Mom, can I go get dessert before it's all gone?" and you (being slightly smarter) will say, "Sure, and pick me up a piece of the caramel cake," and as they run off, you yell, "Oh, and a piece of pecan pie, too."
Then later when you hear folks complaining about how many desserts they saw kids hauling off from the dessert table, you can shake your head, and say, "Kids these days! Where were their parents?!" (For the record, I have never done this.)
Now, if for some reason, you have had a busy day and can't bake, or slice Publix pound cake and put it on your best crystal serving tray, or if you don't have time to make a homemade casserole, then I suggest you do what we moms call "making something for the kids." I have to confess this is my favorite modus operandi -- macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, even a pizza will work. Parents are happy; kids are happy, and I'm happy because I don't have to sit next to a child, or adult, for that matter, and hear them say, "Ewww," and then look down and see my casserole. Just kidding. That hasn't happened, but I have lived in fear of it.
After all, no one wants to be called a bad cook, especially at church. In fact, the biggest compliment someone can pay you at these socials is to ask for your recipe. And, the Christian thing to do in return is share it with them. I know some people don't believe in sharing recipes. Trust me -- it spreads good will, and chances are it won't turn out as good as yours, anyway. At least, not if I'm cooking it.