Food and Culture at Raven
by Mary Jane Beaufrand
1. Shepherd’s Pie
1-2 cans tomato soup concentrate
1 box instant mashed potatoes
1 can French-style green beans (drained)
1 lb hamburger
1 onion (chopped)
12 sliced mushrooms
§Preheat oven to 350 degrees;
§Brown the beef in a frying pan, then drain extra fat;
§Add chopped onion and mushrooms to beef;
§Sauté til mushrooms have released their juice and onions are translucent;
§Add the two cans tomato soup concentrate and one can green beans; remove from heat;
§In the meantime, in a separate pot, prepare the mashed potatoes (enough for eight servings) according to the directions on the package;
§Assemble the Shepherd’s Pie: pour the beef-onion-mushroom-green been mixture into a 13x9 baking dish; then spoon the potatoes over the top.
§Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to one hour.
§Optional: 15 minutes before removing from the oven, sprinkle grated jack cheese over the top.
Why It’s Cursi.
Fake potatoes? Canned green beans? Tomato soup? This recipe would never make it into a Silver Palate cookbook. Plus it sounds English, which makes people think of creamed brussel sprouts on toast points. Blecch.
Why I Love It:
It may be bland and prefabricated, but Shepherd’s Pie is wonderful comfort food. My mom used to make it after I’d been sick to pad my anemic, puny body. It conjures up rainy nights, and reading books about pirates and buried treasure. It smacks of convalescence.
Besides, every culture has some dish that really means: put whatever’s in the pantry in one great big pot. It’s just some of the others look and sound more interesting: Minestrone. Paella. Cassoulet. Why not Shepherd’s Pie?
2. Mi Cielo
When you and I first started dating, I didn’t know a word of Spanish. So you taught me. You began with all the words for “sweetheart”: mi gordita (my little fatso – I hated this one), mi corazon (my heart – slightly better), mi cielo (my heaven/my sky – my favorite).
You introduced me to your friend Carlos, childhood pal from Venezuela who moved here to Seattle at the same time you did. Carlos smiled in a charming manner and asked me how my Spanish was coming along. I said, “All I really know is mi cielo.”
His smile was still there, but it was taut. Clearly I’d said the wrong thing. I wondered: what mi cielo really mean? Had you taught me how to swear thinking it was a cute cocktail party joke?
Carlos turned to you and blathered something I didn’t understand, pointing at me the whole time. I asked you later what he’d said. “He told me not to teach you how to say mi cielo. He says it’s cursi.”
3. Cheese Grits
1 cup quick grits
4 cups water
1 brick Velveeta cheese, cut into ½ inch cubes
4-6 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled
Potato chips for top
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring the water to a boil and stir in the grits. When almost cooked, add the Velveeta, one half-inch cube at a time until the color of the grits is just short of day-glo. Break the egg and stir it in, along with the bacon. Pour into a casserole dish and top with crumbled potato chips. Cook for 40 minutes.
Why It’s Cursi:
The bacon is bad enough for your arteries, but Velveeta and potato chips? Clearly trailer trash food.
Why I Love It:
Surprisingly, it can be very festive. You can serve it at a fancy brunch and if you don’t tell anyone that it’s grits, no one cares. Call it a casserole. Call it polenta. Serve it with banquet-style along with cinnamon rolls and minted fruit salad. Chase it with champagne mimosas. Just make sure hide the Quick Grits box the guests arrive.
One naked baby (toddler really), escapes from evening bath and runs al fresco through the bedroom, looping through the closet and the king-size bed, cackling wildly.
Why It’s Cursi:
It’s a scene from every Hallmark card, every picture on every family’s mantel. The simple joys of motherhood, blah blah blah. Oh, please.
Why I Love It:
When she’s running her evening laps, you chase behind her waving a clean diaper and footed jammies, chanting, “¿Para donde vas, vagabunda?” Where are you going, you bum? And I like the sound of vagabunda so much I call her that even when no one else is around. Sometimes when she isn’t even escaping.
I think a lot about what I wish for our daughter; what I would do differently with my own life, given the chance. And I realize that while I read a lot about adventure, and loved the idea of risk—tempestuous firelight affairs with dark eyed men—I could never pull it off. So sometimes I lean over Sofia’s cradle, more like a good fairy than a mommy, and whisper, “I wish you lots of adventures, vagabunda.”
5. Monster Salad
Frozen corn kernels
Diced dill pickles
Boiled new potatoes (quartered)
Dump everything in a salad bowl. Toss if you’re feeling ambitious. If not, let the ingredients fall in layers like ancient lava. If you have to store leftovers, squeeze a lemon over the avocadoes. Even though you’re probably out of luck cause the lettuce will turn limp and brown anyway.
Why It’s Cursi:
The tastes don’t really go together. Plus storage is an issue. All these ingredients make a huge salad – enough for five. A lot goes to waste.
Why I Love It:
There’s the cohesion: with a good creamy dressing, the flavors blend well. Poof! Like magic. Plus, even though the only salad-type part is the lettuce, I still feel smug when I’m eating it. It’s nice to have at least the semblance of a balanced diet, especially the day after grits or Shepherd’s Pie.
Why You’re Cursi:
You always criticize me loudly when I’m driving.
You regularly wear tube socks with flip-flops. Your glasses are sometimes held together by tape. I don’t always like being fashion police.
That, despite my best efforts to have the three of us eat meals together, you eat dinner over the sink while watching basketball on TV.
The way you work so hard and when you come home late don’t feel like chatting.
The way I get such a chatting deficit that I regularly waylay the postman and the guy who mows the lawn and Invisible Fence Guy just to hear their opinions about dogs and mulch.
Every time I want to smooch you, you call me cursi, the closest translation of which, you say, is, “tacky.”
You actively listen to Metallica. You think Elvis Costello is repetitive.
That’s about it. The Elvis part is the kicker.
Why I Love You:
That picture of you I found in your parents’ house in Maracaibo. In it, you are a tall gawky boy; maybe twelve or thirteen years old. You’re standing outside on a basketball court in the hot Venezuelan sun. You have tube socks up to your knobby knees. Your curly mad-scientist hair looks like a great big halo of question marks.
Your curly mad-scientist hair.
The way every dog or cat we’ve ever met wants to curl up in your lap and snore.
The way sometimes, when you’ve been working hard for days at a time, you’ll sit down with Sofia and me and tell us about work and who you ran into that week, even if nothing exciting happened and you’d rather be watching basketball.
The way you make a joke out of criticizing my driving, e.g., “I assume you have opinions about the best way to get home.” “Yeah, but I’ll let you do it wrong before I tell you.”
When I’m feeling bad, (fat from too many cheese grits, for example), and I look to you for validation, you manage to make me feel silly but better at the same time. “This isn’t the end of the world, is it? You love me, don’t you?” Frown. “What do you think, you bonehead?”
Sometimes, when I walk behind you carrying Sofia on your shoulders, I am seized by a feeling I can’t really explain. The closest translation is: nourished.
How, when I tell you that when I was in my early twenties, if you came up to me in a bar and offered to buy me a drink, I would’ve blown you off because of the white socks and taped classes. Even if I got past that, I still wouldn’t have dated you because of the Metallica/Elvis Costello thing. And you reply: “Gordita, I never would’ve come up to you in a bar.” It makes me think about the painfully shy boy in the tube socks under the hot Venezuelan sun; makes me want to plunk myself in your lap and run my fingers through your wild hair and hear all you have to say about my driving and your work and dogs and mulch.
I don’t know how I’d tell you any of this. You’d just say I’m cursi.