Mother's Day : M Is for the Mess I Made Her

TIMES WINE WRITER

It was no way to start a career as a chef, which is why I am not one: cooking breakfast for Mom on Mother's Day, without much luck. Well, perhaps luck had nothing to do with it; maybe it was a total lack of skill. I prefer to think of it as a byproduct solely of my age, which then was 12.

My menu was to be fresh-squeezed orange juice, eggs over medium, toast, coffee. Simple stuff.

I started with the oranges. I cut them open, but I couldn't find the squeezer, so I just decided to hand-squeeze them. Juice got all over everything. I wasn't getting a lot in the glass this way. Pretty soon I had run out of oranges and the glass wasn't yet full.

*

Then bread went into the toaster. I got two eggs and the solid aluminum frying pan my parents got as a wedding gift in 1939 (it still looks the same today) and looked for butter. No butter.

But there was a plastic package of oleomargarine. You remember, the ones that were almost pure white, with a bubble of annatto food coloring in the center. You'd warm the pillow of margarine in your hands and squish the bubble of coloring throughout the packet till the oleo was sort of orange.

I was always happy to squish away. This morning, I must have squished too hard. The awful sound was sort of " squiiit ." The bag had split and a blob of goo hit the stove. I grabbed a dishrag and soap and began mopping at it. Soon it was down to nothing more than a shiny gloss. Back to breakfast.

I put the teapot on the stove with plenty of water and turned the flame on full. The toast wasn't yet light-tan, so I plunged it again. Then I put margarine into the pan and turned on the flame.

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One egg splattered onto the floor as I cracked it on the side of the pan, exactly the way I had seen my mother do it a thousand times. Some eggs just don't know their place. I mopped it up and got another egg. This time I cracked both eggs carefully into the then-crackling margarine. Both yolks broke.

I knew Mom would be in soon, so I turned up the heat on the eggs, plunged the now-light-tan toast once more into the toaster and looked around for a spatula to turn the eggs. By the time I found it, the eggs were swimming in a fast-blackening liquid. I turned off the flame.

I then heard an awful sound. Mom was heading for the kitchen.

I pulled the two pieces of now-black toast from the toaster and placed two teaspoons of instant coffee into a cup (just a wild guess; one teaspoon didn't look like enough). The water wasn't yet boiling, but time was critical now, so I just poured it over the powder.

*

Seconds later, she arrived. I stood there with a spotted glass of orange juice, black eggs, burnt toast, and a cup of coffee so concentrated it was more like 20W50 motor oil.

I don't recall the look on her face, other than the surprise of having breakfast, such as it was, all prepared. I'm sure she appreciated the effort, and I vaguely recall that she said kind things--even if this was her proof that James Beard was in no danger of being booted into the street.

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