I think every family has some sort of singular foodstuff (or stuffs) -- kind of weird things that they love and other people don't necessarily get and, to be honest, don't really have any desire to eat, EVER. But if they're your dishes, from your family, you know that not only are they delicious, but they're also the most comforting thing in the world -- an edible hug.
There are a couple of those in my family, but one of my favorite things, a dish that speaks of home no matter where I am, is a rice dish my dad makes. I LOVE it. It's tomato-y and spicy and warm and delicious. I could eat it every day. (We call it "tomato surprise". I have no idea why.)
When I was in high school, my dad taught me to make it -- sort of. He gave me a rundown of the basic ingredients and some instructions. I made it. Mine was ... okay. It wasn't delicious like his. Oh sure, it would do in a pinch, when I made it for myself in my first apartment, or when I was first married and really kind of learning how to cook. It was all right. But it wasn't as good as my dad's.
My friend Annie told me that of COURSE mine wouldn't taste as wonderful as the dish my dad made... because it needed to be made by my dad to be special. Which, yeah, okay. I thought. Annie's fond of saying that the secret ingredient to any special food is Love. Which, again, probably.
I was recently watching Paula Deen cook, and she announced to the camera, slyly, "And the thing that makes EVERTHING more delicious is butter, y'all," when it hit me.
Love might be a powerful secret ingredient.
But so is butter.
I called my mom: "How much butter does Dad put in the tomato surprise?" I asked suspiciously, since he had told me a half a stick.
"A TON," she said. "Stick? Stick and a half? I don't know ... it's a LOT."
It's been a rough week. So I went to the market and bought the ingredients. Despite my misgivings, I added a stick and a half of butter. I took a bite, and there it was: my dad's tomato surprise (a vegetarian version, with sauteed mushrooms instead of the ham he favours), including the secret ingredient that I expect now that he didn't tell me about because he knew that I might be freaked out by the idea of eating ridiculous amounts of butter -- which makes it about love after all, right?
Love is, after all, the best ingredient.
And it turns out butter doesn't hurt, either.