An aunt has a theory that my mothers' lack of cooking skill came with her order of birth as number four of seven children. She guesses the older girls must have cooked while mom watched the babies.
I don't remember meals growing up - at all. I remember meals in restaurants, and during our travels. I do remember dad with a weekly armload of schwarmas. And I remember the last few years he cooked steak, from New Zealand, on Fridays. (Which were Sundays.)
Otherwise I remember bro and I, concocting things to eat, our favorite being the careful art of microwaving of bologna til it curls in on itself and the grease pools inside. Canned spaghetti sauce on toast and mint extract stirred in bowls melting ice cream. Before Saudi, before the microwave, it was ramen ramen ramen or mac n cheese.
Mom's lack of cooking did not stop her from joining "The Gourmet Club" a group of couples who took turns cooking and hosting dinner parties. She loved gourmet club, til it was her turn. She bought a giant hammour fish and it was marinating outside. I felt it was my duty to check on the fish, often...and touch it a lot. I had to touch it a lot...on the sly.
The band program was going *great guns so dad hired a chorus director to expand the department. The new guy and his family were U.S. but taking the job after several years in the Peace Corps in India. This guy would be dad's closest co-worker and, great news, they had a daughter my age!
My parents said they'd be their buddy couple, which meant, picking them up from the airport, feeding them and providing transport to work and market until all the *rigamarole of acquiring a car and settling in and learning the rules was in place.
Mom was told the family was vegetarian. She obsessed about what to feed them when we brought them home from the airport. It was the first time I heard the word, which I assumed might be off-color and therefore, over my head, by the way dad belted out a laugh whenever mom brought it up. Vegetarianism made him chuckle like the occasional British comedy from Bahrain.
We picked them up, and soon I was to learn another new word: Hippies.
They were really cool, gracious and especialy gracious about the fact that mom had fucked up each and every dish she served them with some hidden "I didn't realize eggs were meat" kind of problem. Dessert?
"Nope, can't eat that either."
Lots of laughter. Finally, she and Mrs. Veg dug out a songbook and sang "King of the road."
Eventually they did settle in, but only for a few years. Two things seemed to happen with former Peace Corps types in Saudi:
a. When they got their first paycheck they ran around wide eyed asking co-workers if it was correct. (the pay was that good)
b. They'd get depressed that they couldn't get to know Saudis well, felt too sterile and hostile in the Gulf, and moved on to rougher, "real-ler" more poorly paying places, like Karachi.
I hung out at their place as much as I could because little Veg was my best friend. These people really cooked, got totally into it and presented food to their daughter like she was a maharani dripping in pearls. We didn't have to do a thing but sit at the table and wait for dish upon dish. Then we'd bathe together as her parents poured coffee pots and thermoses of warm water over our giggling heads. They had a closet full of remedies and if I got to stay over we took vitamins in the morning. Vitamins! Her dad was trying to convince my mother to throw her glasses away and do eye yoga instead.
Our place, though lacking in food and doting aging hippie care, was not without appeal to my little friend. I had a dog, see? Pretty much the only dog in the kingdom - and the guards hadn't shot him yet. So occasionally she would leave her palace of peace and understanding to come play with Spot.
On days I knew she was going to visit, dad and I would make brownie mix without the eggs. I'd do some extra careful sifting of the bugs, because in Saudi, everyone eats dead bugs in their dry goods - but vegetarians should eat a few less.
Sometime around then, dad and Spot had their bike wreck. Dad must have thought our saluki/mutt wasn't getting enough full blast of a run, so he had been taking him by bike on a leash. This worked several nights in a row until the night it didn't. It wasn't a huge deal but we had never seen dad - well...scuffed up in our lives. Bro and I were shocked and late and shocked to be late for a serious scientific appointment. Bro was going to play musical excerpts for a Dutch couple down the way and ask them what colors they think of when they hear the music.
My job was to do absolutely nothing if I really felt I had to tag along.
*great guns, rigamarole* totally my mom.