AlamyI'm a first-generation Italian-American. That slash says it all. It means that though I was born in the United States, my blood corpuscles are suffused with foreign tendencies for which science has yet to find an antidote. One of those predilections is this: if I invite guests to my home for dinner, I'll drop dead of mortification, right at the table, if I discover that somehow I didn't make "enough."
The problem is my view and my husband's view of "enough" is quite different. My husband's family came over to the U.S. probably on the next boat after The Mayflower. My theory is that on that trip those aboard somehow forgot how to cook, and even worse, how to measure portions. That's why when I met my husband, he looked malnourished, and after eleven years together, I've only managed to put ten pounds on him. On that alone I rest my argument that "real" Americans don't know how to eat the way we "Something-slash Americans" do. You see why I didn't believe him when he told me we had enough mashed potatoes for Christmas dinner last year.
You have to understand. Mashed potatoes are my stepsons' favorite. "Mashed potatoes with homemade gravy" is what they specifically requested the first time I asked what they'd like me to make with Christmas turkey. Though it surprised me that this was their primary choice, I set out to make the best mashed potatoes and homemade gravy they'd ever tasted.
The gravy turned out well, but this year the mashed potatoes worried me. I held up the bowl and asked my husband, "Hon ─ does this look like enough?"
He barely glanced. "It's fine."
What did 'fine' mean? "Fine" as an answer was another Americanism of his.
Luckily, Tim, the youngest of the 'steps' came into the kitchen. Apart from many other endearing qualities, he's got a great sense of humor, which I didn't know he was about to use on me.
"Tim, tell me the truth ─ is this enough mashed potatoes for tomorrow's dinner?"
"Here we go again," interjected my husband. "There's plenty."
"I'm not asking you," I admonished him. "I remember the first time you invited me to your place. I lost three pounds in two days."
Tim started laughing, but my husband looked shocked. "What?"
"It's true. Not that I couldn't afford to lose them, but that's not the point. Nobody ever gets enough to eat when you're in charge of meals."
As his father stuttered in protest, I looked over at Tim, who was still grinning, and asked again. "Really, Tim, is this enough?"
Once Tim realized how vital his answer was for me, he stopped laughing and looked at me deadpan, "Well...if it's just for me and my brothers...sure."
With that, I turned to my husband smugly, "I told you." I grabbed my car keys. "I'm going to get more potatoes."
"I was only joking!" Tim called after me, but it was too late. I came home an hour later with eight more Idaho potatoes, and as I boiled them, both men were chuckling.
Two bowls of mashed potatoes were the last items out of the oven Christmas Day. Made the day before, they needed thorough reheating. The original bowl got to the table just fine, along with the sweet potatoes with bananas, baked apples with cranberry sauce and fresh cream, asparagus with mushrooms and garlic, sausage stuffing, three salads, turkey, and warm rolls.
But as I pulled that second batch of mashed potatoes out of the oven, the Gods of Gluttony got their revenge. That bowl dropped off my oven mitt to and 'slap shot' across the kitchen. Mashed potatoes spewed their creamy glory across the kitchen floor, the cupboards, and my clothes. I had to slide my way over to the dining room table, where ten dinner guests looked at me in dismay.
To hell with it. Everything else was hot and ready to eat. Those potatoes were going to stay where they were until the end of our meal. So, summoning as much dignity as possible with potatoes sticking to me, I sat down, unfolded my napkin and placed it on my lap. "See? This is just what I mean. Thank God I made two bowls."
But while clearing the dishes, I noticed we still had a whole half bowl of mashed potatoes left. Mind you, these were not counting the ones we'd cleaned off the kitchen floor.
Tim saw me looking at the leftover potatoes. With a sparkle in his eye, he explained, "Well, there were so few potatoes left after the second bowl dropped, that we were afraid to take all we wanted. We thought there might not be 'enough' for everyone."
It's a good thing I understood he wasn't serious. That's why they were able to resuscitate me after I fainted.
Patricia Volonakis Davis is the author of Harlot's Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece and the upcoming The Diva Doctrine: 16 Universal Principles Every Woman Needs to Know. Read her blog on Red Room.