“Mangia! Mangia!” Eat! Eat! That’s what my pleasingly plump Italian grandmother would shout while shoving a plate of her steaming homemade ravioli in my face. You never said “no” to Grandma when it came to food. Her love was baked into every bite of lasagna, spaghetti, and rigatoni. If you refused her food, you refused her love.
I show love differently than Grandma. It isn’t through food. I give cups of cold water in Jesus’ name. Okay, sometimes it’s bottled. Either way, it’s safer than my cuisine.

My mother had seven children but prepared few meals because Grandma did it all. I remember Mother baking chocolate chip cookies, but most everything else was from a box. I learned how to open up boxes from my mom not how to cook from scratch! Mama Mia!

My kitchen has just the basics: a hand mixer, knives, pizza pan, pizza cutter, and measuring spoons. Not a dream kitchen for most. But, I do have one real treasure in my kitchen that few have . . . an old wooden ravioli roller, lovingly used by Grandma, but never by me. If “Antiques Roadshow” ever hits my town, I’m having it appraised.

My husband married me because I could earn a paycheck as a teacher, I liked sports, and because he thought I was cute. It had nothing to do with my cooking. I was an education major with a strong interest in writing and literature. While my college roommates were acquiring books by Betty Crocker for their dowries, I was stockpiling texts by “Betty” Barrett Browning. Gene’s first tip that I was not Martha Stewart came on our honeymoon when I fixed fried chicken just as I had seen my mom prepare it. I took the breaded chicken, browned it in hot grease, and served it. It looked beautiful!

He went to cut into his piece and lovingly looked up at me, whispering, “Sweetheart, darling, love . . . why is bloody juice coming out of this chicken leg?”

“Oh, dear… I don’t know, sweet lovey. Let me look.” It was raw! My mother never told me that you first had to let it cook and then serve it! Cook it first? Who knew?
When we had children, I fixed meals like any other good mom: chocolate chip cookies, frozen fried chicken, pizza, and the usual peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. When the children went off to college, unlike most of their friends, they were thrilled to eat cafeteria food! Suddenly, this gave me an insight as to why they never wanted to come home from camp during summers.

One of my biggest culinary fiascos was a Thanksgiving turkey I prepared because my daughter and her husband didn’t want to fuss with it. No turkey on Thanksgiving? No way! No! Nada! Nyet! They lived seven hours away, so that meant a 6:00 a.m. departure. I prepared the turkey the night before, with the plan to set an early alarm, put the turkey in the oven, and let it transform into a tender, juicy treasure while we slept.

At two o’clock in the morning the alarm went off. I groggily dragged myself to the kitchen, pulled out the bird, turned on a knob and shoved it in the oven. Crawling back into bed, I felt tremendously clever.

About twenty minutes later we were startled by the screaming sounds of smoke alarms! We flew out of bed, ran through dense clouds, and dove into the kitchen finding my turkey on fire! “Fire! Fire! Fire!” I screamed! Freaking out, we doused it with water!

Half-turkey-brained I had turned the broiler on instead of the oven, setting the plastic roasting bag on fire and badly burning the bird!

My husband abandoned me, shaking his head all the way back to bed.

There we were, the charred turkey and me. Its legs were stretched out wide, cavity hole front and center, and the blackened breast stared at me pleading, “I surrender!”

My eyes welled up with tears as I gazed at the pathetic sight. Mourning my culinary mess, I grabbed a knife, scraped off the charred skin, peeled off the melted plastic, and put the bird back into a pan. The longer I looked at the mess, the funnier it became. Before I knew it, my trickling tears transformed into hysterical laughter! I mean, who was the real turkey here?

It ended up being a Thanksgiving to remember. Not like the pictures in the glossy photo-shopped, touched up magazines. My picture was far better because it was real life . . . ooey, gooey, messy.

Many culinary messes later, I have learned these things:
1) Loving people is more important than impressing them.
2) Life is not like the pictures. It’s messy. Enjoy.
3) Laugh at messes. “A joyful heart is good medicine . . .” (Prov. 22:14 CEV).
4) Live in your giftedness. (1Corinthians. 12:4 NLT).
5). Never volunteer to fix turkey, just bring the green beans.

6) Confession is good . . .”Grandma, ‘odio cucina!’ I hate to cook!”

How much do I hate to cook? I hate thee from the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach when…

Marylou Habecker is a wife, mom, and grandmother living in Upland, Indiana. Her freelance writings appear in such publications as Evangel, The War Cry, The Waynedale News, The Aboite Independent, and SEG-Way News, among others.