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"And it's good for you," said Arnie.
"Oh, no it's not," snapped Jeanie. "Jewish food is very, very fattening. I used 14 eggs."
When we were done, Arnie leaned back, as he has for almost 40 years, to deliver a heartfelt, if less than convincing, "Delicious. Absolutely scrumptious."
In all the meal actually was pretty good. The brisket, of which I was never a fan (that was David, Mom), was moister than usual, owing to an extra post-pressure dose of gravy, I suspect. It was certainly more appetizing than, well ...
OK, here's where I lose my inheritance:
You see, the barometer by which my Mom's cooking has always been judged is a curious dish that she likes to call ... meatloaf. Growing up I actually thought the reason other mothers put onion and spices and bread crumbs in theirs was out of pure and simple poverty. They were obviously just watering down the meat. Of course, Jeanie contends she only made it that way because, "That's the only way you kids would eat it." I don't really know which came first, the chicken or the egg. I just know neither of them ever made it into my Mom's meatloaf.
And so, at the risk of forfeiting my entire one-third stake in the travel agency empire, I print for you now an infamous, age-old, family-secret recipe:
Jeanie Levine's Utilitarian Meatloaf
1 large package ground beef
Remove plastic wrapping from ground beef. Invert package into large baking pan. Peel away styrofoam tray. Briefly mold meat, with hands, into vaguely loafish shape. Sprinkle lightly with paprika. Pour ketchup in one wavy line along top of loaf, covering USDA stamp, if possible. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit till overdone. Slice. Serve with moistened potato flakes. Enjoy.
For dessert Mom had baked another traditional Jewish delicacy, mandelbrot -- long, angular almond breads similar to today's ubiquitous biscotti. Before Jeanie's mother died, when I was only 3, she gave the recipe to her best friend Sidonia, who promptly went on to marry my widowed grandfather. Before Sidonia died a few years ago, she passed the recipe back to my mom.
They're very addicting, as my father noted. "Your mother wouldn't let me know where they were. She was afraid I'd eat them all."
"He could sit there like with a box of candy," she agreed.
As is customary in my family -- going all the way back to the Levite tribes of Canaan, I believe -- the entire evening meal was completed in 6.4 minutes. Actually, that was a little long for us. Our goal was generally to try to fit the necessary event inside of a standard TV commercial break.
After dinner Mom headed up to her new computer, where she now spends most nights playing bridge online. Dad went back to the TV to begin the perpetual nodding off in front of the reruns. I took the opportunity to wander around the house, paying a little more attention than usual to the original oil paintings that hang on the walls of almost every room.
The matador and the bull. The still lifes of fruit and flowers. The multicolored abstracts. All of them painted by my father, sometime before he reached the age I am now. Before he gave up being an artist to raise a family of five.
Later Mom took a break from her games to tell me how she'd like to redo the kitchen. "They make them much bigger now. With islands. But," she added, "only if I would stay longer." She's really hoping to move to Florida, she explained, sometime in the next five years.
"We've been here a long time," she said. "Thirty-three years. I was two months pregnant with you," she remembered. "So, we'll leave the kitchen to the next person.
"Hey!" she called out as she spied Arnie stealing the last of the mandelbrot. "See why I hide them?"
Want to host The Man Who Came to Dinner? E-mail SFDinner@aol.com and tell us what's cookin'.
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