“Mom, I need your help.” I crushed the phone to my ear as I stirred the contents of the pot on my stovetop.
“What is it?”
“I made chili. For dinner. For Mike.”
Mom is well aware of the rarity of such an event. “Good for you!” she said encouragingly. “He’ll be very pleased.”
“Yeah, I guess,” I replied weakly. “It’s just — ”
“Can I send you a picture so you can tell me what’s wrong with it?”
“What’s — ? Oh.” There was a pause. “OK. I’m at my computer.”
We made small talk as I snapped a picture with my ipod Touch and e-mailed it to her. “Did you get it?” I asked nervously.
“No. Wait. Yes. It just came in. Let me –” Another pause. Then Mom started laughing. Shrieking, really. “Oh my God. What did you do to it?”
“I don’t know. I followed the recipe. Fucking Mark Bittman. I hate him.” I stopped, defeated.
“Why is it that color?”
“I have no idea,” I said peevishly. “And I don’t understand why the beef is all wormy either. It’s like yarn. Why is that?”
Mom finished chuckling and cleared her throat. “I really couldn’t tell you. I’ve never seen that before. Did you brown it?”
“Of course. I mean, I cooked it. It turned brown. Ish.”
“You have to brown it.”
“What does that mean? And how does that explain the squiggles?”
“It doesn’t,” she said sympathetically. “Ask Mike. Maybe he’ll know. In the meantime, try to get the color better. It’s quite…tan.”
“What should it be?”
“Sort of, well, orange.”
“OK, so what do I do? Food coloring? Should I add red food coloring?”
At this Myra-Jean, who had been playing in the next room, came running in. “Food coloring!” she yelled. “I want to do it!!!” She began to drag her “helping” stool — otherwise known as the Mommy-killer — over to the stove. “Let me! Let me!” She reached zealously for my spoon.
“No!” I snapped, moving her arm away. “This is not the time.”
The kitchen filled with toddler wails.
“Don’t do any food colors!!” Mom yelled urgently, over the growing din. “Try canned tomatoes. Really, Jessica!”
“Fine. I’ll try them. It’s not going to fix the worms, though.”
“No. It won’t. Just…well, break them up as much as you can.”
“Break them — like with a potato masher?”
“You can’t be serious. Listen,” Mom said firmly. “Just add some tomatoes and cook it for awhile. It’ll be fine.”
“OK,” I said, somewhat dejectedly. “Thanks, Ma.”
“Of course. And Jessica. One more thing. Whatever you do. Do not put this picture on your blog.”