She taught me how to put on my pajamas

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Tender at the Bone Growing Up at the Table. Read the Review. Imagine a New York City apartment at six in the morning. It is a modest apartment in Greenwich Village. Coffee is bubbling in an electric percolator. On the table is a basket of rye bread, an entire coffee cake, a few cheeses, a platter of cold cuts. My mother has been making breakfast--a major meal in our house, one where we sit down to fresh orange juice every morning, clink our glasses as if they held wine, and toast each other with "Cheerio.

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Have a nice day. But Dad and I are good sleepers, and when the sounds of martial music have no effect she barges into the bedroom and shakes my father awake. Get up and come into the kitchen. My father, a sweet and accommodating person, shuffles sleepily down the hall.

He is wearing loose pajamas, and the strand of hair he combs over his bald spot stands straight up. He leans against the sink, holding on to it a little, and obediently opens his mouth when my mother says, "Try this. Later, when he told the story, he attempted to convey the awfulness of what she had given him. The first time he said that it tasted like cat toes and rotted barley, but over the years the description got better.

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Two years later it had turned into pigs' snouts and mud and five years later he had refined the flavor into a mixture of antique anchovies and moldy chocolate. Whatever it tasted like, he said it was the worst thing he had ever had in his mouth, so terrible that it was impossible to swallow, so terrible that he leaned over and spit it into the sink and then grabbed the coffeepot, put the spout into his mouth, and tried to eradicate the flavor.

My mother stood there watching all this. When my father finally put the coffeepot down she smiled and said, "Just as I thought. And then she threw the mess into the garbage can and sat down to drink her orange juice. For the longest time I thought I had made this story up.

But my brother insists that my father told it often, and with a certain amount of pride. As far as I know, my mother was never embarrassed by the telling, never even knew that she should have been. It was just the way she was. Which was taste-blind and unafraid of rot. She had an iron stomach and was incapable of understanding that other people did not. This taught me many things. The first was that food could be dangerous, especially to those who loved it. I took this very seriously. My parents entertained a great deal, and before I was ten I had appointed myself guardian of the guests.

My mission was to keep Mom from killing anybody who came to dinner. Her friends seemed surprisingly unaware that they took their lives in their hands each time they ate with us. They chalked their ailments up to the weather, the flu, or one of my mother's more unusual dishes. She liked to brag about "Everything Stew," a dish invented while she was concocting a casserole out of a two-week-old turkey carcass. The very fact that my mother confessed to cooking with two-week-old turkey says a lot about her.

She put the turkey and a half can of mushroom soup into the pot. Then she began rummaging around in the refrigerator. She found some leftover broccoli and added that. A few carrots went in, and then a half carton of sour cream.

In a hurry, as usual, she added green beans and cranberry sauce. And then, somehow, half an apple pie slipped into the dish.

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Mom looked momentarily horrified. Then she shrugged and said, "Who knows? Maybe it will be good. That night I set up camp in the dining room. I was particularly worried about the big eaters, and I stared at my favorite people as they approached the buffet, willing them away from the casserole. I actually stood directly in front of Burt Langner so he couldn't reach the turkey disaster.

I loved him, and I knew that he loved food. Unknowingly I had started sorting people by their tastes. Like a hearing child born to deaf parents, I was shaped by my mother's handicap, discovering that food could be a way of making sense of the world. At first I paid attention only to taste, storing away the knowledge that my father preferred salt to sugar and my mother had a sweet tooth. Later I also began to note how people ate, and where. My brother liked fancy food in fine surroundings, my father only cared about the company, and Mom would eat anything so long as the location was exotic.

I was slowly discovering that if you watched people as they ate, you could find out who they were. Then I began listening to the way people talked about food, looking for clues to their personalities. Instead of picking up a ham he brought me corned beef. I had no choice. I simply pretended it was a ham.

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Take meat from water and remove all visible fat. Insert cloves into meat as if it were ham. Cover the meat with the mustard mixture and bake 1 hour, basting frequently with the peach syrup. You could tell instantly just by opening the door. One day in I found a whole suckling pig staring at me.

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I jumped back and slammed the door, hard. Then I opened it again. I'd never seen a whole animal in our refrigerator before; even the chickens came in parts. He was surrounded by tiny crab apples "lady apples" my mother corrected me laterand a whole wreath of weird vegetables.

This was not a bad : the more odd and interesting things there were in the refrigerator, the happier my mother was likely to be. Still, I was puzzled; the refrigerator in our small kitchen had been almost empty when I went to bed. You'd be surprised at what goes on in Manhattan at four A.

I've been down to the Fulton Fish Market. And I found the most interesting produce store on Bleecker Street. I've been trying to get ideas for the party. My brother, I knew, would not welcome this news. He was thirteen years older than I and considered it a minor miracle to have reached the age of twenty-five. Bob went to live with his father in Pittsburgh right after I was born, but he always came home for holidays.

When he was there he always helped me protect the guests, using tact to keep them from eating the more dangerous items. I took a more direct approach. My mother believed in celebrating every holiday: in honor of St. Patrick she was serving bananas with green sour cream. Ida served the sort of perfect lunches that I longed for: neat squares of cream cheese and jelly on white bread, bologna sandwiches, Chef Boyardee straight from the can. Jeanie quickly put her spoon down and when Mom went into the other room to answer the phone we ducked into the bathroom and flushed our lunches down the toilet.

I wanted to get away from the table before anything else appeared. But Mom had already gone to get the cookies. She returned with some strange black lumps on a plate. Jeanie looked at them dubiously, then politely picked one up. She left them on the radiator so all the chocolate melted off, but they won't kill you. As we munched our cookies, Mom asked idly, "What do you girls think I should serve for Bob's engagement party? Mom had moments of decorating inspiration that usually died before the project was finished.

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The last one, a romance with Danish modern, had brought a teak dining table, a wicker chair that looked like an egg and hung from a chain, and a Rya rug into our lives. The huge turquoise abstract painting along one wall dated from that period too. But Mom had, as usual, gotten bored, so they were all mixed together with my grandmother's drum table, an ornate breakfront, and some Japanese prints from an earlier, more conservative period.

Then there was the bathroom, my mother's greatest decorating feat. One day she had decided, on the spur of the moment, to install gold towels, a gold shower curtain, and a gold rug.

She taught me how to put on my pajamas

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