“Buen Provecho!” by Mary-Lane Kamberg
My daughter Johanna and I finished our Big Macs and dumped our trays of empty soft drink cups and hamburger wrappers into the trash.
“Remember, tomorrow’s the fifth-grade ‘Christmas Around the World feast,’ ” she said to me.
“Oh, yeah,” I replied, hoping she didn’t notice I’d forgotten. “What is it you’re supposed to bring?”
“Anything from Spain,” Johanna said.
“Any ideas?” I asked. Did the teacher expect me to be an international chef? The last foreign food I’d fixed was Italian spaghetti with old-world-style sauce that came in a jar. Then I remembered a recipe I could follow. “I’ll make Spanish rice!”
“Ashley’s already bringing that.”
“You mean more than one kid chose Spain?”
“How about tacos?” I asked.
“That’s Mexico. Brett has Mexico.”
“Is it too late to change countries?” I asked as we got into the car. “If you take China, we can order crab Rangoon at the Golden Bowl drive-thru. No, wait! France! You can take French fries!” I turned to go back into the restaurant. Johanna glared. “It has to be from Spain.”
“No problem,” I said, forcing a smile, determined not to shirk this important mom duty. “We’ll look in my cookbooks.”
At home, Johanna perched on the end of my bed while I rummaged through the linen closet and found an armload of cookbooks I’d received as gifts from my well-meaning mother and sisters. “There’s bound to be something in one of these,” I said, spreading them across the bed as if I were dealing poker.
I picked up one at random. Johanna looked over my shoulder as I checked the index and found “Spanish bluebells.” The corresponding page showed only a flower arrangement with sprigs of blue on a dining-room table. I flipped back to the index and found “Spanish moss.” That picture showed a man sprinkling something onto a flowerbed.
Johanna grabbed the book and checked the cover. “This is a gardening book!”
The actual cookbooks in the pile were not helpful either.
They listed only Spanish rice. My high-school-aged daughter Becky peeked into the room. “What are you guys doing?” she asked.
“Hey, maybe you can help,” I said, motioning her inside. “Did you study anything about the cuisine in Spain in your Spanish class? We need a food from Spain.”
Becky shrugged and left the room.
I phoned my mother for a suggestion.
“Spanish rice,” she said.
“Ashley’s bringing it.”
“How about gazpacho?”
“What’s in it?” I asked. As she described the cold tomato soup with cucumbers and onions, I repeated the ingredients for Johanna.
“Yuck!” she said. “No one will eat it.”
Next, I tried my sister.
“Spanish rice,” she said.
“Ashley’s bringing it.”
“Buy a jar of Spanish olives.”
“Are those the green olives or the black ones?” I asked.
Johanna shook her head.
“No olives,” I told my sister.
Johanna’s hopeful look had transformed into one of desperation.
“I’ll try Aunt Amy,” I said to my daughter, trying to make my voice sound reassuring.
“Amy, Johanna’s class is having ‘Christmas Around the World’ tomorrow, and we need a food from Spain besides Spanish rice, gazpacho or Spanish olives,” I told her.
She consulted her cookbooks. “Sevillian salad,” Amy said. “It has rice, onion and red and green peppers.”
Johanna scrunched her face.
“How about Spanish corn?” Amy said. “It’s corn with chili powder and olive oil.”
“Gross,” I said without consulting Johanna.
“Hold on a minute,” Amy said. “Jon went to Spain.”
“Honey,” she hollered to her husband. “When you went to Spain, what did you eat?”
She relayed his reply. “He ate at McDonald’s.”
At bedtime, we were out of ideas. I tucked Johanna in and told her I’d get something to school in time for the 11:30 A.M. feast.
“Nothing gross, Mom,” she said.
The next morning, I headed for the store looking for something with a Spanish flair. Instead, I found teriyaki, German potato salad and Swiss chocolate. I wish Johanna had chosen Japan. Or Germany. Or Switzerland. Anywhere but Spain.
I steered my cart around the store. Then I remembered the treat Johanna had taken on her special day in kindergarten. Her teacher said the children had loved it! I gathered the ingredients and picked up a carton of party dip.
At home, I arranged the food on a serving tray and covered it with aluminum foil. Then I searched Becky’s room for her Spanish-English dictionary. Carefully, I lettered an index card in Spanish, added phonetic spelling for the teacher and taped the card to the foil. Then I rushed to school, with little time to spare.
In Johanna’s classroom, I walked in like a footman presenting treasure to a queen. “Legumbres from Spain,” I announced.
Johanna sighed and smiled.
Her teacher clasped her hands in delight. “Oh, I’ll have to try one!”
I left before the feast began.
After school, Johanna brought home the empty tray.
“Did the kids like the legumbres?” I asked.
“They liked them,” she said, grinning. “But they’re just vegetables and dip.”
“I know,” I said, beaming. “They have vegetables in Spain. And now your mom is an international chef!”
Mary-Lane Kamberg is a professional writer in Olathe, Kansas. She has two daughters and the three smartest, cutest grandchildren on the face of the earth. She specializes in writing nonfiction for school libraries. She is co-leader of the Kansas City Writers Group and author of The “I Don’t Know How To Cook” Book.
Again, this story appears in “Not Your Mother’s Book…On Being a Mom.” The book is filled with 64 hilarious stories by moms raising their families. Purchase this book today from your favorite retailer, Amazon (http://amzn.to/12jKK6x) or Barnes & Noble (http://bit.ly/1vzYbfI).
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(Ornament photo courtesy of Nattika/Shutterstock)