Coming Clean

While I was certainly no angel as a child, next to my childhood friend, Ben, I was definitely perceived as one. But he was a little boy and I was merely a little tomboy. Ben got into far more trouble than I ever did; invariably he would get caught.  I would often get caught but, clearly, far less.  Most of the Ben stories I have heard have come from our parents and these stories are based on incidents that took place circa the mid-1980's. 

One story, from the mouth of my dad, is one I not only recall well, but one in which I was a player. A sweet, little, innocent bystander, of course. So here's the story...

I guess it was around about 1985, and Dad had just done some work on the kitchen. Most notably he replaced the counter with an all new butcher block top. It was all shiny and new, with nary a cut mark in it. Ben's mom, Susan, was out for the evening and and so Ben was over at my house. We were just noodling around, goofing off, watching TV and whatnot. And honestly, it was so long ago, I don't know the how or the why, but I do know that I took the butcher knife and hacked a chunklet out of the edge of the new butcher block counter. I don't even remember if Ben was in the room at the time or not. I don't even know if Ben knows anything about this story, either.

Well, needless to say, the next day when Dad noticed the rather obvious, shall we say, blemish, on his new countertop, he went through the roof. And let me tell you, that man does not visibly agitate easily. When he actually erupts, you know it's really bad.

So clearly I blamed Ben. 

It seemed obvious that a rambunctious, rascally little boy who was always in some sort of trouble anyway would be the irrefutable culprit. Plus Ben wasn't there to defend himself, and we weren't hanging around as much in those days, and who would care or remember about a little nick in the counter for very long? Right? And my dad has a terrible memory to boot. Right?

Well, jeez. Who knew Dad was such a harborer? Yes, he stayed pretty irritated about the butcher block situation for a good long while. Cursing and mumbling under his breath as he ran his fingers over the disfigured area of the countertop. So I just kept quiet.

Then Ben and I went to separate middle schools, high schools, colleges, grew up, moved away, and I literally cannot even think of the last time we saw one another. So it hardly mattered anymore. To me.

Here is a glimpse of the countertop, but not the defaced part.

The last time I went home, Dad and I were standing in the kitchen, assembling a cheese plate and sipping on our glasses of crisp white wine, as I jokingly pointed out the nick in the countertop. Although it was something I had seen every time I did anything in the kitchen, it had become so much a part of the landscape, I had pretty much forgotten about its lore. But not Dad. He said every time he looked down at the aberration in the now, well-worn countertop, he cursed Ben's name. Though, he said, he never said anything to Susan or Ben about it.

I then realized it was time to come clean. He was shocked when he heard my story, but not more than just a little vexed thanks to time and that glass of wine. Plus, it's much more forgivable when it's your dear, sweet, innocent only child daughter...

And now we laugh about that funky little spot in the kitchen. It has a story to tell. It's part of the fabric – a sweet, anecdotal, minuscule imperfection.

When Susan was in LA recently to help Mom move back to Richmond, I decided to come clean to her, too. Although she never knew anything about the butcher block, I thought she should hear the tale. If nothing else to sort of exonerate Ben from his mischievous rep as a child and to fess up about my angelic one (or lack thereof). We laughed, but she did agree, Ben really did take the heat for a lot of stuff: some valid and some, maybe not so much.

Only one person left: I must confess to Ben and receive his forgiveness. So I emailed both Ben and Susan to find out what Ben's most favorite dish was. They both said broccoli casserole. I then emailed Susan and got the recipe. She emailed me back promptly with the recipe that she unearthed. It was her grandmother's recipe in her mother's handwriting. The recipe was as one would expect; ingredients like mayonnaise, a can of cream of mushroom soup, Ritz crackers, and the like. My mission was to make the recipe as authentic as possible without using mayonnaise, a can of cream of mushroom soup, or Ritz crackers. I wanted to keep the integrity of the dish but try to vamp it up for 2013.

I began by making a roux and adding fresh mushrooms, and then slowly adding cream until it was about the consistency and quantity of a can of cream of mushroom soup. I also added a splash of sherry for good measure. In lieu of the mayo, I simply used cream. And finally, to substitute the Ritz crackers, I used fresh bread crumbs. Now, I'm sure it would be way more yummy and fun, and would totally satisfy that like-grandma-made-when-I-was-a-kid thing most of us have, to use mayonnaise, a can of cream of mushroom soup, and Ritz crackers, but this turned out beautifully. Fred and I basically ate that, and nothing else, for dinner last night. And later as a snack.

Later this week, we will be traveling up to Northern California for a little respite, and plan on staying one night in San Francisco, where Ben now lives with his wife. And so in person I can share the story of The 25 Year Long Mystery of The Butcher Block with him. And hopefully we will laugh together over it. If not, Ben, here is the recipe your mom shared with me for your favorite, cozy, homey food, exactly as your grandmother wrote it and made it. That makes it all right, right?

Mimi’s Baked Broccoli
(Mimi is Sara in this instance)

(in Mother’s handwriting, so I know this is the one Ben likes)

Serves 4

2 large heads of broccoli, if using fresh (2 packages chopped broccoli, if using frozen)
1 can cream of mushroom soup
½ cup mayonnaise
1 small onion, minced
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 egg
½-3/4 cup cheddar cheese
½-3/4 cup cracker crumbs (can use cheese crackers, saltines, or Ritz – I used Ritz)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Make sauce by mixing 1 can of undiluted soup, mayonnaise, onion, lemon juice, and egg.
Add a little salt and pepper.

Steam the broccoli for a few minutes if cooking fresh florets with short stems (don’t cook it until soft, but until it softens a small amount). If using frozen chopped broccoli, thaw only.

In casserole, put a layer of broccoli (one-half of it), then a layer of the sauce (one-half of it). Next, put in a layer of remaining broccoli topped with remaining sauce. Put ½ of crackers on top, the cheese, then ½ of remaining crackers.

Bake for about 30 min. at 350 degrees.

Three years ago: French Red Pepper Soup
Five years ago: Yang Chow


  1. That looks utterly amazing...and I am totally lusting after those napkins...

  2. Thank you, Kat! I'm pretty geeked about those napkins, too. I just got them for Christmas, and have been really wanting to use them for a shoot. Finally!

  3. Hello! Would you like to share your recipes on http://whenangelscook.com? Check it out :) already great presence on FB, twitter and Pinterest - http://pinterest.com/gabrielle8008/when-angels-cook/ - would love to see your recipes :) - it is new and will grow because of you! It would be great to have you and your recipes on board.

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  5. Els,

    Your writing is awesome!


  6. FRAMPZ!

    Thank so so much. That really means a lot to me. Hey, you should enter the cookbook giveaway... friendz should enter too!