|A Recipe for Disaster
An Outrageously Hilarious Novel
you mix two shviggers on a mission, a bumbling contractor, a cash-strapped husband, and a harried housewife who’s harboring a thirteen-year secret?
It’s a recipe for disaster!
In this outrageously hilarious novel, fiction writer Z.C. Berry offers a refreshing mix of humor and wit that redefines the art of homemaking and money management. Starring an organizationally challenged, kitchen-phobic mom and her well-meaning but hassled husband, A Recipe for Disaster features their trials and tribulations as they attempt to keep their family afloat.
Whether it’s Dudu the contractor who was supposed to “finish the job,” the ancient jalopy that has just taken its last breath, or a perfectionist mother-in-law, Tzippy, Izzy, and Co. have their hands full maintaining sanity as each disaster strikes.
THINGS TO DO:
No, that’s too boring. Let’s call it…
TZIPPY’S INSTANT BAR MITZVAH:
- Book hall.
- Make guest list.
- Buy dress.
- Buy shoes.
- Buy new clothes for kids.
- Hire caterer for reception.
- Hire band for reception.
- Hire photographer.
- Arrange seudas chaveirim.
- Order invitations.
- Get postage for invitations.
- Mail invitations.
- Organize kiddush.
ADD TO IZZY’S TO-DO LIST:
- Order tefillin.
- Arrange bar mitzvah lessons.
- Buy new suit.
- Write Akiva’s speech.
“IT’S YOUR MOTHER!”
It couldn’t be anyone else. I hold the receiver away from ear. My mother doesn’t really believe that the tiny cell phone can carry her voice across the Atlantic, so she bellows into the receiver loud enough for everyone within a mile to hear. Which is fine, unless you’re sitting next to her on the subway, or walking with her in the grocery store or…anywhere really.
“Tzippy, are you there?”
“Yes, Ma. I’m right here.”
I’m in the middle of folding laundry in my Jerusalem apartment. Did you ever try folding laundry while talking on the phone? You get a crick in your neck holding the phone between your ear and shoulder, and the phone keeps slipping anyway. You’re trying to concentrate on what the other person is saying, but all the time you’re hoping the phone won’t fall while you’re trying to fold the sheets into those perfect rectangles like your sister somehow does.
“I have wonderful news!”
“That’s great, Ma.”
It’s the baby. Oh, nuts. She should still be asleep now.
“Look, Ma, the baby’s crying. Can you hold on a minute?”
“We’re coming for the bar mitzvah!” my mother blurts out.
“What?” All thoughts of crying babies and laundry fly from my head. Suddenly I feel dizzy.
“Yes, we’ll be able to make it for the bar mitzvah after all.”
“Listen, Ma, can I call you back?”
I hang up the phone and brace myself on the back of the highchair. Then the baby falls silent, so I run to make sure she’s still breathing. She must have found her pacifier and put herself back to sleep. Looking at her, under her fuzzy, cotton-candy pink blanket, sucking contentedly, I feel myself calm down.
Everything will be all right. Yes, everything will be just fine.
It’s not that I don’t love my parents. I do. And I appreciate everything they’ve done for me, especially now that I’m raising kids of my own. And I really would like for them to visit. Since we live in Israel, and they’re in Flatbush, I don’t get to see them much. But…
But I was hoping they would bow out of this occasion.
Counting on it, really.
My parents can’t really afford to come for all of our simchahs, and the next bar mitzvah will be coming up in another year. So we decided that since Mona, my mother-in-law, would come to this simchah, my parents would come to the next one and bring a special gift for my oldest, Akiva, then.
It’s the perfect solution.
It’s the perfect way to keep Mona and my mother away from each other.
Izzy’s mother is…well, different from mine. Not different in a two-headed-cow sort of way. She’s different in an English sort of way, even though she was born and bred in New York. Izzy’s mother is cultured. Mine is not. Izzy’s mother is always very polite and never really says what she is thinking (although I’m sure her thoughts are very benign). Ma always says exactly what’s on her mind.
With the best intentions, of course.
A few years back, Aunt Pearl redid her house in minimalist décor. Then she hosted the whole family for Pesach in her newly decorated abode. Everyone was very complimentary—it was kind of nice if you go for chrome and glass and lots of white. But in the middle of yachatz, my mother suddenly announced that she felt like she was sitting in a hospital ward. If we didn’t finish the Seder soon, she might have a heart attack. Later, I tried to explain to her that the décor was very fashionable. Ma got a hurt look on her face. “What did I say? I only meant she should add a little color, a few fluffy cushions.” She really thought she was being helpful. My mother-in-law, on the other hand, would have complimented Aunt Pearl with the rest of them.
My wedding was almost a disaster. I say “almost” because we realized pretty quickly that we’d better keep the machateinestes apart if we wanted to get through sheva berachos. Don’t get me wrong. They don’t dislike each other. They are just not on the same wavelength. Like cats and dogs, like litvish and chassidish, like potato kugel and lasagna, like…well, you get the picture.
To be honest, since my father-in-law passed away a few years ago, Mona has grown a bit…cantankerous. I don’t blame her. It’s hard to suffer a loss like that. But Mona and my mother clash worse than ever.
The point is, we’ve somehow managed to keep my mother and Mona apart until now. I give a little shiver at the thought of them being at the bar mitzvah together. In the same room. Oy vey, my hands are shaking. I drop a pair of Gavriel’s pants, and a hundred marbles fall out of one of the pockets and roll off into the laundry room’s nether regions. Usually, that would drive me crazy. In a house full of boys, you find marbles everywhere—they clank in the drier, they clog up the drains, and once we even found a couple of marbles cooked in the cholent. But I can’t think about marbles now. I have bigger problems to contend with now.
Breathe, Tzippy, breathe.
My mother is expecting me to call her back. I’ll just tell her that…
I’ll tell her that the bar mitzvah is canceled! Yes! People cancel parties all the time, don’t they? Even weddings sometimes! Yes, this is a good idea.
No, that won’t work. You can’t cancel a bar mitzvah. He’s turning thirteen, come what may. I have to think of something else.
Okay! Okay! I’ve got it!
I dial my parents’ number. My mother answers. I take a deep breath.
“Listen, Ma, I…”
“Tzippy, I’m sorry, I’m out the door. I’m on my way to the sheitel macher. I want to make a good impression for all your friends, and, after all, it’s not every day your oldest grandson is becoming bar mitzvah. So I ordered a custom sheitel! I spent a little more than I had thought and we might have to push off our retirement plans for a year or two or maybe go on welfare, but nothing is too good for my daughter!”
“No, no. Don’t be embarrassed. I know how you hate it when I get emotional. But I want you to know, Tzippy, that we love you, and we want this bar mitzvah to be the perfect simchah. Now, what was it you wanted to tell me, dear?”
“Oh, well… Oh, it’s nothing, Ma.” I laugh nervously, hoping she won’t notice the slightly desperate and maniacal tone. “Just…I love you, too.”
“Well, dear, I’d better go. There’s a custom sheitel waiting for me! Not that I know what a custom sheitel is. How can something be custom-made if it comes out of a box? Never mind. Now you go and get some rest. You sound a bit frazzled. Well, that’s understandable with a bar mitzvah coming up, and your first one, too. I’ll call you soon to let you know when our flight is coming in.”
I stare at the phone, wondering what just happened. I was supposed to convince my mother that now is not the best time to come to Israel. That she would be much better off sticking to her original plan and waiting for Shaya’s bar mitzvah, which is in the summer, rather than Akiva’s bar mitzvah, which is in the beginning of the spring. It had something to do with global warming…or an ice age. Whatever. Anyway, with all her talk of sheitels and sacrifice, I just couldn’t do that to her.
I need a doughnut break.
It’s a good thing I stopped at the bakery this morning. I knew those doughnuts would come in handy. (See, Izzy? Doughnuts are not an extraneous expense.) I head for the kitchen and put the phone on the table. This is definitely a custard-filled, chocolate-covered moment. As I chew, I try to reconcile myself to my parents’ visit. I can’t tell my mother not to come now. And, after all, it is her first grandson’s bar mitzvah. How can I deprive her of taking part in the occasion?
I swallow the last of the doughnut and go back to folding laundry. It will be all right. I’ve managed to deal with both sides of the family until now. This is just another challenge for me to overcome.
The phone rings again.
“Hi, Tzippy. It’s me. Aren’t cell phones wonderful? I’m sitting here at the sheitel macher, and I just remembered something I forgot to tell you. I hope it won’t be a problem.”
“Oh, Ma, I’m so glad you called back. I just want to say that I’m really, really thrilled that you are coming. I can’t wait to see you. And Akiva will be so happy, too. The bar mitzvah wouldn’t be the same without you. Now, what was it that you wanted to tell me?”
“Oh, well… Oh, it’s nothing, dear. We can talk about it another time.”
“No, no, really. Just tell me.”
“All right, dear, if you insist. I took the liberty of calling Mona…”
My throat is suddenly dry. What has Ma done now?
“Well, I wanted to let Mona know that we’re coming and that I was looking forward to seeing her. I thought it would be good family relations, you know?”
“So what’s the point, Ma? Please just tell me.”
“Well, we know how difficult things are for you financially. We try to help as much as we can, but Mona is paying for the tefillin and the hall. And God knows you shouldn’t feel guilty about what the trip is costing us, even if we have to give up some of the luxuries in life, like running water. So we came up with a brilliant plan.”
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we catered the bar mitzvah ourselves? Oh, and by the way, Mona wants to know if you picked up the tefillin yet?”
I am so shocked I drop the phone into the sink where the lunch dishes are still soaking. I start hyperventilating while frantically trying to find the phone in the sudsy water. I finally fish it out, but it slips from my grasp like a slippery eel and plops back into the water. At last, I have it. I turn the receiver upside down and let the water drain out. Then I take a deep breath, clear my throat, and say in a very low, calm voice, “Ma…are you still there?”
“Of course I’m still here. The sheitel macher isn’t finished yet! So, what do you think?” my mother asks.
“Um…it’s a wonderful idea!” I manage.
“Really? I knew you would love it. This is the perfect chance for you to show off your cooking skills!”
“That’s so true!”
“Tzippy, are you all right?”
“Just a sec.”
I put down the phone, grab a paper bag, and begin breathing into it—in, out, in, out—until my respiration returns to normal. I pick up the phone again. “Listen, Ma, let me think it over, and I’ll get back to you, all right?”
“Of course. Take care of yourself. Oh, I’m so excited! I’ll be seeing you soon!”
Okay, I’m sure you’re wondering what all the excitement is about. I should just say, “Thanks, Ma, but it’s too much for me,” and leave it at that. Or “Great idea, Ma! I’ll do it!” But it’s not that simple.
You see, I hate cooking. And cooking hates me. We’re not exactly on talking terms.
I could tell you about the time I burned the water (really) or the peanut-butter chicken incident (I promise I followed the recipe!). But some memories are best left undisturbed. I can open a jar of gefilte fish, and I’m a competent vegetable slicer. But a decent cook? No way.
The thing is, Izzy doesn’t realize any of this. In fact, he sort of thinks I’m a great cook. And sometimes, he brags about how great my cooking is. I know. It sounds crazy. But it’s not as strange as you might think. The first year of our marriage I was expecting, so I didn’t have the strength to cook much. Izzy pitched in (more than he realized), and we ate a lot of falafel and pita with hummus. And jarred gefilte fish. And sliced vegetables and pickles. Izzy didn’t know that none of these foods actually requires any cooking.
After that, Izzy went back to learning night seder, and then he started teaching. He eats most of his meals in yeshivah. And the kids seem to live fine on cereal with milk and jelly sandwiches. Shabbos is all takeout, which I buy from Klein’s Catering. I transfer the food into my own pots and pans to heat it up, and while I don’t go out of my way to conceal the fact that I don’t make the food, I don’t go out of my way to tell Izzy either. If he would look me in the eye and ask, “Tzippy, did you cook this food?” of course I would say no. But for some reason, he never asks me that.
Every once in a while, I get into an “I’m-finally-going-to-learn-how-to-cook” frenzy. I’ll become a fantastic cook, I promise myself. World-class, even. I’ll take a course or beg Leah, my best friend, to show me the ropes. In a solemn voice, I’ll tell young newlyweds that I too—in some era long past—wasn’t always the master chef I am today. I’ll sympathize with all the pressures facing a young bride today. A young woman suddenly thrust into life, expected to run a household. Expected to live up to the daunting reputation of her perfect younger sister. Just for example. But somehow, whenever I try making a meal, it’s always a disaster. I just throw out the miserable concoction and go on with my life. I’m sure Izzy doesn’t need to know the gory details. Really, I’m just protecting him. Who wants his wife to be known as “Tzippy, the mediocre balabuste” or “Tzippy, the not-too-terrible cook”?
And what about my mother-in-law? This is the first time Mona is coming for an extended visit—we’ve always gone to visit her. She thinks I’m the perfect balabuste.
Oh, this is a disaster! I can feel the panic welling up. What am I going to do?
Okay, Tzippy, think. Think! I chew on a doughnut crumb. Maybe the chocolate will get my mind working.
And then, suddenly, the answer hits me. Maybe this isn’t such a bad idea after all. In fact, it might be the answer to all of my problems. If I cater the bar mitzvah, no one will find out that I can’t cook!
Yes. This could work. I mean, really, what is the big deal? I just have this phobia about cooking, but it can’t be too hard. Everyone does it. There are cookbooks that tell you exactly what to do. It will be easy. I’ll just open up a cookbook and just…cook! Maybe this crazy idea of my mother’s will solve all of my problems.
I will cater this bar mitzvah, everyone will think I’m a great cook, but now it will be true!
Before I can finish dialing my mother’s cell phone number to tell her my decision, the phone rings again. What now?
“Giveret Korngold! Hallo! This is Dudu. You call, giveret?”
“Yes! Yes, I called!”
About fifty times. I’ve been trying to get hold of him for weeks.
“How are you!” says Dudu, carefully enunciating each word. He loves speaking English.
“Me? How am I? I’m great! Maksim. But my living room, it is not so great.”
“Yes, yes, I am coming to fix. Do not worry. I had rush job. Is lady, she make wedding in her mirpeset, it falls to the ground.”
I hope no one was on the porch when it happened. I’m afraid to ask. “Okay, I suppose that was important. But, look, I have an emergency, a—how do you say it?—a matzav cheirum.”
“No, no, Giveret Korngold, chas v’chalilah. Is no matzav cheirum. You know what is matzav cheirum? This lady, she is making a—how do you call it?—a universitiya…”
“She wants you to build her a college?”
“No, no, a…”
“Wait, I got it! An anniversary!”
“I always wanted to say that.”
“So, she is making anniversity and her house fall down. Fifty years she live there and now, no house. Is real emergency!”
“Yeah, I can’t beat that. But, listen, Dudu, it’s been six months since you were here to give me an estimate. My mother-in-law is coming, and now my mother just called to say she’s coming, too. It has to be ready for the bar mitzvah.”
“You are right, giveret.”
“Yes, is emergency. Me and Dani, we come first thing in the morning.”
“Oh, thank you!”
I hang up with a sigh of relief. At least something is going right. Now, what am I supposed to be doing now?
Oh no! Supper! In all the excitement I forgot to heat up the meatloaf from Klein’s! Izzy is going to be home soon, and even though he eats supper in yeshivah, he likes to eat a little something when he gets home.
I dump the meatloaf into a Pyrex dish and stick it in the oven when I hear the door handle turning, then a knock. I must have left on the safety lock. Quickly, I gather the bags with the Klein’s logo and stuff them deep into the trash.
“I’ll be right there, Izzy! Just hold on a sec!”
I paste a smile on my face, trying to look tranquil, and glance at the hallway mirror. When I’m at my best, the clear blue eyes, the slight spray of freckles and my small, upturned nose have a sort of cute effect. But now, all I see is a woman who has just been to the dentist for a root canal. Steadfastly ignoring the first signs of crow’s feet that have formed at the corners of my eyes, I hurry to open the door to let him in.
“Hi, Tzippy. How was your day?”
“Great! Come into the kitchen. There’s meatloaf if you’re hungry. You can make a sandwich out of it.”
“Oh, good. I love your meatloaf.”
Maybe I should tell him I didn’t cook the meal. Maybe I should just finally tell him the truth. I bite my lip. Izzy did just come home from a long day, and he looks so tired. And didn’t I just hear in that shiur the other day that you’re not supposed to bombard your husband with the details of your day when he first arrives home? Yes, it wouldn’t be nice. Tomorrow I’ll tell him everything.
Izzy goes into the living room to put away his hat and briefcase and then comes into the kitchen with the mail. While he sits at the table opening envelopes, I take out a plate, cutlery, and napkins and place them on the table.
“The meatloaf needs a few minutes. How about some salad?”
“Hm?” he murmurs with a wrinkled forehead as he peruses a bill. “Oh, that’s all right. I’ll eat it cold,” he says distractedly as he scans the sheet of paper in his hands. “Tzippy.”
“There’s a receipt here from Klein’s for thirty-five hundred shekels. I don’t remember paying that much to the caterers. We gave them a five hundred shekel deposit. Do you think they could have made a mistake?”
Oops! Usually I take care of the bills, but I forgot that Izzy asked the caterers to mail him an invoice so he could keep a record of bar mitzvah expenses for the next one. I didn’t realize they would put my running total together with the new bill.
“Speaking of caterers, my mother had an interesting idea,” I say quickly.
“Oh? What’s that?” He opens the fridge and pulls out up the ketchup, then sits back down to make himself a meatloaf sandwich. I take out the lettuce and start shredding.
“She thinks it would be fun if we could cater the bar mitzvah ourselves.”
“Really. What about the five hundred shekel deposit at the caterer? I don’t know if we’ll be able to get that back.”
“Well…let me talk to them. I’m good friends with Sarah Klein. I’m sure we can work something out.”
“Since when have you been friends with Sarah Klein?”
“Oh, for a long time,” I say, waving my hand absently.
Thirteen years, to be precise. Ever since I started using them for my “homemade” suppers.
“Well, I really got the catering idea from Ma. She called this afternoon with some interesting news. It turns out that she and Dad want to come to the bar mitzvah after all.”
Izzy’s eyes go wide, and he freezes. Then he carefully puts down the knife and the ketchup and looks up at me. “How nice,” he says at last.
I laugh nervously. “I know, I know. The whole family, together again. Do you think we’ll survive?”
“We’ll be fine,” Izzy says. “It’s been a long time since—you know, the wedding. I’m sure everyone will get along just fine.”
As he gets up to wash, I lift the top piece of bread from his sandwich and slip in some lettuce. “Look, Izzy, if the Kleins agree to give back our five hundred shekel deposit, do you think we should cater the bar mitzvah ourselves? I’m sure we could save a lot of money. Right now the catering is our biggest expense.”
“That’s true,” he says, clearly pleased with this angle. “And this will be your chance to show off those cooking skills of yours.”
I bite my lip and nod.
“Are you sure it won’t be too much work for you? The bar mitzvah is only eight weeks away. And we have no idea how much help you’ll really be able to count on. Knowing our parents, my mother will probably make up the menu and your mother will flutter around while you cook.”
“I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
He takes a bite from his sandwich and says, “Tzippy, I think your mother is a wonderful woman, but you know how she gets these big ideas and doesn’t follow through. Don’t you remember her Beanie Bag venture? She was going to make millions of dollars collecting rare Beanie Bags and reselling them in auctions.”
“Yes, I know. But it will be all of us following through.”
Izzy is quiet for a moment. I can almost see the gears turning in his head. He fingers the bill from the caterers and looks down at it with a frown, almost as if he had forgotten about it and suddenly got a nasty surprise. He looks back up at me.
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Okay, go for it. But if you feel it’s too much and you’re in over your head, we’ll go back to plan A and rehire the caterers.”
“Fine. Now, I’d better get cracking if I’m going to take this on. Don’t worry, Izzy. This is going to be the best bar mitzvah we’ve ever made!” I give him a big smile.
“I know, I know, it’s the only bar mitzvah we’ve ever made. But it’ll be great, you’ll see!”
Izzy gets up to put his dishes in the sink. “I have every confidence in your skills as a cook. It’s just that it’s a large undertaking. But anyone who can make such good meatloaf will be able to cook great food for our bar mitzvah!” He grins encouragingly. He looks so relieved about not having to pay the caterers. “Well,” he says with a yawn, “I’d better get to sleep. I have a busy day tomorrow. I’ve got to go look at the parshiyos for the tefillin, and I was thinking of going with Akiva to get his suit.”
“That’s a great idea.” If my voice is a little wavery, Izzy doesn’t seem to notice. I say good night and turn to the dishes. When I hear the sounds of Izzy getting ready for bed, my already unsteady composure crumbles completely. I close my eyes and bury my face in soapy hands.
Oy vey! What have I done?
© Z.C. Berry