Sam takes pride in legacy of culinary debacles




Several years ago, I semi-retired. A few days later, Annie announced that she was semi-retiring, too. She said she was semi-retiring from cooking.

"What are we going to eat?" I asked.

"I don't know," she said. "You'll have to learn to cook. Otherwise we'll starve."

"Me? Learn to cook? Are you kidding?"

"Think about it," she said. "Cooking will keep your fidgety hands out of the devil's workshop. You might enjoy it. Lots of men do. And it's something you should do so I won't have to. Think of it as a modest down payment on 30 years of marital bliss."

She didn't stop there.

"I can see it like in a dream," she said. "I'll come in from my farm work and find a place at the dinner table set nice and pretty for me. There'll be a little salad of baby lettuce with a drizzle of olive oil and a crumble of blue cheese. You'll pour me a glass of good Walla Walla wine. And when I've finished my salad you'll be there to serve me a steaming hot plate of spaghetti and meatballs. And while I linger over my spaghetti, you'll play the guitar and sing love songs to me."

"What? I don't play the guitar or sing," I interrupted.

"Lordy, Lordy, Lordy," she said. "You can learn. And after dinner we'll dance in front of a crackling fire."

"Hold on a minute," I said. "In 30 years of blissful marriage, I can't remember one time when you did all that for me."

"Well, of course not," Annie said. "You'll learn to cook and serve and sing and dance way better than I could ever do it. You'll want to show me up -- prove your male superiority and all that. You'll be awesome."

"Hmm," I said. "Good point."

So, I read a bunch of cookbooks. I watched folks cook on TV. And then I went into the kitchen and made a big mess.

Annie and the girls took the brunt of early screw-ups. They told the stories of my cooking mishaps over and over again. At first, the stories bothered me. But then I thought about my legacy.

What was it that I, Samuel Archibald McLeod, would be remembered for? Unfortunately there wasn't much to remember except my kitchen debacles.

"It's better to be remembered as a mess than not be remembered at all," Annie said.

Back in the spring, when our daughters were home for a visit, I got it in my head I could make a simple potato gnocchi dish -- cloud-like little potato dumplings dressed in a homemade tomato sauce sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan cheese. Sounds good, doesn't it?

I watched a fancy chef make potato gnocchi on TV. I went to his Web site and printed the recipe. I made a special trip to the market to buy the very best, freshest ingredients. The chunk of parmigiano reggiano cost me a day's wages.

I set the dish on the table. It looked good. Annie and the girls ooh'd and aah'd over it.

Then Annie took a bite of one of my little cloud-like dumplings and chewed and chewed and chewed with a strained smile on her face. She managed to swallow but came close to testing what we remembered about the Heimlich maneuver.

Jolie, our middle child, was unabashed in her praise, "These taste almost as good as the gnocchi from the market, Dad." (The gnocchi she was talking about come molded into plastic containers like garden tools -- the kind of plastic packaging you can't open without a screwdriver.)

Our youngest daughter, Marshall, said my gnocchi tasted like Elmer's glue. I wondered how she knew what Elmer's glue tastes like.

Summer, our eldest, sneaked a few gnocchi under the table to Yoda, the Corgi with the giganto ears -- the dog who'll eat anything including his own poo. He sniffed the gnocchi, looked them over carefully, and walked away.

Then the girls got in the car and went to get us a pizza.

So now, at every family gathering, one of our girls tells the story about my gnocchi and how Yoda wouldn't eat them.

My legacy is written. Makes me proud.

If you'd like to read more of Sam's musings, visit his blog at


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