Lamb

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I offered to help with dinner tonight. The good thing about being twenty-five (nearly twenty-six) and living at home while working full time, is that most nights, I come home and dinner is on the table. I got used to it even though I know I shouldn’t have and sometimes, when my mom is running late because she got off late from a full day of teaching or when my parents didn’t expect me and made dinner plans outside, I’m surprised to find no dinner on the table. On those (rare) nights, I walk into a dark and empty house and feel the strange paradox of relief and indignation. Relief because sometimes, it’s nice after a whole day of smiling and saying “Oh of course let me get that for you right away,” to come home to a quiet house and not have to explain nothing to nobody. Indignation because the rude, ungrateful primate in me thinks, “God good where is my dinner?”

But most of the time I stop myself and enjoy the dinner, saying thank you at the end and help tidy up, though these days, my parents hardly ask me to do the dishes.


Tonight however, there was lamb.


A while ago, my mother went to a Chinese doctor who prescribed lamb for her cold hands and feet, which in an unintentional episode of genetic generosity, she passed down to me. So we, mother and daughter, are quite a frigid duo regardless of the season, with my extremities often being several degrees colder than my mother’s. No one knows why; both my mother’s parents have hands like furnaces and my father has never been cold in his life. But catch me sitting for a long while and my fingernails will have turned blue. Once, during the summer when I taught SAT’s the AC in the classroom was stronger than usual and my students pointed in horror at my fingernails, “Your hands look dead,” they said, and I could only rub them together and say, “Yes. Yes they do. It is very sad.”


Anyway. The doctor said, “Lamb will warm the extremities,” so my mother, being gullible and my father, always looking for an excuse to eat more meat, began to cook more lamb. And by cook I mean stew in the most unAmerican, unappetizing way possible: they boiled it with a hundred different medicinal herbs so that the meat itself became tough and flavorless and the broth it brew was strange and bitter, all with the faint tinge of game.


I like lamb prepared in the American way. Or the western way. That is, on the rack, roasted or broiled or pan fried in butter and garlic and maybe with some mint jelly on the side (though really, I’ve only had the condiment once). I’m perfectly happy to eat it medium rare, like a good steak, and some two years ago, started ordering it in restaurants instead of steak. Beef became boring.


My father picked up on this. He noticed the discord between what was spoken by his daughter (“I love lamb,”) and what was actually consumed by her when he and my mother stewed the lamb (nothing). He asked me, “You like lamb, yet you never eat the lamb my mother and I make. Why?”


“Because it is not cooked in the method I prefer,” I said.


He paused before the pot, stirring it with a perplexed expression, much like the one he had when Essence Magazine suddenly began to appear in our mailbox (but that is another story).


“And what method is that?”


I began with the word “chops” and described to him the various ways I had lamb prepared in the various restaurants.


“And how is it seasoned? Where do you buy it like that? Do they use the oven? The pan?”


I was impatient and said, “It doesn’t matter, Dad. Chinese people just don’t eat it that way. I’ll just eat my lamb in restaurants, and you and mom can continue eating the strange medicinal stew.”


A few days later, having returned from a trip to Costco, my father produced from the refrigerator a vacuum sealed rack of lamb.


“Now we can have lamb the way you like it!”


I was mildly touched that my father cared to remember the cut of lamb, and imagined him hunting for it in Costco’s vast meat department, but also slightly irritated that I would likely have to teach him how to make it. I didn’t know the slightest thing about cooking lamb, preferring, if I eat alone, to stay away from meats unless they are already prepared.


“Great,” I said, and thought of the labor that lay ahead.


The lamb stayed wrapped and untouched in the refrigerator, then migrated to the freezer, as it became apparent to my parents that I would not find the time to make it. Finally my father pulled it out of the freezer and said, “I’ll make it for you.”


I came home from work and found him puzzling over it in the kitchen. My mother was busy preparing the night’s vegetables and my father had already put some buns in the steamer. Everything about to be consumed was Chinese, prepared in a Chinese way. Except for the lamb.


My parents heard me close the door and excitedly my mother called out, “Oh thank goodness you’re home! Quick! Come teach your father how the westerners cook this lamb. Where do you start?”


My father, nearly blind, was squinting at the tiny letters on the vacuum wrap, which boasted two options for optimal enjoyment of the meat product inside: roasted or pan fried.


“Which is better?”


I was hungry. “Which is faster?”


“I don’t know…I think…pa-“


I shook my head and went to my room, wondering if I should just tell him to put the lamb away. I wasn’t in the mood to deal with cooking. Not tonight, not ever, it seemed. I stood in front of my desk, paging through a magazine I didn’t want to read.


My parent’s voices wafted in from the kitchen.


“Oh don’t bother her,” my father said, “She’s tired. It can’t be this hard, cooking a rack of lamb. If she likes it she’ll eat it more often and her hands won’t be so cold.”


My hands were cold. Not from disuse, but from unvaried use. Or imbalanced use. I used them at work to do things for other people. Then at home, only selfishly, to page through glossy fashion magazines and to fix my own breakfast. They really haven’t done much recently for my parents, whose hands do something every day for me, from laundry to dinners to lunches to buying the groceries to make those dinners and lunches.


I set my bag down, changed my clothes and went out to the kitchen. My father had only just gotten the vacuum wrap off the rack of lamb and was about to cut the meat in a completely incorrect way.


“Move aside, Bah,” I said, “Let me do it.”


Well. I couldn’t chop the lamb – my father still had to do that – but once it was chopped, I pan fried the chops according to the directions on the package, in a pan on medium heat, in olive oil with some garlic chopped in, four minutes each side. They turned out perfect and we ate them with a salad and steamed wheat buns. A strange meal, but delicious all the same. My parents were so happy – marveling at the lamb’s natural flavor (something lost in the stew), and complimenting me on my innate talent for pan-frying. Low expectations? Or once high-expectations gradually lowered for an ungrateful daughter who, if she is not careful, would grow more and more selfish by the day.


At dinner’s end a bloody pile of bones lay on all our plates and it was decided that my father would buy another rack of lamb the next time he went to Costco.


“Who knew that those little bones could be so good!” my mother said, and my father nodded.


“I’ve never had lamb like that. It is quite good.”


I shrugged, wondering why I hadn’t bothered to cook it for them earlier. There was a lot I did without them, that they would enjoy, that they would never really find out about unless I shared. But most of the time I talked only about my problems at work and never really about my more social activities. At some point, it was my responsibility to teach them a thing or two about my world. I hadn’t been ready to assume the role yet, feeling sometimes like a sullen adult/child living in her old room. But step by step, I suppose.


My mother stood up and began to clear the plates.


My father stood too, “I’ll do the dishes,” he said, “after I cut the fruit.”


I rolled my eyes and waved them both away. “I’ll do the dishes,” I said. It was time too, to reclaim some of my old responsibilities.

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