Tuesday, April 1, 2008

When she handed down her recipe box, it should've come with a translator

My mother has a tendency to call things by odd names. It used to drive me so crazy that I finally sat her down and explained that "creme rinse" is actually "conditioner" and a tailored button down is not a "blouse." A blouse is made of flowy material. Or "blousing" is what you do when you tuck your shirt in and pull it out a little so it forms a reverse mushroom cloud around your waist.

Well, I thought I had straightened her out until I discovered another word association problem last weekend.

As usual, I was having a tough time fighting off my desire for chocolate, so I decided to dig into my mom's old recipe box and make her famous Congo Squares. Believe it or not, the issue wasn't over the name of the dessert. Granted, I'm not sure why they're called that. I mean, as far as I know they have no affiliation with the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Southern Africa, but it's my mom's make-believe language were talking about here, so I just go with it. I think they should be called Awesome Squares, but that's just me.

It was my first time making the recipe myself, but I figured it couldn't be that difficult because they're basically like a giant chocolate chip cookie in a pan. I was on my way to the store to pick up a few things anyway, so I perused the ingredient list to make sure I had everything in stock.

Flour. Check.

Brown sugar. Check.

Eggs. Uncheck.



What the hell are nutmeats?

A speed dial call to my mom revealed that they apparently are chopped walnuts. And she doesn't ever use them. Right.

"And how much is a 'container' of brown sugar supposed to be? I mean, I'm looking at my two-pound bag and that's enough to bathe in."

"Two and a half cups."

I felt like taking issue with her form of measurement too, but I let that one go.

After my trip to the store, I got right to it. The first task called for one and two-quarter cups of shortening, so I dug out the container of Crisco labeled "vegetable shortening" and scooped out the required amount.

The last direction instructed me to "pour batter into pan," but there was no pouring to be done. My Congo batter was not anywhere near the consistency required for pouring. It was more what I would call clumpy. I could transfer it to the pan in a giant lump and then smash it down to fit.

I hit my mom's speed dial number again.

"What did I do wrong? I followed your crazy recipe!"

"Did you melt the butter?"

"What butter? It calls for shortening!"

"Yeah, you know, margarine."



"WELL IT DOESN'T SAY THAT. It calls for SHORTENING, which is what I used."

All I could hear was laughter on the other line.

"Well what am I supposed to do now?"

"You know that round container you have next to your fridge?"


And as she continued to try to explain that "shortening" is actually "margarine," I forcefully smashed my clumpy dough into the pan and crammed it in the oven before Jerry could swipe any more before running away yelling about it tasting awesome anyway.

"Mom, do we need to have a conversation about creme rinse again?"

"That's a very old recipe. It used to be your grandmother's."

"Well, I'm fixing my copy so Allison doesn't run into the same problem I just had. But there's no hope for you two. You guys need to get your nutmeats straight."


Shalini said...

nutmeat! I just about died laughing!

~rita @ www.xanga.com/thatsmypoint said...

So how did they turn out? I often substitute butter for shortening (when I make pineapple upside down cake, e.g.), but I've never done the reverse. How about sharing the recipe - you're making me hungry!

Lioncloud said...

Most cookbooks call them "Blondies," although I never found a recipe for them as good as Grandma's. Someteim I will show you your great-grandmother's cookbook -- you can really find some weird stuff there!

From the Food Reference Website:


"Why are the contents of nuts called nut meats?

"Until about 1300 the term 'meat' referred to any solid food, and 'drink' to liquid food. Around that year, ‘meat’ began to be used to refer to the flesh of animals. It wasn't until later that the term took on its modern meaning - when animal flesh started to become a significant part of the English diet."

Dave said...

hahahahaha...that is a fantastic story! =)

Anonymous said...

Funnily enough, in Dutch "conditioner" is called "creme rinse" (but in Dutch of course ;-))

kelly said...


They're only okay. Not as good as the butter version. And I would gladly share the recipe, but then my mother would cut out my tongue. Apparently it is one of those coveted family secrets, handed down from nutmeat to nutmeat.

randomneuralfirings said...

Believe it or not nutmeat is a real word (meaning the edible part of a nut) and your mother uses it correctly. And technically butter is a type of shortening. Any fat used for baking that is solid at room temperature--butter, margarine, lard--can be correctly called shortening, though in more modern usage it usually refers to a form of hydrogenated vegetable oil. So perhaps you should think of it more as modernizing the terminology and not so much as correcting your crazy mother.

gorakagaz said...

haha, i run into the same problem with my mom, too. except she never measures, just estimates, and she refers to the ingredients in hindi, and i'm used to english, so that tends to get confusing, too :]
even if you fix this, i'm sure you'll do other things that'll drive your daughter crazy---there's no way you're gonna get around that.

Jessica said...

So my mom does the exact same thing...but often times she makes up her own movie titles like American Bounty aka National Treasure. Lol gotta love it *Jessica*

Ray said...

Haha! Bless your mother. I would suggest when she comes over the next time that: you two sit down together, so you can re-write all the recipes to where YOU understand them! =)

Take, care.

Are You Willing to Change? said...

That is so crazy! Did it turn out okay?

Anonymous said...

I LOVE all these people who are standing up for me!!!
your blouse wearing, cream rinse using, mother

Anonymous said...

LOL - that's a great story.

the plainsman said...

"Blondies!" One of my favorites that my mom used to make, aka "Blonde Brownies"! I'm going to assume your mom substituted the margarine for the Crisco type stuff years ago, but that will work too, just will not taste as good as you are used to. LOL.

Mom used butter and although her hand written recipe says chopped walnuts, I have heard and read the nutmeats term used, (maybe in Chas. Dickens, or was it Jack Keroac or Hunter Thompson?)

But a great point, the names we have for stuff is as different from our parents as it will be for our kids. And none of us will ever figure it all out.

So go ahead and feel free to rename them "Awesone Squares" 'cause I'm sure the next time you make them with butter or margarine, they will be! Decades from now when Allison makes them for her kids, they might become "Belgian Squares."

Just don't call the shortening "Smart Balance."

S said...

My mom calls conditioner the same thing and she's Korean!! I blame it on the nuns that taught her to speak english with a British accent or the fact that she to the States when the hippies were in their heydey...not too sure.

Anonymous said...

This is too funny...

Anonymous said...

Great story Kelly. When I was learning to cook I ask my Mom, "How do you know it's done?"

She said "well I just feel it"

What the hell??????

suzy said...

ok..I had the nutmeat, but shortening doesn't always equal butter!! Yeah..make a translated version, it will help you later on!!