My husband is writing a cookbook. Maybe you’ve seen it on our kitchen table – or on a bench at the local Y where he swims. Peder Schaefer Recipes is in the final stages of editing, so “i’s’’ are still being dotted, even at the neighborhood swimming hole. It’s not fancy-shmancy, just 33 pages of the best meals you will ever eat in your life: black beans and rice, mussels and pasta, chicken curry in a hurry and more.
The curry dish is one of my firstborn’s favorites. (His name is Peder too, and even though his middle name is different – Slaughter rather than Augustus – confusion prevails at the family homestead when I shout, “Peder.’’ Inevitable response: “Which one?”) Little Peder also likes Big Peder’s Norwegian meatballs, which are really his mother’s meatballs, and I have little doubt that she inherited the recipe from her mother, Christiane Caroline Sophie Sorensen Johnson, formerly of Smithfield.
My husband is the cook of the house. There, I said it. My close friends know he is head chef, but casual acquaintances think I rush home after a hard day at work to stir the pot. Once, my boss said, “Thanks for staying late. I know you have to get dinner on the table.’’ I embraced his sympathy and went on my merry way. Those lying days are behind me. I am now making a public declaration that my husband prepares our feasts – seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Cooking has never interested me. My sister thinks it has to do with my hyposmia, a partial loss of smell. I can smell the big stuff – fire, tobacco, booze – but the sweet delicacies of life elude me. I cannot smell the soothing aroma of baking bread or the tanginess of an orange. Even garlic is a mystery. Smelling is crucial to cooking, hence my indifference.
Enter my husband, who can smell a peach 100 miles away. He considers his day incomplete if he has not had at least one five-star meal. Food soothes him, gives him purpose, calms him. Cooking is also his way of expressing his affection for family and friends. Which brings me to the cookbook – and back to my firstborn.
Little Peder spent four months this fall living in the woods on the Maine coast for a semester of high school. One day, he was sitting at our dinner table slicing into grilled pork tenderloin with lingonberry jam – another favorite – the next day he was hanging out in a cabin with five other juniors preparing for an outing to a tide pool. His absence was a shock to our small household that also includes his younger brother, Henry. A stillness settled over Irving Avenue, exacerbated by the fact that Little Peder had no cell phone or computer — both banned at the school. Communication came to a halt.
My husband and I had ways of coping. Thanks to Netflix, I binged on Velvet, a silly Spanish soap opera, and The Crown, a period drama about Queen Elizabeth II’s coming-of-reign. My husband turned to his cookbook. After dinner every night, he’d go upstairs to his office and write. His memory and the Hillshire Farm recipe box he inherited from his mother were his only companions. His introduction was heartfelt:
“My oldest son was going away for a few months and asked me to prepare a cookbook of the meals I typically prepare at home. I obliged.’’ Every entry was a memory, a connection. My husband’s goal was to finish most of the cookbook before Little Peder returned for good. He did.
There are dinner meals – chicken cutlets meunière, pork cutlets with capers, grilled fish, broiled sirloin strip – as well as lunch dishes and sauces. Some recipes have catchy names: Double Play, which is two pasta dishes, one tomato, the other pesto. Other meals are simple like scrambled eggs and rice or pot ro ast that simmers in Lipton onion soup mix.
And then there are the tributes. My husband thanks his mother and Vogue for deviled ham and noodles, and his father, Walter A. Schaefer, for “Walter’s Salad Dressing.’’ Eric Dahlberg’s grandmother is credited for shaved steak; Kathy Lang for bread and her husband, Keith, for cod. Dan’s rice pilaf gets a shout-out, and so does the now-closed Blue Point for its white sauce on smoked fish. Henry helped with the layout. Anthony Russo, a Rhode Island artist and friend, designed the cover. Former Governor Chafee, another Big Peder pal, pays tribute to his lettuce-cutting skills. Peder Schaefer Recipes should be in bookstores soon. Look for it. It’s a labor of love.
Elizabeth Rau can be reached at ERau1@verizon.net