Candy Hearts

One Mom's "Pinch of Cumin"

Chow Bella has a valentine for you. For the rest of February, we're handing out Candy Hearts -- stories of food and love from some of our favorite writers. Enjoy.

From the moment her child is conceived, a mother's love flows in the form of food. In the womb, it is delivered through her blood. In infancy, it's passed through milk or formula and the sacrifice of sleep those methods demand. Growing up, a child's taste buds are branded with his mother's cooking; whether it's the perfect ratio of cinnamon and sugar she sprinkles like magic on morning toast, the subtle tang of hickory in her honey-glazed chicken, or the bewitching sense of comfort infused in her roasted vegetable soup, no one will ever make it quite like she does.

See also: - Laurie Notaro's Dish of Death - Elizabeth Naranjo's "Good Enough" Fudge

Girls would do well to remember this. No matter how many times you hear the adage "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach," know that a mother beat you to it and you will never claim a larger share of his affection through food. I say this as my son prepares for his first Valentine's Day at school. He will come home clutching a paper bag stuffed with hologram cards and Cupid-shaped erasers. And taped to some of the cards will be carefully selected Conversation Hearts. Oh, don't underestimate these girls. They may be kindergartners, but their grasp of phonics is strong enough to differentiate between "Be Good" and "Call Me."

Three days into the school year, a 5-year-old brunette accosted me on the playground. After marching up to my son and saying, "Gabriel. I've been looking for you everywhere," she turned to me and declared, "Gabriel is my friend," before grabbing his hand and dragging him away.

Lately, another dark-haired temptress chases him down each afternoon when the bell rings. She sings his name: "Gaaaabriellll!" and tousles his sheaf of curls before scampering away like a pixie.

My son doesn't yet know what to make of this attention. His usual response is downcast eyes and a perplexed twist of a smile that also could be called a grimace. So now matter how painstakingly these dolls pick through their boxes of candy hearts before selecting the messages they want to send, their first attempts at spearing my son's heart are bound to miss the mark.

Of course, some girl eventually will win him over. And on the way, she will ply him with food, perhaps even deferring to me on the eve of a surprise birthday dinner, wanting to know whether it's a pinch or a dash of cumin that makes his beloved mother's salsa recipe so special.

Remember the episode of Everybody Loves Raymond when Ray's mother agrees to hand over her meatball recipe to daughter-in-law Debra? The meatballs turn out terrible, and Debra discovers that Ray's mother sabotaged her by sticking a label for basil on a jar of tarragon. I would never do that. It's disturbing. Pathetic. When the time comes, I will let Little Miss Valentine know that it's a pinch of cumin -- not a dash -- that makes the salsa. Besides, it doesn't matter if she has all the right ingredients and follows my recipe to a "T."

She'll never make it like I do.

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