70: Walter’s Secret Ingredient

70: Walter’s Secret Ingredient

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Food and Love

Secret Ingredient

There ain’t no such thing as wrong food.

~Sean Stewart, Perfect Circle

My phone rang again for what seemed like the hundredth time this morning. I picked it up in the midst of doing my monthly report to my boss, all the while juggling various deadlines for “rush” requests from a variety of clients in different departments in my company. A pretty typical day at work for me; such is the life of a corporate reference librarian.

The phone continued to ring. Frazzled, I picked it up, expecting to get yet another “rush” request to work on before lunch. I was relieved to hear a familiar voice. Instead of “I need this information by two o’clock this afternoon,” I heard my husband Walter say, “Don’t worry about dinner. I’ll take care of everything. It will be ready when you get home.”

Walter is no stranger to the kitchen. He can cook, and he helps out whenever he can, especially on those days when he takes a vacation day while I go off to work. I don’t mind so much. The way I figure it, someone has to support this family! And, it’s kind of nice to know that, when I get home, dinner will already be started, the table will be set, and we can look forward to a pleasant time together, breaking bread and catching up on the day’s events. And then I wake up from my fantasy.

If Walter is cooking dinner, three things are likely to occur:

1. The entrée will be hamburgers, rare on the inside, charred to perfection on the outside.

2. No vegetables will be served.

3. The kitchen will be smoke-filled due to the fact that Walter likes to grill, and always abides by the same rule: Cook on high no matter what.

Holding the above three truths to be self-evident, I knew what was in the cards for me later that day.

Arriving home after yet another “stress-free” day at work, I opened the door to the family room, only to find Jeffrey balancing his metal baseball bat on end, in the palm of his hand, running between the TV set and an almost brand-new table lamp. That got the ol’ blood a-pumpin’, and prepared me for what I was about to face upstairs in the kitchen. To my credit, I didn’t let this dissuade me. I forged ahead.

Slowly climbing the six stairs to the kitchen, I was almost overcome by the smoke billowing through the kitchen door. I couldn’t see anything except the vague outline of the kitchen table. The sizzling and spattering noises emanating from the corner of the kitchen where I knew the stove to be almost drowned out the friendly voice, saying, “Hi, Donna. Dinner’s almost ready.”

I stared at the smoky fog that enveloped my kitchen, and there, miraculously finding his way to the top of the steps, stood Walter, smiling proudly, spatula in one hand, a plate with the charred remains of dinner piled high in the other.

“Come on up. Everything’s ready.”

I took one last breath of air before I ventured up the steps. I would need that reserve oxygen until I could get upstairs and turn on the exhaust fan while Walter opened a window or two. Within minutes of having done that, the kitchen began to take on its familiar appearance.

I made a quick salad, and we all sat down to eat, with the ever-present ketchup bottle taking its customary place as the centerpiece of our dinner table. Walter looked at me, expectantly. “Well? How is it? How does it taste?”

I bit through the crunchy exterior, and chewed on the soft-textured, bright pink inside. “Delicious!” I exclaimed, knowing it had the added advantage — I didn’t have to cook it.

While Walter’s cooking style may be considered unconventional by some, his recipe for burgers is ordinary for the most part: ground beef, a pinch of onion salt and garlic powder, sometimes adding a splash of Worcestershire sauce. But he always adds his secret ingredient: a large dollop of love.

~Donna Lowich

More stories from our partners