Losing My Food Mojo

Pumpkin Pie

My kitchen luck had run out last winter.

In rapid succession, over the course of seven to ten days, I…

  • Left a seventeen dollar pot roast sitting on the floor of our kitchen overnight. How, you may ask? It was still sitting in its Target bag, and pretty much any time we go grocery shopping one or two bags manage to escape being put away. The white and red bags filled with batteries or toothpaste live on the floor until I remember to take them upstairs where they belong, but I have never stepped over perishables before.
  • Destroyed another seventeen dollar hunk of meat. The second pot roast, left to cook in our crockpot, confirmed our fear that our crockpot only works on high. The meat languished on low for ten hours and was still nearly raw. I tried to save it on high and rendered it totally inedible.
  • Got such bad hand cramps before a party I couldn’t cut a strawberry. A strawberry!
  • Found honey on the couch and floor and absolutely no recollection of how it got there.
  • Made chicken and dumplings that were so salty we all courted high blood pressure.
  • Dropped a carton of eggs.
  • Cut my finger while taking the rind off ugli fruit.


  • Ruined gnocchi. Gnocchi is a pasta dumpling that takes two to three minutes maximum to cook in boiling water. I have made pasta at least once a week for the last fifteen years. As a child, I was the official pasta tester for our family and made sure it wasn’t under or overcooked. If there was one thing in the world I was sure I couldn’t screw up, it was pasta. Instead of becoming dinner, the gnocchi all clumped together and bloated, like a pale, water-logged, dead fish. I pulled the mass out and had to bury it in the garbage can.

I was raised Catholic so the next step, once I admitted that perhaps I did have a cooking problem, was to figure out which saints might be able to help me out. I did some internet research and tried appealing to…

  • St. Anthony the Abbott – Patron Saint of Bacon
  • St. Drogo – Patron Saint of Coffee
  • St. Elizabeth of Hungary and St. Nicholas – Patron Saints of Baking
  • St. Luke, St. Augustine and St. Nicholas (again) – Patron Saints of Beer
  • St. Zita and St. Martha – Patron Saints of Housekeeping
  • St. Charles Borromeo – Patron Saint of Stomachaches
  • St. Michael the Archangel – Patron Saint of Grocers


  • St. Lawrence – Patron Saint of Cooking

Eventually my bad luck ended, though I cannot say whether it was with or without divine intervention. I was reminded of this because Thanksgiving is coming up. Although these days I am pretty non-denominational, I am not above asking saints for a little help.

We’ll be feeding almost twenty people at our house in about a week. We’ll be working with our tiny kitchen, my dietary restrictions around dairy and corn syrup, the vegetarian options we make sure to have for my brother, the turkey that always fills the house with smoke but then turns out fine, the lovely wine my mother-in-law brings that I’ll dip into too early, the cranberry-walnut-bourbon Jello my mom brings that I’ll also dip into too early, and the fact that my youngest child now bursts into tears at the thought of eating birds. It seems like a good idea to do some preventative praying.


Dear St. Lawrence,

I was hoping you could watch the pots and the oven a little, so I could feed my family and friends as well as I am able, and so I can take some time to appreciate what I’ve got. Please keep us free from burns and scalding and broken glasses. Please watch over the fridge to make sure nothing spoils, and the oven to make sure nothing burns. Please make sure the soy whipped cream is enjoyable, and that the real whipped cream doesn’t get trapped in its can, causing a small riot. I know you’re probably pretty busy, but thank you so much in advance.


Kristin Wagner, in the Chicagoland area

Spanish – Italian Lessons


“So, Mommy, did you know that farfalina is Spanish for butterfly?”

“Um, what? No, that can’t be right.”

I have a horrible know-it-all habit. Whenever my kids tell me something new they’ve learned that isn’t totally accurate I feel compelled to say, “Actually…” and then I correct them.

“Actually, mariposa is Spanish for butterfly. I thought I remembered that from high school Spanish. I mean, give me a second and let me look it up but, no, yeah, no, farfalina is Italian.”

I am not sure why I have to be right all…the…time…

“Yeah, kiddo, I’m looking at my phone now. Farfalina is like the word farfalle, you know, the bow-tie pasta that looks like butterflies? Who told you it was Spanish?”

“Our neighbor.”

“But she’s Italian! She learns Italian words all the time. Why would she say it was Spanish? Spanish and Italian are both based in Latin and they are similar languages, but in this case they are different. I even had a student named Mariposa in Texas, who was Mexican-American and I had asked her about her name.”

My eight-year-old tried to defend her by saying, “Well, maybe I remembered it wrong.”

I finally stop talking and let him wander off to brush his teeth. In the quiet I realize something.

“Well, maybe I remembered it wrong.”

That’s what it is.

That is why I keep badgering him, why I can’t stop being right. That’s what I am afraid of, not that he remembered something wrong, but that I have started to remember things wrong.

A few years ago I had an MRI of my brain. We were looking for dark spots that might indicate a tumor, or perhaps Multiple Sclerosis. I had been losing words mid-speech, writing sentences that didn’t make sense and assuming I had read something correctly when I hadn’t. I felt drunk when I hadn’t had a drop. I tasted salt when there was none. I nearly scalded the boys because when I tested their bath water I couldn’t feel how scorching hot it was. I could no longer assume that any part of my brain was allowing me to process or understand the world correctly.

We didn’t find anything wrong.

I was later diagnosed with fibromyalgia, which mostly means that the doctors don’t quite know what is going on. Without understanding the mechanisms of it, many of us get a sensation called “fibro fog” which pulls a mist around our minds and makes it hard to function. I don’t get this sensation as often as I used to, though for a while it was such a part of daily life that I felt I might have Alzheimer’s. It only happens once in a while now, but when you can’t read to your kindergartener without transposing a bunch of words, it is still quite disconcerting.

With regards to my cognitive function, everything I’ve learned (or thought I learned) since I first started having symptoms is suspect. I often think I’ve filed new information in the correct part of my brain only to realize later on that I haven’t. When I find I might be wrong, I scramble like mad to check my facts by searching my memory and the internet. I do detective work to reassure myself that I didn’t screw it up.

So going on and on about the many ways I was absolutely certain that mariposa was the Spanish word for butterfly and farfalina was Italian felt necessary. It felt good to be able to track so many neural pathways that brought me to the same conclusion – I was right. It felt so good to know that I haven’t totally lost my mind, at least not yet.


I know this isn’t a good thing to be doing to my kids, whatever reason I might have for doing so. And now the boys do the same thing to me. I’ll make a comment about how pretty the full moon is and I get…

Actually, it isn’t full yet. It won’t be for another day.”

Or I’ll compliment one of them on a drawing I assume is just a bird and get…

Actually, this is a Peregrine Falcon. Couldn’t you tell by the talons and how he’s swooping down with lines behind him like he’s really fast?”

It drives me crazy! I can’t say anything without being corrected for being inaccurate. My know-it-all karma has given me back know-it-all kids. Fibromyalgia or no fibromyalgia I have got to slow down this impulse to inform and correct before it gets even more out of hand.

But, actually, did you know that the Spanish word for fibromyalgia is just fibromialgia? And that the Italian is exactly the same? And that a lilac-colored farfalina is its symbol?

Maybe I can’t be stopped.

Reader Response for Literary Mama

Good Morning!  I wanted to advertise that a short piece of my writing has been published on the great website Literary Mama.  It was my response to a prompt about finding peace and solitude to write as a mother, and for me that it would feel impossible.

This link should take you there.