It may not be long before I find myself applying for membership in the meat cutters union. I have been getting phone calls from the newly married daughter with some regularity between 5 and 7 several evenings a week.
There's always something you forget to tell them when you launch them, isn't there? I thought I'd covered the bases by explaining the power of compounded interest, parking lot safety and the necessity of pepper spray, the fundamentals of stain removal and why you should never pay full retail. Seems I left out cuts of meat.
The daughter on the cell phone, hovering over the meat display in a grocery store somewhere near Fort Riley, Kan., is a good cook. An excellent cook. It's just that she's never been a big red meat person and happened to marry a wonderful young man who has long hollow legs and is a serious carnivore.
Monday, 5:30 p.m.: "Mom? What's a skirt steak?"
"I'm not sure," I say.
"I'm making fajitas and the recipe calls for skirt steak. Can't you at least take a guess? Please?"
"Fine," I say. "I'd guess a skirt steak is a steak that would look good with a sweater set and pair of boots."
Clever word play is rarely appreciated at a time of culinary crisis.
Thursday, 6:05 p.m: "Hey, Mom. What does flank steak look like?"
Do I look like the kind of person who would have a printout of a steer with the dotted lines across its naked body indicating the cuts of meat sitting beside my computer keyboard?
Who cares. I'm glad she calls.
"Flank steak is the steak that moves in after the front lines have advanced. Honey, you married military, you should know this," I say.
"Mom, I'm serious. They have limited choices here and not a one of them is labeled flank steak."
"Do they have anything labeled rear guard?"
No, they do not.
Friday, 6:30 p.m.:, "Mom? I'm going to make Swiss steak in the slow cooker over the weekend and need round steak -" She drops the phone. It is the unmistakable sound of a cell phone hitting the shrink wrap of ground beef (90% lean), bouncing, and then landing with a squish onto boneless, skinless chicken breasts.
I can see it in my mind. She is shopping for meat by shape round steak, square steak, triangle steak and cube steak. Of course, it all makes perfect sense.
She is back on the phone. "Mom? I found round, but it's bottom round and the recipe says top round. Do you think it will do?"
"Yes," I say. "You just take the bottom round, flip it over, it becomes top round."
"Great!" she says.
"Sweetie," I say. "Face the meat counter. Do you see a man behind the meat counter? He is the Maytag washer repairman of the meat world. Lonely. Forgotten.
"He has a wealth of knowledge, expertise and good marinade ideas up his sleeve. Introduce yourself to the butcher, because he is about to become your new best friend at the grocery store."
"Oh, OK. Thanks, Mom."
"You're welcome, dear. May the beef be with you."