“Ma,” I said at her dinner table one Friday night more than fifty years ago, ”This cole slaw is wonderful! I’d like to have the recipe.” I was a bride,and did not yet realize that she, like many women of her day, did not share recipes. Those were her secret formulas, the keys to her hard-earned reputation as a good housewife, hostess, and cook.
“It’s nothing,” she said. “Cabbage and salt. That’s all. The salt is the important thing.”
I looked at the multicolored salad on my plate and was sure there was more to it. “That’s all?” I asked.
“You have to add the salt first, before anything else, and rub it into the cabbage with your fingers,” she said, and then closed her lips tightly, already having given me more than she had planned.
“No mayonnaise?” I asked.
“Of course mayonnaise,” she said. “And a little mustard. But that’s all.”
“I see shreds of carrots,” I said, peering closely at the mound on my plate.
“If I have a carrot,” she said, “I throw it in.”
“What’s the green stuff?” I persisted.
“That could be the cucumber. Or the celery. Maybe a little green pepper.”
“Anything else?” I asked, raising my head and looking her straight in the eye.
“Whatever I have on hand,” she said. “I think I threw in a couple of radishes.”
“And the flavor?” I asked. “It has a lot of flavor.”
“Probably the onion,” she admitted.
I believed I probably had the whole recipe by then, but just to be sure, I asked, “Just the onion? It seems like there’s something more . . . ?”
She thought a moment, and must have decided that as a member of the family, the one who now did most of the cooking for her son, I could be told. “Garlic,” she said. “That’s all. The cabbage, the salt, the onion and the garlic. Nothing else matters, whatever you have, you use.”
“You,” she had said. “You,” meaning me. I was now included, accepted, I had been inducted, I was finally a holder of The Recipe. One of her best. It was the first recipe she ever gave me, but not the last.
Cabbage and salt, like in the children’s book, Soup from a Stone. The best recipes are often the ones that evolve from whatever happens to be on hand, when there is the intention to create something good, something to feed us, to satisfy the hunger for nourishment and the pleasure of sharing.
Intention (the first ingredient in the "Recipe for a Healed Life" in my book, Someone to Talk To) is the real magic ingredient. After that, whatever you have, you use.