In 2012, I sent this SOS by e-mail:
Hi Mom, Can you send me your beef stew recipe. Mark has some friends over for dinner on Saturday and I need your help!
My mother replied:
Attched. If you can’t read it, send me a fax number and I’ll fax it to you. Always prepare the day before, it’s better the next day! I love you.
Turns out I couldn’t read the attachment, so fax me the recipe she made. Fax!
Mark was my boyfriend, and this dinner would be one of the first times we had his friends in our new apartment. I wanted to do my best and present a tasty meal that would wow and warm a group of close friends on a cold January night.
The day before dinner, I browned the meat and chopped the vegetables. It was a laborious process, but if the stew turned out half as good as my mother’s, my efforts would be rewarded with well-fed and happy guests. I compiled the ingredients as instructed in a large pot on the stovetop and let it do the stewing magic, melding disparate ingredients into a symphony of complementary flavors.
After a few hours and as bedtime approached, the meat was still tough and the carrots and potatoes crunchy. An hour later, things hadn’t improved. I was puzzled. So, I kept the stove on and slept in 20-minute increments that night, minding, tasting, and worrying about this stew. By morning I was exhausted, but I had a finished product I was happy with: the meat was tender, the broth thick and flavorful, and the potatoes and carrots chewy but not mushy. And There you go!
That afternoon, Mark texted some other friends to join us. Then these friends forwarded the invitation to their friends and acquaintances. The elegant dinner I was thinking of throwing that night became a standing-room pre-game event to keep the party going in bars and clubs around town. I sold my stew to all of our guests. Most were much more interested in drinking than eating (I viewed the night so differently!), but I had a few takers. For those few, I served my “all-night stew” in the red and blue painted soup bowls I had hand-washed for the sit-down dinner I was planning.
My mom still makes beef stew according to the recipe she faxed so many years ago (and gets it done in a very reasonable time). I always like to eat it, Mark too, and our children are crazy about it. But I never had much interest in doing it again after the night of our party. I place too much importance on sleep.
Lee Van Dyke, Portland: The first seven seconds