In 2012, I emailed this SOS:

Hi Mom, Can you send me your recipe for beef stew. Mark’s invited friends over for dinner on Saturday and I need your help! 

My mom responded:

Attached. If you can’t read it, send me a fax number and I’ll fax it. Always make the day before – tastes better the next day! Love you.

Turns out I couldn’t read the attachment, and so fax me the recipe she did. Fax!

Mark was my boyfriend, and this dinner would be one of the first times we hosted his pals in our new apartment. I wanted to put my best foot forward and present a tasty meal that would wow and warm an intimate group of friends on a chilly January night.

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The night before the dinner, I browned the meat and chopped the veggies. It was a labor-intensive process, but if the stew turned out half as good as my mom’s, my effort would be rewarded with well-fed and happy dinner party guests. I compiled the ingredients as instructed into a large pot on the stove and left it to make stew-magic by fusing disparate ingredients into a symphony of complementary flavors.

After a few hours and closing in on my bedtime, the meat was still tough and the carrots and potatoes crunchy. An hour or so later, things had not improved. I was perplexed. So, I kept the stove on, and slept in 20-minute increments that night, tending to, tasting and fretting over that stew. By the morning, I was exhausted, but I had a finished product that I was satisfied with: the meat was tender, the broth thick and flavorful and the potatoes and carrots soft but not mushy. Ta dah!

That afternoon, Mark texted additional friends to join us. Then those friends passed along the invite to their friends and acquaintances. The elegant dinner party I thought we were hosting that night became a standing-room only pregame event for continued partying in the city’s bars and clubs. I hawked my stew to all of our guests. Most were far more interested in drinking than in eating (I envisioned the night so differently!), but I did have a few takers. For these few, I served my “up all night stew” in the red and blue painted soup bowls I had hand washed for the sit-down dinner party I was planning for.

My mom still makes beef stew according to the recipe she faxed so many years ago (and manages it in a very reasonable time). I still love to eat it, Mark does, too, and our kids go wild for it. But I have never had much interest in making it again after the night of our party. I value sleep far too much.

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