If you believe everything my mother tells you, then you'll know she has no moral issue with endangering your life for the sake of 10 minutes of pleasure, or however long it takes to eat her spaghetti.
At the family table, it was everyone for their respective self. We didn't say grace, but my mother occasionally kicked off mealtime by announcing the possibility of death, advised us to be vigilant and, smiling, encouraged us to dig in and enjoy.
According to my mother, the bay leaf – a spice known for its distinctive fragrance and flavour – is both essential to any good spaghetti sauce and entirely capable of slicing your intestines with its razor sharp edges and causing internal bleeding.
Pigging out on Mom's meat sauce, I surmised as a child, could result in anything from indigestion to dying quietly in your sleep. This I believed, among other questionable, unquestioned quasi-truths:
Jesus is a white guy. Raw hot dogs will give me worms. Uncle So-and-So isn't gay. My face could get stuck like this. Bay leaves can kill me. Me, and everyone I love.
Having survived my childhood, I thought it best to avoid cooking with bay leaves altogether when I moved out on my own. I just couldn't bear the thought of my mother receiving news that, despite all her warnings, I'd gone and accidentally offed myself in that particularly unsavoury way. Not until I cooked with someone unaware of the risks of this common albeit deadly ingredient was I forced to, for the first time, express these thoughts out loud.
"Let's leave out the bay leaf," I suggested, explaining the risks.
"Who told you THAT?" my co-chef asked, scrunching up his face.
"My mother," I declared, considering her the authority on all things culinary.
"Doesn't she also think her house is haunted?"
"Well, yeah," I said, "but so do I."
He just looked at me. "Bay leaves can't kill you."
"Yes, they can," I said, steadfast.
Leaves in hand, locking his eyes with mine, he motioned toward his mouth.
"Don't do it!" I yelled, and tried to grab them away. The last thing I need is an accidental suicide in my house, I thought. "No!" I screamed when he shoved them into his mouth and began to chew.
"Why would your mother put something in your food she thought might kill you?" he asked. He was talking with his mouth full.
Because my mother takes cooking very seriously.
"If I die, you win," he taunted and swallowed.
Later on, when he didn't die, he didn't shut up about it for long enough that I kind of maybe sort of wished he had. Just a little bit.
Still, through the fog of my annoyance, I managed to glean that sometimes being wrong is best for everyone.
Photo: Mom and me on an evening walk, after another perilous meal.