C. C. Payne intertwines heartache with humor and hope in a novel about navigating divorce and blended families, following your passion, and celebrating who you are.
Fizzy is a good Southern girl who just wants to be perfect. And win the Southern Living cook-off. The being perfect part is hard though, since her parents’ divorced and everything in her life has changed. Wary of her too-perfect stepmom and her mom’s neat-freak, dismissive boyfriend, she’s often angry or upset and feels like a guest in both homes. She tells herself to face facts: She’s a “leftover” kid from a marriage that her parents want to forget. But she has to keep all of that to herself, because a good Southern girl never yells, or throws fits, or says anything that might hurt other people’s feelings—instead she throws her shoulders back, says yes ma’am, and tries to do better. So Fizzy tries her best, but it’s hard to stay quiet when her family keeps getting more complicated. Fortunately, the Southern Living cook-off gives her a welcome distraction, as do her new friends Miyoko and Zach, who have parent issues of their own.
With the poignancy and humor of Joan Bauer and Lynda Mullaly Hunt, this poignant story reminds readers that they have a right to a voice, that it is okay to say how you feel, and that some leftovers are absolutely delicious!
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By Friday night, I did at least know three very important things: 1) I knew that no one at school was going to laugh at Miyoko again—or me either probably—because there was a rumor that Miyoko could kill a person just as fast as she could look at them. 2) I knew four out of the five recipes I was going to send to Southern Living on Monday, and 3) I knew another reason that I didn’t want my mom to marry Keene, on top of all the other reasons: If Mom married Keene, then she’d be starting fresh on her dream of having a family. If you ask me, that’s an awful lot like starting fresh on dinner. And if Mom was starting fresh, then that made me a kind of leftover, didn’t it? Yes, I was a leftover from her previous attempt at marriage and family.
Here’s the thing about leftovers: Nobody is ever excited about them; they’re just something you have to deal with—like Keene has to deal with me. No matter how hard you try, leftovers are never exactly what they used to be—and I’m not either. If you ignore them or forget about them, they turn stinky, and if you try to serve them alongside a freshly made meal, they never fit in quite right—do you want leftover spaghetti with your fajitas?—ugh!
Leftover spaghetti is the worst! See, when you reheat spaghetti noodles, they overcook and turn to mush. And no matter what you do with them, leftover spaghetti noodles stick together in clumps. They get hard in some spots and soggy in others. If you want my opinion, it’s best to just throw leftover spaghetti away. And I was leftover spaghetti! No, I was worse than leftover spaghetti, and a lot more trouble —does a visit from the fire department ring any bells?—and I couldn’t be thrown away.
I’d wanted to talk to Aunt Liz about all of this as it was taking shape in my mind that afternoon, but I didn’t think I could do it yet without crying. Somewhere between the cooking and the homework, Parents’ Night, and all the upset over Keene and my purple cake, I’d gotten tired. Too tired. And when I get too tired, I get sort of wilty and weepy and turn to mush. Like leftover spaghetti. Yuck.
So, there I was, standing in my kitchen at 9:08 on Friday night with tired-tears in my eyes, trying to decide whether to go to bed or try out Great Grandma Russo’s recipe for lasagna. I really was tired. And we didn’t have the exact ingredients the recipe called for. And Mom and I had already eaten dinner. And I already had four recipes to send to Southern Living, and really, four was enough, wasn’t it? I decided to go to bed.
But before I reached the bottom step, I heard Keene’s voice somewhere in the back of my mind: Cecily, you don’t really believe she can win the contest, do you? Then, I heard my mother’s voice: Of course I believe she can win. Two things carried me back to the kitchen that night, when I really wanted to go to bed: 1) I really wanted to prove Keene wrong, and 2) I really wanted to prove Mom right.
I filled our biggest pot with water, added a dash of salt, and set the pot on the stove to boil. Then, I began preparing all my ingredients in bowls—mise en place-style. Since we didn’t have some of the ingredients, I had to get creative and come up with substitutions, but I like being creative. Soon, I didn’t feel tired anymore. I was having fun.
I was having so much fun that I became television star, Fizzy Russo, of Fabulous Foods and Feasts with Fizzy Russo. I smiled for the cameras and pretended my mismatched bowls matched. For a few seconds, I was tempted to put on my mom’s engagement ring for when the cameras zoomed in on my hands. I mean, the ring was right there on the window sill above the kitchen sink—where she leaves it whenever she cooks or cleans. But I figured if I could pretend glass bowls then I could pretend rings on my fingers, too, and I left Mom’s ring where it was.
“Now if you don’t have Italian sausage,” I told my pretend-audience, “then you can use any kind of sausage or hamburger if you like.” I smiled sweetly.
“Fizzy?” Mom said, coming up behind me.
I jumped, let out a spastic Aaaah! and then turned.
“Fizzy, what are you doing? It’s almost ten o’clock,” Mom said, pulling her cardigan closed tight over her pajamas.
“I’m making lasagna,” I said, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
Mom gave me a serious look of disapproval and I thought it was a good thing that I wasn’t wearing her engagement ring.
“It’s for the contest,” I said. “We can eat it all weekend . . . I bet Keene will like it, too.” I thought that was a nice touch.
And it worked. “All right,” Mom said, softening, “but straight to bed as soon as you’re finished. We have a lot of shopping to do tomorrow.”
“Yes ma’am,” I said, as Zach’s words echoed through my mind: It’s best for everybody if you just say whatever the adults want to hear.