Today is Mother’s Day. And, though I sometimes forget, my mother is my beginning, middle, and end of so much in my life, especially my love of food.
Growing up, we made not just cookies, but French crepes (I remember cranking the flour sifter) and “hobo eggs” (commonly known as “toad-in-a-hole”) which I always requested when I wasn’t feeling well. My mom remembers letting me make up my own recipes, which I vaguely recall often included key ingredients: cereal, sugar, and chocolate chips.
But more than cook, we ate together, trying new and sometimes exotic foods that no doubt helped form my current epicuriosity. Anything international got extra points in my mom’s book, whether it was lebkuchen cookies shipped in from our friends in Germany at Christmas, Chinese dim sum we ate in Seattle’s International District (where I marveled as a child at such a thing called a “dumb-waiter”), Russian piroshky and borscht from a hole in the wall on nights when she didn’t want to cook, or, my mom’s favorite, French anything.
When our family went to France when I was nine, my mouth met a circus of new foods and cultural beliefs about food, thanks to Mom who had previewed everything for us in her youth. There were oeufs mayonnaise, crepes with banana and chocolate, real croissants and baguettes (and dipped in hot chocolate at breakfast!), fromage everywhere, and, Mom’s favorite cultural experiment–fruit salad served at Le McDonald’s. Most importantly, as we ate with local families and on road-side picnics, we learned to take time to really eat and to savor the experience.
An art historian, Mom showed me the fun in finding out why things were the way they were and the value in understanding other cultures. She taught me that pretzels look like arms crossed in prayer, eggs benedict meant new life (and a very happy family), hot dogs were beef because Jews didn’t want to get sick from pork, an almond in your cake on Twelfth Night meant you were the king, and croissants were “crescents” representing the defeat of Turkey. It’s not hard to see that she contributed to my current endeavor, cultural anthropology.
When I moved away to college, we continued sharing meals together. Mom’s emails regularly included recounts of recent gastronomic experiences, even just the everyday kitchen experiments or cafe lunches. Mom taught me that any little moment in life, even a meal, can be full of wonder, if you are looking out for it.
When I got my first apartment, she prepared me for adult life with the most important survival guide–The Joy of Cooking. She also officially sanctioned my obsessive collecting of recipes by gifting a binder she made called “Alysa’s Favorite Recipes,” in which she included “Chewy Wheat Germ Brownies,” “Sue’s Enchilagna,” and a banana bread recipe from the 1971 New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook (this recipe has gotten me through a lot of heartache, let me tell you!).
Now, we write and talk about food more than ever before. She listens to my rants about organic foods and the evils of industrial agriculture, and I take notes on just exactly how she and Dad make the hollandaise sauce at Easter. We swap recipes through emails and, not surprisingly, she is also this blog’s number one fan. I somehow got my parents addicted to a too-corny-not-to-love 1980’s British TV series about a detective that just happens to run a gourmet restaurant on the side. We update each other on the status of the DVD releases in the U.S., chomping at the bit to watch characters that appreciate food as much as we do.
Thinking of mothers and food also brings me to my favorite food movie, “Tampopo,” directed by Juzo Itami. From birth to death back to birth, Itami shows us that food is life, a process which starts with the gift of mother’s milk. From the act of giving birth, to breast feeding, to feeding us when we are sick, and feeding us when we are too poor to move out, mothers nourish us with love, usually without thinking about it. It is simply their mode. But this makes it no less miraculous. And so, my Mom has given me one more thing to marvel at.
So I’d like to say, thank you, Mom. I don’t know how you do it, but you love me unconditionally and this means more than I can say or will probably ever understand. You deserve more recognition than I give you, and more recognition than our society gives mothers. But thank God, they’ve at least given us this one day to smack us over the head with the astounding fact that you have given us life. And so, I want to share with everyone something that I intended to post here many months ago.
As far as I recall, this was a blackberry pie that Mom made with berries she picked with my nieces. And I have to say, the concept of pie is really only something women could invent. For, to paraphrase one of my favorite filmmakers, Maya Deren, women have the power to wait–they wait for nine months for a baby, for flowers to bloom in spring, and for children to learn the lessons they already taught them. If you’ve ever tried to make a pie that not only smells and tastes good but doesn’t look like a kindergardener made it, you know that pie takes patience. And perhaps patience might be translated to really mean love. So thanks to my mother, and to all mothers, for feeding us love, no matter how many times it takes, to keep us standing on our own two feet.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! It’s not a poem, but I hope you like it.