Posted in food, personal
May 7, 2011

Food and Family. My mom and me.

Dear Mom,

You’ve given me so much over the years, and especially since I left home, I’ve come to appreciate just how much of my being I can attribute to the way you’ve raised me. This is just a small token of appreciation for one of the many gifts you’ve given me.


The lemon tart to the right was made by my mom for Christmas (obviously). I’m sharing my horrible picture of it because it was a great example of how brilliant she is in the kitchen- she combined a few recipes on the spot to make this, and you’d never know. It was so good!

I love food. If you didn’t know that, you’ve probably just stumbled across this blog. I pick vacations not just for the experience, but where to eat. I go to Vegas yearly, and it isn’t for the gambling. I stopped going to concerts, and started splurging on nice restaurants.

This is something I got from my parents, who also both love to eat. But mostly, this is something I learned from my mom. The more I look at my current view of food, the more I realize that I got here because of her.

I suppose you could have called me a foodie even as a child, looking back . I was passionate about the foods I ate. The only way to make a good tuna salad was with whole albacore that was packed in water (never in oil), Best Foods Mayo, dill pickle chips (preferably Arnold’s from Arizona) and seasoned with a touch of salt, lots of garlic powder and white pepper. I believed, and still do, that it’s the white pepper and the quality of the pickle that sets my tuna apart from everyone else’s. And I learned this recipe from my mom. (I also learned that you never use Miracle Whip or sweet pickles. That’s tuna sacrilege.) I could also spend an hour explaining why certain potato chips were better than others- and I’m pretty sure I did.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

As a kid, I would come home from school and start working on my homework in the dining room. Up until I was in middle school, I did my homework at the dining room table, so that my mom could help me if I needed it. (After that, it wasn’t so much that I didn’t need my mom’s help, but I could work on my own) It meant that more often than not, I had a front row seat for watching my mom make meals.

The layout of our kitchen was a half moon shape (as is her current kitchen, now that I think about it) – with one long countertop interrupted by a stove in the middle. The pantry and fridge were to one side, the sink was on the other.

She’s a graceful woman. She took ballet as a girl, and you can see it still in the way she carries herself. There she’d be, moving back and forth through the kitchen, preparing dinner. She’d chop and shift, go to the pantry to get ingredients. It was always fun to watch.

We were heavily involved in the menus. She asked us what we wanted to eat when we all went to the grocery store together. If it was something we wanted in our lunches, it was something that we had to tell her to get. She had strict rules about what we could and couldn’t eat. Candy wasn’t something that we regularly ate, but it wasn’t uncommon for us to have ice cream in our freezer- for those special occasions. During long power outages, it was the first thing she broke from our fridge. We knew it wouldn’t really melt before the power came back, but it was always that soothing touch needed to take away the fear of not knowing how long we’d be without power.

She showed me that there was no shame in making food from scratch. She explained that when my friends thought they were cool by bringing Lunchables, that the only thing cool about it was the divided tray – they were paying a lot of money for a piece of plastic that was just being thrown away. We talked a lot about nutrition and making sure you had enough vegetables and proteins. I learned a lot. She also showed me helpful shortcuts. A well stocked pantry and freezer meant that you could always find something to eat. We weren’t the sort to make our own stocks, but our freezer always had vegetable mixes that could easily be thrown in with some stock to make soup. Even with those canned stocks (which at the time weren’t that great), it still tasted better than anything else that Campbell’s could make. Or the vegetables made a quick stir fry, or where steamed for a quick side.

She taught me that with a few easy recipes, you always have something to fall back on when you aren’t sure what you want to eat. Lunch was always as easy as shredding cheese, putting it on a flour tortilla and letting it crisp up in the oven (we weren’t quesadilla people). If it was dinner, and we were all exhausted from a long day, she’d heat up a couple cans of refried beans and we’d have bean burros. Or toss some corn tortillas in the oven to crisp and have some tostadas.

My mom was the person who showed me that you should know where your food comes from. When I was 13, she had seen a video about how most meat is produced, and it sickened her. We became pescetarians. Eventually, I began to add meat back in during college. Mostly because it seemed like being a pescetarian was expensive, and I was suddenly falling in love with fast food (and falling in love with TheBoy, who would have fast food with me after our shifts). In came beef. Eventually, I came to my senses and found a balance- I simply found people who produced meat in a way that I was comfortable with. And fast food chains that I felt comfortable eating at.

If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t try to shop for vegetables and fruits in season. I wouldn’t care as much as I do about supporting restaurants that source local foods and sustainable seafood.

My mom is an excellent cook (heck, my dad is too, even if he denies it), and I’ve often written about her brilliance with combining flavors. But more important than either is her love of food. I’ve known from an early age that food can be something special and that if you make a dish with care and love, that it’ll be evident to the people who enjoy it. She taught me that recipes are wonderful things, not just a path to a specific dish, but the springboard to find any number of new and unexpected dishes.

But most importantly, she showed me that there’s no shame in being a woman that loves to cook. That you can be an activist, a feminist and cook for your family- that there’s nothing contradictory about it. It isn’t about happening to fit into what’s expected- it’s about surpassing those expectations, and being true to yourself.

She taught me that it’s perfectly fine to serve a fancy meal to family, and eat it in your pajamas. That Christmas dinner can be a bunch of side dishes if that’s what you want, or even a bunch of delicious appetizers. That it’s okay to have your dessert first just so you won’t fill up. That any reason is a good reason to break out the good china- and that you should never drink water before or during your meal. (You’ll only fill up faster, and take away room from a delicious meal.) And that one of the things you don’t skimp on at your wedding is the wedding cake.

I could go on and on and on, but ultimately it comes back to one thing. Food and love go hand in hand, for her and for me.

Love you Mom.

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