Mothers Day

chickensaladwrap001My mom taught me how to cook. I was lucky she was the kind of mom who encouraged me to be in the kitchen. She would often turn her favorite room over to me, making me feel as though I was a scientist working in my own private laboratory. I would pretend I was testing recipes in the Pillsbury kitchens.

My mom did have one rule, though, that she insisted I learn and practice. When dirty bowls and pots and spoons and measuring cups started to pile up on the kitchen counter, she’d quickly remind me of the rule: "Susie, clean up as you go."

Mom believed that as long as you stayed on top of the mess, you’d have a pleasant experience in the kitchen. And everything would turn out much better. I’m pretty sure she was right about that. I was thinking about my mom as I prepared her favorite chicken salad. And I could almost hear her reminding me to clean up after each step.

It’s a recipe that has evolved over the years. I often add new ingredients and sometimes take out the old standby ingredients. Mom thought it was a real treat when I would sandwich the chicken salad in a split luncheon-size croissant. That serving style came to an end, though, sometime in the 1980′s when I attended a lecture by New York Times health columnist, Jane Brody. She said that eating a croissant was like eating one stick of butter. I haven’t enjoyed a croissant since. I’ve eaten a few — but I haven’t enjoyed them. Thanks a lot, Jane Brody.

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bakingcookiesart.jpg Every mother needs a signature cookie. Even if it’s one you buy—like a fresh-from-the-bag Pepperidge Farm Milano. Or a local, corner-bakery, purchased elephant ear. Of course, it’s best, when the kids look back, if the signature cookie is one you baked.

Why? Because of the effort. People like to see effort and kids seem to really respond to it. It lets them know you weren’t just phoning in the whole motherhood thing.

Growing up, my mother had a signature cookie. She probably hasn’t thought of it as her cookie, but everyone in the family knows. She’ll be 80 years old on her birthday this July and if she’s in the kitchen, and she says she’s going to make cookies, you know what’s coming: 

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courbetapples.jpgThe press representative agreed to let me into the Courbet retrospective a day before the preview. My mother and I were in New York for a couple of days before heading up to Westport, Connecticut to attend a memorial service for her sister, my aunt Judy.  Our visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art would be our own private memorial. 

Judy used to drive into the city whenever I came out from Los Angeles and she relished taking me to lunch at the Trustees dining room. She had three sons and none of them were interested in art so she considered me her daughter once removed, the only member of the family, other than herself, who thought time in a museum was well spent. This time, I took mother. 

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stuffedartichoke.jpgI've been making stuffed artichokes with my mom since I was about 6 years old. When my hands were still too small to tackle the prickly, cactus-like leaves of the artichoke, I was in charge of making the stuffing. There was something indescribably satisfying about it: first I wet the stale Italian bread and squished in between my fingers, then I grated lots of cheese and added a slew of black olives (which, by the way, made lovely finger extensions). It gave "playing with your food" a whole new perspective.

When I got a bit older, I learned how to properly clean an artichoke (which is no easy task). Maybe that's why I appreciate them so much today.

Ironically, my mom never ate her stuffed artichokes. She always made them for my dad and me. After I moved away from Rhode Island, I didn't make artichokes for a long time. They'll never be as good as Mom's, I'd say. Then one spring day I asked my dad if Mom had made any stuffed artichokes lately. He lamented, "she doesn't like making them now that you're not home to have them." So strangely none of us was making or eating artichokes anymore.

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momb10In a handful of months I will become a first time mom. When my husband Alex and I think about what we’ll cook for our son or daughter, he has pot loads of ideas, and with good reason. My mother-in-law is Italian, raised in Milan, and my father-in-law is Japanese, raised in Tokyo. Alex’s childhood food memories are like an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. They are just, quite literally, that rich and that good.  

Me on the other hand, that’s a different story. For one, my mind is already cluttered with vial upon vial of internet poison and botched visits to the parenting section at Barnes and Noble. I’ll be lucky if I can get through our first family dinner without having heart palpitations. Can he have nuts? What about eggs? Did we ask the doctor about wheat? Is that yogurt organic, but no like, actually organic? WHERE IS THAT EPIPEN?

So on this Mother’s Day, I’ve decided to think back to when I was a kid and my mom made our plain old American dinner table the most fun table in the world with a hands on meal that my brother and I loved: fondue and artichokes.

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