I wanted to post this on Mother’s Day, the day that everyone is focused on the important role mothers play in our lives. But late-spring sickness has ravaged our household, this mom included, making the holiday weekend a bit of a bust for writing or any sort of productivity beyond snot-sucking tiny noses, constantly blowing my own, and grabbing as much rest as is possible in a family with two small children.
It seems, though, that celebrating the people who raised us and continue to influence our lives each day shouldn’t be limited to the second Sunday in May. This sort of thoughtfulness and honoring should happen frequently, whenever we see them in ourselves or reflect on their words of wisdom or crave chicken soup and flat 7-Up when we’re sick or yearn for meat and potatoes for dinner. And I don’t think that just because I now am one – though I do appreciate my mom in a new light. I suddenly understand how much she did – and I’ve only experienced doing a fraction of it so far – and how much she tolerated, pushed through and exercised patience during. How much she always put herself last, but still had a warm smile on her face and a ready laugh in celebration and silliness. And how she did all of this, mothered us, in addition to having a successful career as a beloved third-grade teacher. I now see the feat of it all in a way I never really got before.
So this is for her, and for moms everywhere, today, tomorrow and every day.
For the mothers we saw over the weekend for brunch, and for those who are no longer with us. For those who we Facetime with our own children each week and those who are no longer available for an impromptu phone chat. For those who have been ill for some time and those whose energy seems more boundless with each passing year. For the women who mothered us throughout childhood, whether or not they were our actual mothers. And for those who are just beginning their journey into motherhood, just learning the ropes, tripping and falling and reflecting on their own role models throughout the process. I’m thinking of all of these remarkable women today, the mothers and the motherly, and the dishes and simple foods that remind me of them. Here are just a few…
Orene Dunzweiler will always make me think of cheese curds – the real ones, straight from Wisconsin, where she has lots of relatives. A lifelong family friend who is now “Grandma Orene” to my kids, she serves the curds as part of her extensive Christmas Day appetizer spread each year and always sends us home with Ziploc baggies full of the little cheesy nubs as presents.
Strawberry Shortcake Roll-Ups were a masterpiece I will forever associate with Linda Brooks. Though these were not her own creation, Linda made lasting memories for us as kids when we crafted the funky kid-ified PB&J sandwiches in her kitchen. The roll-ups involve cutting the crusts off of a piece of white bread, then flattening the bread into a sort of tortilla with a rolling pin, spreading it with a thin layer of peanut butter and jelly and rolling it up like a sweet, weird taquito. The recipe comes straight from a Strawberry Shortcake kids cookbook and is loved by my own daughter now too.
Gail Jones was self-admittedly not much of a cook, but she did prepare a number of sweet and savory dishes over the nearly 40 years I knew her. I wrote about her here last summer, and included her recipe for Chicken Imperial, which she gave me at my wedding shower as part of a cookbook put together by many important women in my life. I will treasure the book, this recipe, and my memories of Gail always.
Eileen Phillips makes many delicious things, and looks so much like several classic “mom” actresses (Dianne Wiest especially), stepping into her home can feel like entering a mom’s house in the movies. Peppermint bark will always remind me of her (she makes a great version), and I am forever indebted for her sharing of her husband Michael’s family recipe for beer roast, a supremely delectable way to treat a cheap cut of meat. I wrote about her son, my dear old friend Kevin Aguilar, here, where I also passed along her recipe.
I credit my good friend Sarah Michaels for teaching me how to make risotto years ago, with a recipe for “creamy tomato-rosemary risotto,” I think it was called, before she was a mother but already on her way to being a beautiful homemaker and creator of lovely spaces. She is now an interior designer, mother of two wonderful children and wife to a great guy. And she continues to be a fabulous cook.
My dear friend Cori Tahara is brilliant at most everything, and in the kitchen, takes after her mother in having a knack for the ultimate one-dish comfort meal: the humble casserole. (She’s also adept at jello molds, if you count those as meals, which, the way she makes them, could totally qualify.) Her mom, Janice Tahara, remains the casserole queen. She made many delicious, and sometimes weird, ones in our childhood, and as she sits today, bed- and wheelchair-bound after an aneurism changed everything more than a decade ago, it’s a vibrant, super-motherly talent of hers I will always see through her stillness.
My mother-in-law Carol Borrman is humble, self-deprecating and kind, and responsible for not only raising the man of my dreams but also, only slightly less important, bringing to my life a beautiful rendition of pasta puttanesca. Her family makes it at Christmastime, a tradition I’ve now adopted as my own.
And last but not least, my mom, Roberta Smith, has always rocked the square meal. I have written about her before, and I’m sure will again. She is now exhibiting her talents as grandmother to my two children, teaching my daughter how to dye Easter eggs and cooing to my new baby boy to the point of his giggles. She’s a wonderful person and a remarkable mother whose tactics, perspective on life and tips about it I’ve adopted, for the most part unwittingly. She both cooks and bakes – not unlike many mothers I knew growing up – and does a phenomenal job at both. I have many favorite dishes of hers, meatloaf probably my most favorite of the savory bunch. Its classic ingredients and preparation, replete with sweetened, tangy ketchup topping (though she spells it “catsup”), make it one of the best things to prepare on a weeknight or weekend, for your family or just for you, with lots of leftovers for sandwiches. You can thank me for sharing her recipe later.
And Mom, Happy Mother’s Day to you. Last Sunday, today, and every day from now on. You are the best.
I have this recipe on a little card labeled “From the Kitchen of Mom” – adorned with a little graphic of a strawberry in the upper left corner; the instructions are written in her careful, teacherly print.
Mix together and put into loaf pan:
- 1 ½ lb. ground chuck
- 2/3 C. quick oats or 1 C. fine, dry bread crumbs
- 1 C. milk
- 1 t. salt
- 1/8 t. pepper
- ¼ t. poultry seasoning
- 2 eggs
- 1 t. Worchestershire
- 1 small onion, chopped
Mix and spread on top of meatloaf:
- ¼ C. catsup
- 1-2 T. brown sugar
- 1 t. mustard
- ¼ t. nutmeg
Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Put some potatoes in to bake while the meatloaf is cooking. Poke the potatoes with a fork and wash them before baking.