Notes from the Nest
Recently on a drive home from Trenton, after visiting my parents, our daughter Ellie and I easily slipped into a favourite topic of conversation, after one of these sojourns: mom’s cooking.
“Grandma’s home, always smells so good,” Ellie proclaimed warmly. I heartily agreed and ardently added, “She taught me most everything I know.”
Ellie moved back home, temporarily, a couple of months ago and with the rare exception of a few minor bristly occurrences, Randy and I, are enjoying her company immensely. She shared the same sentiment, in return. When she left for school, she was barely 18 and now working fulltime, as an Emergency nurse in Kingston, she admits to having a different perspective on life.
On that same trip home, she chatted about how much she enjoys cooking with me, favourite meals to prepare and a few recipes she’s hoping we can tackle together, before she sets up housekeeping on her own again, somewhere. I’m delighted about the prospect of spending this precious time together boiling, broiling, stirring, stewing and even bungling the odd preparation or two.
Botching a few batches, burning the buns and bubbling over the broth, are all part of the process and the fun. Usually it’s caused by a little over-zealous conversing on our part, while we’re enjoying the moment and each others company, remaining completely oblivious, to the smoke billowing from the oven, until the unassuming bread is blackened, crisp and beyond edible. This is when I impart an important lesson with her, about staying vigilant and paying attention to the task at hand.
My mom turned 80 a few weeks back but is still a going concern, in the kitchen and elsewhere. Her birthday number, does not reflect her true age. One need only spend a few hours watching her chop, dice, flambé, sauté and puree, as she wheels around her galley, preparing some delectable concoction, to be in awe of a master culinarian in action.
My siblings and I, were always welcome in Mom’s kitchen, as she enthusiastically, encouraged us to pitch in. What fun it was, learning to make pastry, roll it out, fill it with something wonderful and bake it into a pie. Mom was into cooking from scratch, making healthy, economical meals before it became hip, always preferring natural ingredients and lots of fruits and veggies.
She taught us the value of good food, how to prepare it and the importance of seeing an action through to completion and how the “oohs” and “ahhs” which followed, from family and friends, were a satisfying enough reward. She wasn’t just serving meatloaf and potatoes au gratin, she was dispensing comfort, care and tenderness, for those in her charge. Mom didn’t just sprinkle breadcrumbs on top of casseroles, she sprinkled on love.
Of course, there were also flops in her repertoire but that’s where humour and experimentation blended together, with the other ingredients. This is where she demonstrated, mistakes are okay, in fact just a regular part of life. Owning up to them and even laughing about your foibles, is the way through life’s challenges.
Sizable canisters of joy and happiness, sat prominently on her counter-top and generous dollops of each, helped flavour each pot, plate or platter. Mom’s always been cheery and quick to laugh and making time for family, has consistently been a top priority. This is something I carried into life, with my own family. We eat at irregular times, in our home full of shift-workers but we frequently eat meals together. Adjusting the schedule is a small sacrifice, in order to regularly break bread, hash over our days events and stay engaged with each other.
I learned from Mom, that cooking is another avenue for expressing artistry and creativity. Setting the table with frilly napkins, candles, flowers, pleasing dinnerware and an extra fork and spoon, along with presenting it artfully onto the plate, is similar to adding an extra dab of paint or brushstroke, onto a canvas, before completing a work of art.
The famous, humourist Erma Bombeck was once asked, about things she would do differently, if she had life to live over again. Wisely, she responded, “I would have burnt the pink candle, that was sculpted like a rose, before it melted while being stored.” Similarly, Mom would answer, “By all means, use the good dishes.” She believes her fancy, pretty and special things, are meant to be used. Bringing them out regularly, to celebrate friends and family, is just another way of validating her affection, to those she holds dearest.
In my eyes, Mom is Einstein, Michelangelo, Erma Bombeck and Julia Child melded together, into not only a superb gourmet, but also a wise and loving teacher, about all that is really important in life.