In 2014, after burying two husbands, surviving stage 4 colon cancer and a massive heart attack with quadruple bypass, my mother finally died. It was a capstone to a tumultuous last few years. She and I were not without our disagreements after Liz (my 13 year old daughter) died. But we always tried to find our way back to each other. She was a very supportive and sympathetic mother. Loved her children. Loved her grandchildren. I’m not sure she liked herself all that much, however. I don’t think she trusted herself or felt safe y herself. I think loneliness was her ultimate killer.
But, I’m not doing a memorial post. This is about her last gift to me.
I love to cook.
When I was a kid I used to make my own concoctions. At 8 I was making these elaborate sandwiches that could’ve been called “kitchen sinkers” because, if I could put it between two pieces of bread, I did. I recall a Peanut Butter & Jelly and potato chip and chocolate cake thing happening at one point. When I got older I used to make my own Italian Dressing. It was terrible. But my parents ate it. Yes they did.
As I got older I became less and less…adept. To the point where I prepared an embarrassing dinner with frozen broccoli that was burnt and chicken that was inedible. That was a low point. And then it all started to change. My love of food and cooking really began in earnest at the turn of the century. I loved experimenting again. And making dinner for friends and family. It helped during parties that we would host. I could just stay in the kitchen with my chili and people would come to me and I would have a safe ground.
My love of cooking hit the apex at my son’s pending birth. I became a madman of asian cuisine. I made just about everything in the China section of Charmaine Solomon’s The Complete Asian Cookbook. I had a love affair with my wok
, a brilliant and sturdy hunk of metal and wood that I got at Ikea of all places.
And, just like that, poof, I was burned out. A new baby. Training for the Aids ride (which I accomplished, all 545 miles of). Career. Life. There wasn’t any time to cook. Or energy.
And my kitchen was horrible. It still is. I went from a self-designed oversized cook’s kitchen to a galley sized one. It was depressing. We’re still working out how to make it better.
Bit by bit I came back to the kitchen. First I installed a peg board to hang just about everything that I would need.
Then I got a couple cast iron skillets. And before you knew it I was adding fleur-de-sel to brilliant frittatas and finding 10 new ways to cook Brussels Sprouts.
Then I was asked to emcee a chili cook off. One that I was entered in (I lost, hard. Which was disappointing because I knew my mistake and this was a previously award winning recipe that I had come up with). And I had to meet with the planner at a local cafe that was attached to, of all things, a cooking school.
Before I knew it, I signed up for the culinary course. 6 months. French cuisine. And I start, as of this writing, tomorrow. I couldn’t be more excited and a little scared.
I have my pants. Black and horrible kitchen clothes. I have my shoes. Black and surprisingly comfortable. I get my chef’s coat tomorrow. And my hat. And, hopefully, I learn something.
Oh, why did I go on about my mom?
She left me a little something after she died and I used that to pay for school. Her gift to me. She was always saying, “get yourself something nice.” so she didn’t have to shop. By the end of her life she would’ve been just as happy to give you her credit card to buy yourself a birthday or hannuka gift. This was her last one to me.
Thanks, Mom. Goodbye, Mom.