Mixed Feelings for Mother's Day
Due to reasons far too complicated to get into here, I had a very complex, not very happy relationship with my mother. She died when I was 18, resulting in an even more complicated, past-tense relationship.
However, I do have a few memories of her that can make me smile. Among them is her cooking. She was patently horrible in the kitchen; this resulted in my starting to cook out of self defense when I was about 6. But that, too, is another story, one with the end result of my nagging tirelessly at my 15-year old daughter, Cecilia, to observe closely and learn to cook at least a handful of dishes. The horrible cook gene skipped a generation, leaving me unscathed, but it may have picked up again in my daughter. I am uncertain; she has 0 interest in learning to cook anything beyond store-bought cookie mix so I have no idea whether or not the potential for a respectable etouffee lurks within her.
I have shared stories of my mother's culinary prowess before and, in the interest of experiencing a pre-Mother's day smile on my own late mother's behalf, I will share them again.
In the first I was 7 or so, and milk-fed baby veal was all the rage. Knowing what I know today, I thoroughly disavow the inhumane procurement of this product, but back then I was clueless and curious. I will never forget the day my equally clueless mother plopped some unadorned tender pink veal cutlets from the Piggy Wiggly grocery on Old Metairie Road into a pan, poured in a jar of Heinz Chicken Gravy, and proceeded to smother the delicate meat for hours. I have no words.
In another act of culinary heroism, one Sunday my mother pulled from the cupboard a pressure cooker someone was fool enough to give her. Into it she plunked a beef roast, carrots, potatoes, onions, and celery. She poured in some water, tightened up the lid on the cooker, and cranked up the heat, no doubt intending to leave the contents to cook for hours on end, until nothing in the pot was recognizable, as was her custom. At some point, so much pressure built up in the forgotten pot that the contents of the vessel started shooting forth from the little pressure-relief nozzle at the top of the lid. We watched in disbelief as a volcano of roast beef streamed steadily from the vessel for 10 minutes or so, coating the ivory-hued kitchen ceiling with brown muck. When the blast subsided, my daring father approached the pot and untwisted the lid to reveal a single pinkie-sized scrap of carrot remaining within. That day was the last time I remember her cooking—except for 2 things: Creole Italian Meatballs and Spaghetti, a fail-proof recipe she lifted from a college roommate; and Pecan Ice Box Cookies, the recipe for which came from who knows where.
I remember her making the pecan cookies for holiday gatherings, and she was justifiably famous for them. Their perfection may have, in fact, obliterated her other culinary misdeeds in the minds of everyone but me. Thin, crisp, perfect, and loaded with sweet Louisiana pecans gathered from my grandparents’ yard, they were then and will always be a welcome holiday calling card. To those of you out there harboring insecurities about your cooking and baking skills, I say, if my mother could pull this recipe off ANYONE can.
The Meatballs and Spaghetti, as well. Though no respectable Tuscan would ever claim this sauce, for those of us who favor Creole Italian flavors it will do just fine; very fine indeed.
We all have our faults; we also have our gifts and talents. These were two of my mother's.
Happy Mother's Day.